Premier League Career: Bolton Wanderers (2001-2009), Newcastle United (2009), (2010-2011), West Ham United (2012-2015)
Kevin Nolan enjoyed a successful playing career in the Premier League. He has scored winning goals at Old Trafford, captained all three of the sides he played for in the top-flight and also has two Premier League hat-tricks to his name. Nolan represented England at Under-21 level but despite his name being often linked with a senior call-up, he never earned a cap for The Three Lions. In fact, he holds the unfortunate record of making the most Premier League appearances without winning international recognition from England.
Growing up in the Toxteth area of Liverpool where goalscoring legend Robbie Fowler was born, Nolan’s desire from an early age was to become a footballer. Although the teams he followed at a young age were his boyhood club Liverpool FC and Celtic, his favourite players were the Manchester United pair, Eric Cantona and Lee Sharpe. He signed for Bolton Wanderers at the age of 16.
In 2001, Nolan helped Sam Allardyce’s Trotters defeat Preston North End 3-0 in the First Division play-off final at The Millennium Stadium. He immediately became an integral part of the Bolton side returning to the Premier League after three seasons away. On the opening day of the 2001-2002 campaign, Nolan scored twice as Bolton made a fabulous start, winning 5-0 away at Leicester City. Two months later, he scored an equalising goal in the club’s surprising win at Old Trafford. He finished with eight goals as Bolton finished 16th to beat the Premier League drop for the first time.
The 2002-2003 campaign was personally a disappointment for Nolan as he only added one more goal to his tally. However, it was a priceless one. He capitalised on a mistake from David Beckham to score at Old Trafford for the second successive campaign. This time, it was the matchwinning strike to spearhead Bolton to a 1-0 victory. It was an important result too, as they only avoided relegation at the end of the season by two points. There was a marked improvement in both player and club form in 2003-2004. Bolton finished in a tremendous 8th place in the table and reached the League Cup final. Nolan scored a career-best 12 goals in all competitions as his influence continued to grow on Allardyce’s ever-improving side.
When Jay-Jay Okocha left The Reebok Stadium in 2006, Nolan’s impact was recognised even further when he was appointed as Okocha’s replacement in the team captaincy role. He made 323 league appearances for the club, scoring a host of crucial goals in Bolton’s maiden European adventures but by January 2009, fans were unhappy with his drop in performances. Without a goal and saddened by the criticism considering the service he’d given to Bolton, Kevin left to join Newcastle United in a £4 million move.
His move to Tyneside didn’t start well. A month after his arrival, he received a red card in a goalless draw with Everton for a horrendous two-footed challenge on Victor Anichebe which left the Nigerian out of action for several months with a serious knee injury. Newcastle were relegated at the end of the season and all of a sudden, Nolan was back in the Football League. However, he didn’t seek a transfer and took responsibility for the club’s drop into the second-tier. He was widely praised for his efforts in the 2009-2010 season. He scored 18 goals, including the first hat-trick of his club career in an away victory against Ipswich Town. His performances earned him the honour of the Championship Player of the Year and Newcastle earned promotion back to the top-flight as champions.
With Nicky Butt retiring in the summer of 2010, Nolan was given the captain’s armband on Newcastle’s return to the Premier League and scored twice in the club’s first home match back in the top-flight as Aston Villa were thrashed 6-0. Two months later, he enjoyed arguably the greatest day of his career, scoring a hat-trick in the Tyne & Wear Derby as Newcastle enjoyed a memorable 5-1 success over bitter rivals Sunderland.
So it was a surprise to see Nolan leave Newcastle in the summer of 2011 and return to the Championship, linking up with his former manager Allardyce at West Ham United on a five-year contract. With Matthew Upson moving on to Stoke City following the Hammers’ relegation from the top-flight, Nolan was immediately handed the captain’s armband and he led the team to an instant return to the Premier League. Promotion was secured via the play-offs.
Back in the Premier League for 2012-2013, Nolan scored in all of West Ham’s first three home games of the season, including a stoppage-time equaliser to rescue a 1-1 draw with Sunderland. In April, he scored the 100th goal of his career and he wrapped up his season in style with a final day treble in a 4-2 victory over already relegated Reading. That meant that for the fourth season running, he achieved double figures in terms of league goals. 2013-2014 was less rewarding and West Ham’s form wasn’t great either as they struggled to find any consistency. Two quick red cards in the winter months in away losses to Liverpool FC and Fulham suggested frustration was creeping into Nolan’s game. Allardyce’s response was to fine him two weeks wages and warn him that any further misconduct would see him removed of the captaincy. He still ended as the club’s top scorer but it wasn’t a happy season and his time at West Ham which started so well was ending on a downer.
His last game for the club came in August 2015 against AFC Bournemouth. With West Ham 2-0 down at half-time, he was replaced by Matt Jarvis and it was the last time he would figure in the Premier League. Five days later, he left the club via mutual consent, having played 157 times in all competitions for the Hammers. Nolan moved into management five months later, taking a player-manager role at Leyton Orient who were struggling in League Two. In January 2017, he took over at Notts County and led them to the League Two play-off final last season where they were pipped to promotion by Coventry City. After a wretched start to the 2018-2019 campaign, Nolan parted company with the oldest football club in England on 26th August, replaced by Australian Harry Kewell, who has since also being relieved of his duties.
Management has already shown bumps in the road but Kevin Nolan had a knack of being in the right place at the right time as a player. He was a leader in all of the dressing rooms he walked into, was never afraid of a challenge and a serial goalscorer for all of the teams he represented in the top-flight.