When the day finally comes that fans return to fill the dusty seats at the University of Bolton Stadium and replace the eerie emptiness with songs once more, one chant will almost certainly be on the hymn sheet.
“Adam Le Fondre! He is a Wanderer! Ole ole! Ole ole!”
It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t actually been a Bolton Wanderers player for three years now, Adam Le Fondre remains beloved. A goal grabber who immediately struck an accord with the fan base from his very first game which eventually saw him return for not one but two more stints with the club.
A man who played crucial roles in bringing rare moments of celebration amid years of struggle and always had time for supporters, be it having a laugh on Twitter or just stopping for a photo.
It’s no surprise that Le Fondre still has a special place in Bolton hearts.
The feeling is mutual.
When asked by the Manchester Evening News about his special relationship with the fans he can’t keep the smile off his face, gleaming as he remembers the love he was shown by the supporters after an unhappy few years at various other clubs.
“I think from the first minute I got at Bolton they really accepted me,” Le Fondre tells M.E.N. Sport.
“I think I was a bit unloved in my Wolves spell, Wigan spell and even obviously the Cardiff spell. So it gave me a rebirth, I think they’ve seen a completely different player when I’ve joined them and they could see my enthusiasm for playing for them because I was being successful and scoring goals.
“They loved what I was giving to them and I loved what they were giving to me because they were feeding my ego. As a striker that’s what you survive off, you thrive off being loved. Who doesn’t want people screaming your name and telling you how much they love them?
“That’s the sort of thing that I thrived off. Brentford away when I think the chant started and they didn’t stop signing it, it was like an anthem. Whenever I was at the club it was forever that song, I would hear ‘ole ole’ and I loved it. It touched my ego as a player and it really boosted my confidence.
“We shared some really special times and it really helped me get out of my. I wouldn’t say slump but dour perspective on football at the time.
“I wasn’t doing overly well at Cardiff and Bolton threw me a lifeline and got me reinvigorated again. Wolves and Wigan didn’t work out too great and I really invigorated myself again in League One with the team when we got promoted. I think the fans saw that and fed off my energy and I fed of their energy. I loved that.
“I’m very much an interactive person on social media so I’d always interact with fans of previous clubs and present clubs, the love I got on my first spell especially, setting up a GoFundMe to sign me was touching. Ultimately I wanted to come back to Bolton, I was desperate to come back to Bolton because I knew the success I would have in that team.”
Cardiff City splashed nearly £3million to make Le Fondre their spearhead for a hopeful instant return to the Premier League but it wasn’t to be. The Blue Birds – or the Red Dragons as they were known at that chaotic time – were engulfed in turmoil and their new striker made a mere 25 appearances for the club.
Just a few months later, in the very next transfer window, Le Fondre was returning home to the North West and signing for Bolton Wanderers. Cardiff’s mistake couldn’t have been made more apparent as in his third appearance he scored his first goal, capitalising on a horrendous goalkeeping error and effortlessly lobbing the ball in from 30-yards.
It was the first of eight goals in just 17 games and the Whites finally had a reliable scorer in their ranks again. But it wasn’t just that that warmed him to the Bolton faithful but also his tireless harrying of defenders and clever link-up play with his fellow forwards.
It may not have seemed so at the time but in hindsight it was a Bolton team packed with real talent and promise. The thrilling youth of Zach Clough and Josh Vela mixed with the veteran class of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Emile Heskey. Le Fondre seemed like the final piece.
There was a rare sense of optimism under Winter Hill following the end of the campaign under the stewardship of Neil Lennon and Le Fondre was desperate to return to realise that potential. As is the way with Bolton over the last decade, the good times didn’t last.
“When I first joined everything was rosy,” Le Fondre said when asked about playing for the club under the cloud of financial troubles.
“My time with Lenny, everything was amazing. I couldn’t wait to sign back. We played Birmingham last game of the season, I went into the manager’s office straight after the game. I was like: ‘Lenny, when am I signing? I want to sign now for next season’ and he was like: ‘right, I’ll speak to your agent tomorrow.’
