You won’t hear the word 'consolidation' uttered around the Bolton Wanderers training ground and dressing room ahead of the new Sky Bet League One season.
The club’s last two seasons at this level have been single seasons, one ending in promotion, the other in relegation. Indeed, Bolton have either gone up or down in five of their last nine seasons.
Maybe manager Ian Evatt could change that and bring a period of stability? In his last 12 campaigns as a player and now a manager, Evatt has been promoted four times and relegated three.
Fortunately, manager and club are now both on an upward curve. Evatt has brought Barrow back into the Sky Bet EFL and guided Bolton out of Sky Bet League Two in successive seasons, restoring pride at both Clubs.
So while you might expect the former Blackpool and Chesterfield central defender to talk about bringing calm and, yes, consolidation, the word isn’t part of Evatt’s vocabulary. He wants another promotion and sees no reason why Bolton cannot push for it this season.
“I’m very fortunate to be manager of a huge, fantastic football club steeped in history and I don’t believe that League One is where Bolton belongs,” said Evatt.
“We want to go out and do our best to be promoted again. I believe this club should be in the Championship at the very least. That has to be our aim.
“For me, it’s just a mindset thing. It’s about having the right mental attitude, believing in yourselves, that you can achieve something special. All the promotions I’ve been involved in have been with squads that are really close-knit and share that belief. That’s what we’re trying to build here. Our lads are really close together now. We went through a lot together last season.
“I’m a firm believer that unless you set out to be the very best, then you’re not going to achieve anything. I’m not in this to be mediocre. I don’t believe in mediocrity. I want us to be the very best in whatever competition we’re setting foot in and that starts with League One.”
For all his positivity, Evatt recognises that he has learned as much through the relegations he has suffered as the promotions. When he took over at the University of Bolton Stadium, Wanderers had fallen from the Championship to League Two in successive seasons.
Evatt added: “It’s hard to turn things around after relegation. We faced that challenge last season. This club has been used to losing games for too long. We had to change that and it took time, but now we’ve done it and we’ve got the ship moving in the right direction. Hopefully we can build on that momentum and carry it through to this season.
“When I first came, I was surprised at the state the club was in. It had lost its soul. We’d just had so much hurt and had been in so much disarray that it had damaged people. Our fans had lost a bit of belief and trust in the football club and the people who work here had lost it, too.
“The owners were doing their very best to rebuild, but that takes time. We had to work very hard to rebuild that faith and trust. It took us until January or February to get our act together properly on the pitch but once we did, we took off.
“Now I think that everyone has bought back into the football club. The town is buzzing and everyone’s delighted and proud of their club again. That’s what we wanted to achieve.”
What made the re-connect between fans and club even trickier was that Bolton supporters could only see the progress from afar. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Evatt’s team didn’t share a single home game in a promotion season with their fans, which meant reaching out to them remotely.
“It was really difficult, a huge challenge to rebuild that faith and trust when the fans couldn’t see us play. But we went about it the right way, with honesty and integrity. Our performances on the pitch towards the end of the season showed that this group of players and this management team care about this football club and that’s what the fans haven’t had for a long time.
“And the club messaged them on social media. In the middle of a pandemic when you can’t get out and see people face-to-face, you really heavily on the social media side and we speak regularly about spreading the positive message about what we’re trying to do and build here.”
While some Wanderers supporters may be wistful at having missed out on League Two away days to Barrow and Grimsby, they will be savouring the prospect of welcoming the likes of Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday back to Bolton. So, too, is Evatt.
“There are some very big Clubs in League One, but bring it on, is what I say. That can only be good for the league and the EFL in general. It’s a mini-Championship, so to speak. There are some big, big games in this division this season, but we’re going to embrace that and really attack it.”