Reaching Wembley is reason enough for a season to be a memorable one, so for Bolton to get to place under the Twin Towers twice in the same season made the 1994/95 season all the more memorable.
Manager Bruce Rioch had assembled an exciting team at Burnden Park, with the team in a rich vein of form and competing well in the cups.
Two seasons before, Bolton had won the Second Division title (what is now League One) and had also knocked holders Liverpool out of the FA Cup, after taking them to a replay.
Then in 1993/94, Rioch’s men went on an amazing Cup run, beating three Premiership teams before losing by a single goal to Oldham Athletic in the Sixth Round. Their league form took a hit as a result as they Bolton seemed to save it up for the Cup, ending the season in 14th place.
The season did not start at all well as they drew their first game 3-3 at Grimsby before losing their next two games against Bristol City and Middlesbrough. The Bristol City defeat would be their last at Burnden Park for the rest of the season.
Bolton’s first victory of the season came in their final game in August as they beat Millwall 1-0 at Burnden Park. Four days later, they hit four past Stoke City to climb up to 9th in the table.
The inconsistent form returned, however, as Bolton would only win one of their next four league games in September, a 3-0 win at Luton Town.
One positive that could be taken from September was Bolton’s comprehensive 3-0 win at Premiership Ipswich Town in the Coca Cola Cup. They would follow this up with a 1-0 win in the second leg at Burnden Park to give them a resounding 4-0 aggregate win. Sheffield United would await them in the Third Round.
October started with a John McGinlay winner to take all three points off Derby at Burnden Park before three consecutive draws against Burnley, Oldham Athletic and Port Vale.
A win over Sheffield United in the Coca Cola Cup put Bolton through to the Fourth Round. This must have given them a kick-start as they then put a run of four wins together, scoring ten goals on that run and conceding only once. They had quietly climbed up to third in the table.
Two away defeats in four days, first to Wolves and then Barnsley at the end of November put a swift halt to the unbeaten run.
On the 30th November, Bolton tore West Ham United apart at Upton Park in the Fourth Round of the Coca Cola Cup. Two John McGinlay goals and a third from David Lee put Bolton into the Quarter Finals.
Bolton followed these defeats up with a very good December, winning three games, drawing two and only losing once, to an Andy Hunt winner for West Brom at The Hawthorns. They ended 1994 in sixth place, taking up the fourth and final play-off place in the table.
1995 started with a 1-0 win over Reading in the League, Simon Coleman bagging the only goal of the game. Five days later, Bolton faced a trip to the South Coast where they were resoundingly beaten 3-1 by Portsmouth.
Four days after this defeat, Bolton faced yet another Premiership team in Norwich City, in the Quarter Finals of the Coca Cola Cup.
David Lee scored the only goal of the game for Bolton in front of 17,029 fans at Burnden Park to set up a Semi-Final with Swindon Town, also of the First Division. Liverpool and Crystal Palace were the other two semi-finalists.
A 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road took Bolton up to third in the league. Two consecutive 5-1 home wins Charlton Athletic and then Wolves took Bolton to the top of the table for the first time in the season.
A 1-1 draw at Notts County was followed up by the First Leg of the Semi-Final of the Coca Cola Cup Semi-Final against Swindon Town.
Wanderers went a goal up from Alan Stubbs to give Bolton’s fans the opportunity to start dreaming of a Wembley Cup Final. Two goals from Swindon’s Peter Thorne gave the visitors the advantage for the second leg.
Before the Second Leg was played, Bolton had three games to play in the league. They beat Barnsley and Southend United at home but lost 2-1 at the Baseball Ground to Derby County, despite Jason McAteer giving Bolton a half-time lead.
In the Second Leg, things went from bad to even worse for Bolton as Jan Aage Fjortoft scored on 57 minutes to give Swindon a 3-1 lead and surely a place at Wembley. Instead, Bolton scored three goals in 24 minutes to go through 4-3 on aggregate. The goals came from Jason McAteer (who had played for the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup the previous summer), Mixu Paatelainen and finally John McGinlay after 88 minutes.
Two wins and two draws followed in the League but all thoughts were on Wembley and the Coca Cola Cup Final on 2nd April. Their opponents would be Liverpool, who beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in both home and away legs of the other Semi-Final.
