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Neil Lennon believes staying up would be the perfect tribute.

Neil Lennon believes survival would be Bolton's perfect tribute to Phil Gartside

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Bolton manager Neil Lennon wants his players to honour long-serving chairman Phil Gartside by staying in the Championship.

Gartside died from cancer on Wednesday at the age of 63, three months after ill health forced him to step away from his duties at the club.

A boyhood Bolton fan, Gartside joined the Wanderers board in 1988 and became chairman in 1999, overseeing the best period in the club's recent history with a succession of top-10 Premier League finishes which brought European football.

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But relegation in 2012 contributed to serious financial problems and Bolton currently sit four points from safety in the Sky Bet Championship, facing a winding-up order.

Their recent form has provided some cause for optimism, with the Trotters taking seven points from the last nine available ahead of Saturday's trip to Brighton.

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Lennon said: " I'd like to think the players would make a stand for Phil now and do something positive in his memory. And that is to survive.

"We've given ourselves a foothold in the race. We've got some difficult fixtures to negotiate but there's an extra motivation now - as if we needed any more.

"I know some of the players were close to Phil as well and had a great relationship with him so hopefully through all these bad times there might be something good to come out of it in terms of driving the club forward."

Lennon joined the club in October 2014 and has found himself fighting a succession of fires on and off the pitch.

But he said: " All the other stuff pales into insignificance compared to what I'm feeling about the loss of Phil today.

"I was very close to Phil for over a year. We knew for a while he was gravely ill but it's still a huge shock when it comes and it's devastating, not just for myself and my backroom team but the whole of the club because he was such a huge figure here for a long time. He presided over some fantastic times and he's left massive shoes to fill.

"I always felt he had great ideas on the game, whether it was what he wanted to achieve here at Bolton or for the game in general. He was an intelligent guy, very affable and he had a real dry wit as well, he was always good company.

"He was very good to my family as well and I have to say the way his family have conducted themselves over the last couple of months has been amazing - and all our condolences go to them."

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The Macron Stadium has been a far from happy place over the past couple of years and much of the anger was directed at Gartside over perceived mismanagement of the club.

Bolton were given a stay of execution by HM Revenue and Customs last month but face a hearing on February 22 where they could be wound up over unpaid taxes.

But Lennon does not believe the recent troubles will sully Gartside's legacy at Bolton and believes he should be remembered for the significant achievements of his tenure.

He said: "I don't think they will. Just look around the place. It's a totally different club to what it was when Phil first walked through the doors.

"He's made a massive contribution to that and I think we should all be very grateful for what he put into the club and what he achieved here."

A book of remembrance for Gartside, who was also an influential member of the Football Association board, has been opened at the Macron Stadium.

Tributes continue to be paid on Thursday, with Jay-Jay Okocha - who played for the Trotters from 2002 until 2006 - tweeting: "With a heavy heart, my condolence goes to the family of Phil Gartside who made my stay at Bolton one to remember. Rest in peace good man."

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Topics:
Neil Lennon
Premier League
Sam Allardyce
Kevin Nolan
Bolton Wanderers
Football
Championship

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