“I said: ‘Right, well get it sorted.’ I went: ‘Do you want me to come back?’ and he was like: ‘yeah, obviously I want you to come back’. So I went: ‘Right, let’s get it sorted. This feels like home already. Let’s get it done.’
“Obviously I didn’t really understand at the time. He spoke to my agent the next day he said, ‘yeah we’re going to get something sorted’ and that dragged on for eight weeks. All through summer.
“I spoke to Lennon a lot that summer, was like, what’s happening? He said: “Don’t worry, we’re going to sign you. I’ve left the No.9 free for you.’ I was like good, that’s my number I want it. I want to come back! For me, it felt like if I came back I was scoring 30 that season for Lennon.
“The three months I had prior let me know that this was the manager for me. This was the right place, the right time, the right club. If we could get me in the building then it was a good time for me for joining.
“We had Eidur and Emile. I think with Eidur he was a little bit older but he still had that touch of class about him. He still had the pass, he could still see things that not many people in world football could see at that time.
“I played up front with him a few times and really enjoyed it. He could with one subtle movement cut open a defence, perfect for someone like me who’s always a front foot striker and looking to exploit defences really quick in transition and he was brilliant for that.
“Emile was amazing. I loved playing up front with Emile because I think the Brentford game he was unbelievable. Playing up front with him was so fun that game because he absolutely bullied them.
“He was abusing people but I think he picked up a couple of niggles off the back of that and we didn’t really get to see him all the time. He was 36, 37 at the time as well. I only dreamt of playing with players like that when I was younger. If they were younger as well then I only imagine what I could have done playing with them.
“I loved Cloughy, I loved him as a player as soon as I got in there. Me and Cloughy clicked. I took him under my wing and sort of used him as a prodigy. I loved playing with him he’s such a good and clever footballer as well, we just seemed to be on the same wave length all the time.
“Every time I speak to a Bolton fan they talk about the Watford game, where me and him could have had a hat-trick each and we ended up getting beaten 4-3. We had such a great relationship. I think everyone was the same, everyone in the club was like: ‘Yeah can’t wait to get back, Clougy and Alife, let’s go again.’
“They’ve seen a glimpse of it, and I did as well, of the sort of success I was going to have with him and with Lennon as the manager. And then it got to a week before the season started and I still hadn’t signed and I spoke to Lennon: ‘What the hell’s going on? I thought you wanted me? I thought I’m you’re number one signing? What the hell’s going on? You’ve signed all these players and you’re not signing me!’ He’s like: ‘I can’t do anything.’
“Obviously, rest in peace, [former chairman, Phil] Gartside weren’t doing anything, he wouldn’t sanction signing me for some reason. I don’t know what it was about but he wouldn’t sanction it. I was just: ‘What do you mean? I’m going to have to sign for someone else if you don’t so something! I can’t just sit in the ressies at Cardiff.’
“That was the first taste of the financial difficulties then that they couldn’t get me on loan for the same price they were paying the season before. I was a bit dumbfounded and then the later that season got on the more trouble they were in and it became apparent what was going on around March time. You knew something bad was coming for Bolton.”
The following 18 months saw struggles for both. With former owner Eddie Davies wanting to sell up and potential buyers not exactly queueing out of the door, Bolton went to the very brink of existence and survived multiple dates in court by the very skin of their teeth. They were eventually saved, but it transpired to be a case of out of the frying pan and unwittingly into another fiery death spiral of doom.
Lennon was sacked. The Whites went down to the third tier for the first time in 23 years. But, under new ownership and the management of Phil Parkinson, an instant return looked on the cards.
Le Fondre, meanwhile, endured more frustration at Cardiff and struggled on loan spells at Wolves and Wigan Athletic. But even joining one of Bolton’s fiercest rivals wasn’t enough to shatter the bond. On January deadline day 2017, he returned for a second loan spell to get the Whites over the line and back to the Championship.
However, once again, it wasn’t plain sailing and while there was delight at the return of Le Fondre, that same January also saw the departure of local hero Clough for Nottingham Forest.
“When I came back it was quite weird that situation,” he explains. “They were looking at taking me in August, they were messaging me saying we’ll sign you on deadline day. I was like alright mate no worries. I had Huddersfield and Wigan at the time, then Huddersfield mysteriously dropped out and then Wigan went cold. So I was like what’s going on here, what you mean you’re going cold? Then I obviously signed for Wigan.
