Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…
The Google dictionary definition of a makeweight is “an unimportant person or thing that is only added or included in order to complete something”. And this was the status assigned to Per Frandsen in the summer of 1996, as he arrived at recently relegated Bolton Wanderers as an add-on in the Trotters’ £1.25m deal to bring his younger, quicker, better-looking Danish compatriot Michael Johansen to Burnden Park from FC Copenhagen.
Frandsen had been considered an outstanding talent at under-21 level, but at 26 the midfielder had dropped out of the international set-up and was past the point of dreaming of superstardom. He had already tried his luck in the French league with Lille before returning to Denmark, and a move to England’s second tier as a “makeweight” was about the best he could hope for. So it was a pleasant surprise to Bolton fans when in their first home match of the season - a tight, tense affair against fellow promotion favourites Manchester City - Frandsen sidestepped a City defender before lashing home the game’s only goal from the edge of the penalty area. It was a moment that set the tone for Bolton’s season, and for Frandsen’s Trotters career.
“Johansen was a good player, but Frandsen was better,” recalled one Whites fan on The Wanderer website. “He was an unusually complete midfielder: hard-working and solid in the tackle, yet skilful on the ball.”
Having entered their last ever season at Burnden Park in post-relegation turmoil, Bolton ended it with glory. Scoring 100 goals while racking up 98 points - both of which remain club records - the Trotters secured the 1996/97 Division One title at a canter. Frandsen started 40 of their 46 league matches and earned a recall to the Denmark team.
Making his Premiership debut aged 27, Frandsen also shone in the top flight. But despite reaching the magic 40-point mark Bolton finished 18th - below Everton on goal difference - and were relegated along with the division’s other two promoted sides.
Frandsen played in the France 1998 World Cup that summer as Denmark reached the quarter-finals. But after Wanderers lost in the play-offs the following season, Frandsen was controversially sold to Lancashire rivals Blackburn for £1.75m. Manager Colin Todd resigned in protest, prompting a change in ownership and management as Phil Gartside became chairman and Sam Allardyce took over as boss. Meanwhile, Frandsen appeared to be missing his spiritual home.
“He was Bolton at heart and never really settled,” recalled one Blackburn fan on the BRFCC forum of Frandsen’s ill-fated season at Ewood Park. Others remember “a disinterested show pony” who was “good on the ball but seemed to have lost any semblance of pace”. One fan said they could “barely remember him”, while another had a rather more vivid recollection of Frandsen as “a sulking, bone idle dosser”.
It was a striking illustration of the wildly contrasting opinions two sets of fans can have of exactly the same player. And although the Trotters had moved on to a new manager in Allardyce, the fans’ love for Frandsen was undimmed by his season away. He returned to the Reebok Stadium a year after leaving, as one Bolton fan remembered, “He said he wished he had never left Bolton… and his wish came true.”
Within a year, the man the supporters lovingly dubbed “Percy Frandsen” had helped Wanderers return to the Premiership. And this time, with Big Sam at the helm, there would be no yo-yoing. The Trotters’ first game back in the top flight was a 5-0 win at Leicester, with Frandsen scoring twice in a man-of-the-match display.
“The most surprising thing about Frandsen is that a decent Prem side never signed him. He was always good enough to get into a mid-table team and proved his quality in the top flight with us,” said one Whites supporter.
Another agreed: “If he’d had a little extra pace he’d have been playing for a very good Premiership side. That always held him back. A cracking player though."
Seven years after his arrival as an "unimportant person”, the 33-year-old Frandsen blasted home one of the most important goals in Bolton’s history. His rasping 20-yard drive against Middlesbrough in the final match of the 2002/03 season kept the Trotters up at the expense of a star-studded West Ham team. He stayed at the Reebok for one more season - which included a League Cup final against Boro - before moving to arch-rivals Wigan, where his career was prematurely ended by a knee injury. As one Bolton fan quipped, “Even in retirement he pleased us”.
Now the manager of Danish side AB, Frandsen is regarded by Bolton fans as a legend, “He gave us 300-plus games of effort and skill, and he’s welcome back any time. If you can find a Bolton fan with a bad word for him, they’re wrong."
Or as another Whites supporter put it, "Some blooming makeweight.”
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