When news broke in January 2009 that midfielder Kevin Nolan was discussing a move from Bolton Wanderers to Newcastle United, there was surprise among football followers across the land. The Liverpudlian had spent ten years at the Reebok Stadium and been a part of the team’s European adventures, while the Magpies were stuck in the quagmire of a relegation battle. But despite a tumultuous opening six months at St James’s Park – which ended with relegation to the Championship - Nolan is now club captain and having arguably his finest Premier League season to date.
The 28-year-old will face his old club tomorrow when Newcastle host Bolton, with both sides in the top half of the table and harbouring ambitions to qualify for European football next season. Newcastle have settled after a difficult two months which saw the club controversially replace the popular Chris Hughton as manager with Alan Pardew, and suffer the loss of star centre-forward Andy Carroll – a close friend of Nolan’s – who was sold to Liverpool for £35 million.
Nolan broke into the Bolton first-team squad under Sam Allardyce in 1999 and two years later found himself playing in the Premier League alongside the likes of Fredi Bobic, Youri Djorkaeff and Bruno N’Gotty. Nolan scored eight goals from midfield as Bolton retained their top-flight status, finishing 16th. Allardyce’s policy of recruiting experienced players with a touch of flair continued and Nolan excelled as he learnt from those around him, including Ivan Campo, Jay Jay Okocha and Gary Speed.
Wanderers finished in the top half of the Premier League for four consecutive seasons between 2004 and 2007, reaching sixth in 2004/05. Nolan’s goals were a key part of that success and a call-up to the England squad was expected, with then manager Allardyce leading the calls for Nolan to be given international recognition.
The stadium, the city, everything just breathes football, and to be a part of it and be captain of this club is such a massive privilege.
The England call has never arrived but Nolan is doing his chances no harm with his current form for Newcastle. It did not start well on Tyneside, however. Nolan was sent off for a reckless challenge on Everton’s Victor Anichebe just three weeks after signing, and failed to score a goal as United were relegated on the final day of the season. Nolan rejected links with a move away that summer and was clear about his intention to guide Newcastle back to the Premier League.
True to his word, the midfielder was an inspiration for Newcastle throughout 2009/10, scoring 17 goals and occasionally captaining the side in the absence of Nicky Butt. In March 2010 he was named Championship Player of the Year and the following month Newcastle sealed promotion back to the top flight. Nolan has not looked back since and was handed the captaincy permanently at the beginning of the current campaign following the retirement of Butt.
Starting as he clearly meant to go on, Nolan scored twice in Newcastle’s first home game back in the Premier League as the Magpies hammered Aston Villa 6-0. In October he wrote his name into Newcastle folklore by hitting a hat-trick against great rivals Sunderland to inspire a 5-1 success. He set the side on their way to a 3-1 win over his boyhood club Liverpool in December before grabbing another goal against their Wearside foes in January. He currently has ten for the season – the first time he has reached double figures in the Premier League – and would dearly love to add to that against his former club tomorrow.
Nolan recently revealed to the club’s website just how happy he is: “The stadium, the city, everything just breathes football, and to be a part of it and be captain of this club is such a massive privilege. The sheer volume of support we get is fantastic. The fans are starting to get what they deserve, and that's a team who truly love this club and who want to do the best for Newcastle. With them I'm sure we can get to where we want to go.”