“They changed the manager after 10 games in then I weren’t really playing with the new manager after that and I sort of said I ain’t doing this, I ain’t wasting another six-months of my life sitting on the bench in the Champ, it’s not worth it for me.
“Bolton were flying at that time in League One, Cloughy was ripping it up, Sammy [Ameobi] was doing well, Big Gaz [Gary Madine]. I sort of knew the team before it as well and I knew if I joined that team we were getting promoted. We had a monster squad, we had a Championship squad in League One.
“I was messaged in December and I went: ‘Look, I’m getting out of my loan at Wigan. Do you want me?’ And they were like: ‘Yeah, of course we want you!’ This was like January 1st so I’m like alright, sort it out then! Let’s get it done, I don’t want to mess around!
“I’m not even sure Parky was having me at first, so when it came to deadline day and it was rushed through I rang Cloughy and went: ‘Cloughy we’re back mate, back in business!’ And he goes: ‘We’re not mate!’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I’m getting off mate’. I was like ‘oh… oh great ermmm alright mate have a great time! You’ve done really well, you deserve it. I’m buzzing for you.’
“But obviously gutted a little bit because I wanted to play with him.
“When I first came back I had not played for two or three months, I’m not giving excuses, but I was rusty. I was out of it. I was coming in for a game, out for a game, in for a game, out for a game. So the game before Fleetwood, we played someone at home and I felt like myself again. I actually felt like I could run around the pitch for 90 minutes, harassing people, getting chances and causing problems.
“The gaffer came to me and said look, I really like what you did last game, you deserve to start the next game etc etc and then the Fleetwood game as soon as I scored it opened the floodgates for me confidence wise and got me back up and running and the rest is history. As a team we hit our stride from the Fleetwood game and really just ticking wins from then. We had such a great squad camaraderie that nothing could come between us.”
He scored six goals in the run in as Bolton secured automatic promotion on the final day, with Le Fondre grabbing the final goal in a joyous 3-0 victory against Peterborough United.
With something to celebrate at long last, Bolton fan’s wasted no time in invading the pitch, hugging their heroes and belting out ‘Sweet Caroline’ as smoke bombs painted the sky white.
With his contract finally expired at Cardiff, Le Fondre was free to make his next move and he joined Bolton on a free transfer that very summer as the Trotters geared up for a return to the Championship.
It would prove to be a pretty dreadful campaign and a frustrating one for Le Fondre. Parkinson’s insistence on playing with a lone target man up-front left him with little opportunity and he soon began not enjoying his football again.
“When I say I didn’t think he was having me we had a meeting and we sat down about signing in the summer cause I was on a free,” Le Fondre explains
“He said ‘Oh I didn’t realise how good you were.’ So I was like: ‘Hold on.. All I needed was to play games’. I’ve always been a self confident person about my abilities. If you give me a run of games then I tend to produce.
“I think I played the first two games of that season when we were in the Champ. I played the home game against Leeds, scored, and then we played Millwall away and I played 60 minutes and after that I didn’t play. We played West Ham in the cup and I played on the left side of a 3-4-3. I was playing left-wing-back all game! And then I played Sheff U, I started that game when we won away for the first time in ages and they were my only starts.
“For me as a player I needed to play regularly to really get in my stride. I know the gaffer had to set up his team however he wants but it felt like I wasn’t getting any opportunities. Especially as we went on a run of six or seven games without scoring a goal and I’m coming off the bench for twenty minutes here and there. I felt like surely I get one opportunity to maybe start one game but I didn’t.
“I wasn’t the sort of person who’d go round and start smashing things up and being a bad influence. I’m not that sort of person and I wasn’t the sort who sulked in training either, I trained really hard. I was always one of the top five in more or less every stat you need to be in in training and I think players who played with me would know my level never drops. If you speak to someone like Wheatz [David Wheater] who played against me every day in training, he used to hate playing against me because I used to abuse him or if not he’d get his fat head in the way. [Laughs.]