The 1995 Coca Cola Cup Final was all about one man, and sadly for Bolton it wasn’t one of their players.
It was Steve McManaman’s day as he tore the Bolton defence apart from the right-wing, toying with opponents and scoring both of Liverpool’s goals in a 2-1 win. He was the deserved winner of the Alan Hardaker Trophy, given to the Man of the Match in the League Cup Final.
Alan Thompson scored less than a minute after McManaman grabbed his second of the day, to give Bolton some hope. It wasn’t to be as the Premiership big boys held out to win their first silverware for five years. It must have been sweet payback for the FA Cup defeat in 1993 for the Liverpool fans.
A 1-0 win away to Swindon was then followed up three days later by a win of the same scoreline at home to West Brom.
Luton then held Bolton to a goalless draw at Burnden Park before a 1-0 defeat at Tranmere Rovers started to get the nerves jangling.
Sunderland were the visitors to Burnden Park with five league games left to play and it was fans-favourite “Super” John McGinlay who fired in the only goal of the game in front of just over fifteen thousand fans.
Bolton traveled down to Reading sitting in second place in the table. Reading were doing very well in the league and were having a great season. They started the game in fifth place.
It was Reading who left Elm Park with all three points in a 2-1 victory. Bolton’s nerves got the better of them and the defeat at Elm Park was followed by another defeat, this time to Oldham Athletic.
A John McGinlay goal at Stoke was enough to get a point for Bolton in their trip to the Potteries. A 1-1 draw at home to neighbouring rivals Burnley in the last game of the season meant that Bolton ended the season in third position. If they wanted to gain promotion to the Premiership, they’d have to go about it the hard way, through the Play-Offs.
Due to the reduction of teams in the Premiership from the start of the following season, only one team went up automatically from the First Division in 1994/95. That lucky team was Middlesbrough, who won the championship, but only three points ahead of Reading in second place.
Reading would face Tranmere Rovers in the Play-Offs and Bolton would play Wolves in the other Semi-Final.
In the First Leg of the Semi-Final, Steve Bull put Wolves ahead with a header at the near post. Bolton had Peter Shilton in goal at the ripe old age of 44 and he couldn’t stop Bull’s powerful header go past him into the back of the net.
Within a minute of the restart, World Cup star Jason McAteer hit a great equaliser from at least 25 yards out, his eighth goal of the season.
Mark Venus then headed in from close range to give Wolves the lead again within four minutes of McAteer’s long-range effort to give them a 2-1 lead going into the second leg at Burnden Park three days later.
Just over 20,000 fans crammed into the old Burnden Park ground for the second leg and John McGinlay scored twice to take Bolton back to Wembley for the second month in a row.
Reading would be the opponents at Wembley after they had won 3-1 on aggregate over Tranmere Rovers.
Reading raced into a two-goal lead after 12 minutes, Lee Nogan and Adrian Williams netting for The Royals. The Royals were awarded a penalty on 34 minutes and Stuart Lovell’s effort was pushed away by Keith Branagan in the Bolton goal.
Bolton fought their way back into the game when with a quarter of an hour to go, Owen Coyle netted for the Lancashire club.
Dutchman Fabian deFreitas scored with four minutes to go to level the match and take it to extra time. Mixu Paatelainen scored just before half-time in extra time to give Bolton the lead for the first time in the match.
DeFreitas scored Bolton’s fourth to seal their place in the Premiership the following season. Reading’s player-manager Jimmy Quinn made it 4-3 with a minute to go but Bolton held on for a famous win.
The summer 1995 was one of great change at Burnden Park. Manager Bruce Rioch spent over £12 million bringing in Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt in from Italy. The downside for the Bolton fans was that Rioch had left Bolton for Arsenal early in June and that they were his first signings at the North London club!
Jason McAteer also left Bolton and joined Liverpool, the team that beat Bolton in the Coca Cola Cup Final.
Bolton would struggle in the 1995/96 season and finished bottom of the Premier League. They only won eight of their 38 league games, nine points off safety. Bruce Rioch would guide Arsenal to fourth place in the Premiership but would leave after only one season at Highbury.