THE moss-covered grave lay anonymously for 124 years, just feet from the ancient walls of Christ Church at Walmsley in Bolton.

But a best-selling author, a computer and a detective trail worthy of The Da Vinci Code, have now unearthed it as the last resting place of the man who started Bolton Wanderers.

Describing the moment the inscription finally saw the light of day, church warden Judith Page said: "The gravestone was completely hidden, so I scraped back the moss with the heel of my shoe and suddenly saw the name I had been searching for. It was wonderful!"

The Rev Joseph Farrall Wright, a Victorian vicar of another long-gone Christ Church in Deane Road, persuaded Tom Ogden, the headmaster of nearby Christ Church Boys' School, to start a football club at the Sunday School.

Christ Church FC was duly formed in June, 1874, playing to the new FA rules pioneered locally by Turton FC. But the club never had a home ground of its own and played where it could, so, when it changed its name three years later, it became Bolton Wanderers, and the rest is history.

It might well have remained that way had not author Peter Lupson decided to write his book, Thank God For Football, about the Christian roots of many of the country's most famous football clubs.

He spent 11 years researching and writing, scouring old parish magazines and studying social conditions, uncovering the importance football had on impoverished areas like Bolton. Here, the sport offered physical activity, teamwork and self-reliance to local lads short on hope.

The Merseyside author not only studied the beginnings of well-known clubs, but traced their founders' endings.

He discovered Tom Ogden's last resting place in an unmarked grave in Heaton Cemetery, and that the Rev Wright was buried at the Walmsley church.

But identifying exactly where posed a real problem for its current vicar, the Rev John McGrath, because the parishioner who had created a computer programme of all the graves in the extensive churchyard had died just weeks before. And no-one could crack the code.

Enter reader and churchwarden Mrs Page, who enlisted the help of a local computer company.

They made a CD-ROM of the programme and, armed with this, church registers and other parish paperwork, she spent weeks searching through the thousands of graves.

She concentrated on the church's old grounds, and, one day - ironically, close to the church's chancel - she found herself standing over the stone slab of Plot No. 549.

"Because the grave was flat and had become so overgrown, we had no idea whose it was," she said.

"But it was certainly very exciting when we realised we had finally found the Rev Wright."

Bolton Wanderers secretary and historian Simon Marland described the find as "great news" and would not rule out club involvement in now marking the grave.

"This find turns the clock back to make the club's history more of a reality," he said.

  • Thank God For Football, published by Azure priced £9.99, is available from Bolton Wanderers and Waterstones book shop.