“I was never the sort of person who’d go and kick off with everyone, I just felt that I could help the team and I didn’t think I was getting that opportunity.”
He admits that just a few months after joining the club he was ready to depart: “Come the January time I was looking to leave, I needed to play. I’m 31, I need to play games. I’ve wasted a season at Wolves, six months at Wigan and I’ve wasted six months now not really playing here. I’m not really too bothered about playing in the Championship I just want to play games because I know I’ll score goals and that will get me to where I need to be.
“Then towards the end of that window Gaz was getting a bit of interest and he was going so I thought I might as well stay, I’m going to play then. Even then I wasn’t regularly playing until after about five or six games when after that I started getting a run in the team and playing as the nine.
“After I got a run in the team I scored five of six goals and I think a few crucial goals with that, the goal at Reading, goal at Barnsley, I scored at Leeds, the Fulham goal, the bench goal from Forest too. I honesty thought I could help the team, I never thought I diminished in finishing. If we created opportunities I would score goals.
“If I can get in the team, and it’s not as if I don’t work hard, I work very hard for the team and I’m very much a team player, I felt like I was a good option for our squad as well. But it obviously didn’t fit the way we played and ultimately we got the job done as a collective but personally that took a toll on me mentally.
“The Boxing Day I was in a seven players training and the 28th I was playing Sheff U away, which was crazy for me. I didn’t travel to Middlesbrough away, we got beat 3-0, then I came in to start at Sheff U away. I didn’t know where to be mentally, that effected my decision moving forward to move to Sydney.
“It was off the back of the season before where I felt like I’d earned my stripes to get an opportunity to play, I’m not saying play me every game, I know that you have to set up a team and you have to believe in the principles you’re playing but I still felt that I was a very effective weapon in the Championship at that time. For me, it took a big hit on me mentally and I was probably taking it home with me to my family, I weren’t enjoying football at that time.”
Le Fondre proved exactly why he should have been given more opportunities on the final day of the season, as Bolton staged one of the most remarkable final day relegation escapes in recent memory. Wanderers needed to defeat Nottingham Forest to stay up and with things goalless at half-time Le Fondre was thrown into the fray. It was he who broke the deadlock late on with a perfectly executed volley.
But disaster soon struck as two Forest goals in ten minutes left Bolton staring down the barrel with just 10 minutes of the season remaining.
The miracle began in earnest on the 86th minute, when Le Fondre laid the ball off for Wheater to scuff a shot past the goalkeeper. 2-2.
Then, with just two minutes left on the clock, Le Fondre broke free on the right-flank. A single look over his shoulder and then a delicate chip into the box.
The Macron held its breath.
Aaron Wilbraham dived down low, glanced a header into the far corner and wrote himself into Bolton Wanderers folklore for ever more. But none of it would have been possible without Le Fondre. “They’re moments you cherish,” he said.
Le Fondre recently passed the impressive milestone of 250 career goals (though he thinks he should be closer to 500 with the chances he’s missed) and he counts his strikes against Peterborough and Forest, two of Bolton’s best days in recent memory, as amongst his favourites.
“The two games that really stand out is the Southampton away one with Reading and the Forest at home for Bolton, where obviously I scored the first goal to put us in front then we started the come back later. Those two occasions were things that I think I will never ever forget ever in my life. Not just the goals, the whole mood, the fans and the team collective. Both of those situations were totally contrasting, one near enough getting promotion to the Premier League, the other staying up in the Championship. As you can imagine are two wildly different emotions.
“Another meaningful goal would be the Peterborough game when we got promoted from League One, I scored that game and set one up for Wheatz again, he never gives me any credit for it.
“I’ve been quite lucky in my career, when there’s been big games I’ve tended to grab the headlines or come up with a crucial goal and as a striker it’s something I’ve thrived on.”
The goal and assists against Forest would be his final contributions for the club.
Despite the turmoil he went through the previous campaign he remained that summer, willing to stick it out and hopeful that a starting berth was now surely his. Yet after two games in which he played just 10 minutes, it became apparent that it was not.
That was that. He was off to Australia and once again Bolton were relegated in his wake.
“When we got into that summer I was getting a few sniffs from abroad and I sat down with my wife and I discussed it with her and she was like: ‘Look if you’re not happy then why do it? You don’t have to put yourself through it,'” he said.
“I still had another year left at Bolton and I was like well let’s just see what happens this season, let’s see what happens going forward. I’ll go into pre-season, went in was really fit, smashed it. Did really well in the pre-season games, scored goals. So I felt like I was on par with being the main number nine in the team. We went into West Brom, we got a great result. We had to play 4-5-1 there because they’d come down from the Prem, we nicked a great result there.
“Then we played Bristol City at home and I came on for 10 minutes and I just thought I should have started this game. I just thought I’m not doing this again, for me it turned me off football a little bit, this is going to be the script all season. I’m going to be on the bench all season.
“After that I just felt nah I’m not doing it. I sat down with the missus after that and I was like let’s just go. I went into Parky on the Monday and I just said I want to rip up my contract. I want to go.
“And to be fair with him he was great with it, he just said: ‘Yeah, okay, you’ve been fantastic for the club. Let me speak to the chairman and we’ll let you go.’ But then he said I’ve got you down to start tomorrow night against Leeds in the cup and I was just like no, no, I’m flying out tomorrow night. I don’t want to play.”
A sad end. One that may be hard to hear for supporters who still hold him in such high regard.
Yet it was not a sad end for Le Fondre himself, who has since gone on to enjoy a trophy laden, nomadic tour towards the end of his caeer. He scored a massive 47 times in just 67 games for Sydney FC and won two successive A-League Championships, as well as the A-League Premiership.
Next a loan spell to India’s Mumbai City beckoned. Despite having to live in a hotel in a covid-secure bubble for the last five-months without seeing his family, the goals have continued to flow and the ISP Premiership title was won in a winner takes all match against rivals ATK Mohun Bagan on the final day of February.
So what’s next for Le Fondre? At 34 he is still bagging goals and has his sights set on the next milestone of 300. He still feels as fit as he did when he was a child, running around the fields of Stockport.
When a potential fourth stint at Bolton is touted there is a brief grin on his face as he admits that the ‘romantic’ in him would love to end his career at a club that is close to his heart, although he has doubts if that will be possible.
“I’ve had opportunities to go back to England but I’m not too sure if that’s the thing for me,” he explains. “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to figure out my next move.
“I’ve already had clubs asking what I’m doing. It’s a big decision for me, what I’ll do family wise really. I think my next move will be what we do as a family rather than what I do football wise because I’ve been away from my family now for five months in a bubble not seeing any other people.
“It’s took it’s toll on me and it’s took it’s toll on my family as well. In the lockdown in England it’s crazy, a lot of people are struggling and it’s real world problems for everyone. The pandemic has really hit hard so my next venture will be a collaboration between me and my family so if I play in England it will be because I want to play in England to stay with my family or if it will be abroad then it will be a collective decision.
“When I joined back in the League One period I think I said in an interview I wanted to retire at Bolton, I had my mind planned out on what was going to happen there and I would have loved to have left a real legacy at Bolton.
“For me I don’t know what is going to happen, I think the pandemic has changed the landscape of the world and in a small scale the football world as well has changed dramatically. I would like to finish my career in England.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to play on for now. Touch wood, I’ve been very lucky in my career to stay away from injuries and never really miss a significant amount of time. My body feels great, I’m going into games really fresh and I’m still running around like a kid. I don’t feel like I’m stopping. I’ve never really relied on blistering pace, I’ve got a good five yards and I use my brain to get in position and finish chances off the back of that. That sort of thing I’m not going to lose I don’t think. Hopefully.
“But the romantic in me says I’d love to finish at a club where I’ve had a great time but I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know how the future is going to shape for me. Would I like to finish in England? Yeah of course, I’d love to. But is it a realistic option? I don’t know yet, 34-year-old strikers don’t really get a look in anymore.”
Whatever happens next for Le Fondre, be it in another far flung country or back on home soil, whether it’s still playing the game or hanging up the boots to follow his desire of getting into coaching, wherever he goes he will always have the backing of the Bolton faithful.
Because he is a Wanderer. Ole ole. Ole ole.