AT the breakout of war in 1939, Wanderers possessed two of English football’s most promising young attacking talents.

One, a certain Nathaniel “Nat” Lofthouse, went on to be a legend, but the achievements of another, Walter Sidebottom, have been largely lost to the history books after his tragic demise.

His is one of many untold stories uncovered in “The Wonderful Wanderers,” a new book by author Jeff Williamson which chronicles the early years of the football club from its inception in 1874 to the years following the famous victory over Manchester United in the 1958 FA Cup.

Yorkshire-born Sidebottom signed for Bolton in 1936 after being spotted playing as a 17-year-old in the West Riding Cup Final. Arsenal had also been keen.

Nearly three years older than Lofthouse, he had found his path to the first team obstructed at first by the prolific George Hunt. But as English football was put on hold, and a Wartime League established, he formed a partnership with a 16-year-old Lofthouse that looked promising, to say the least.

Sidebottom’s final game, as it turned out, was a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers on April 26, 1941, in which both he and Lofthouse – working as a Bevin Boy down the mines during the wartime effort – got on the score-sheet.

Williamson picks up the story.

“I found his story fascinating,” he explained. “Sidebottom only gets a fleeting mention in most Bolton Wanderers books and yet the magazines and newspaper articles of the time were suggesting he was one of the hottest properties around.

“When war broke out he was on the verge of the first team. He was offered a PTI job in Rochdale but turned it down.

“He was one of six brothers who all joined up to the armed forces and that clearly played on his mind when he decided not to take up that offer and joined the Royal Navy.

“He met a Bolton lass, Kathleen Pendlebury, and married her in 1943, but two weeks later he was serving on the HMS Charybdis sailing in the English Channel which was sunk by a torpedo.

“The journalists and writers of the time were saying he could have played for any club in the country – but I doubt whether he would have left Bolton at that time. We were really that good.

“You could have seen him alongside Nat Lofthouse because he could play in any of the forward positions, and they were both very young men.”

While Lofthouse understandably takes up a good chunk of Williamson’s book, “he was my lynchpin,” the author admits, The Wonderful Wanderers delves deep into the club’s history and describes an era when they were one of the true giants of the game.

Three FA Cup final victories in the 1920s, the most famous of which was the great White Horse Final played against West Ham United at Wembley, was never quite matched with a league title.

“There was almost nothing they didn’t win,” Williamson enthused. “The team of that era were as good as you’ll find. Even on the European front they used to go out and beat the best the continent had to offer.

“Everyone has heard about the 1923 final, it is possibly the best-known one of them all but we’ve got a whole section of the book dedicated to the world class players Bolton had at the time. David Jack, Dick Pym, Joe Smith, Ted Vizard, Jack Smith – they deserve to be remembered just as fondly as the modern players.

“I’ve read so many articles that were still talking about the team in the 1940s, saying that no-one could quite match up to them. In fact the title of the book, The Wonderful Wanderers, is borrowed from a piece I read.”

Williamson’s book also examines in detail two competitions whose importance that have been lost in the sands of time, the Lancashire Cup and the Manchester Senior Cup.

“During the 1930s and 1940s the Lancashire Cup in particular was as prized as the FA Cup,” he explained of the competition won 12 times by Bolton, the last of which was in the early 1990s.

“I don’t think anyone has managed to log all the players who took part in these competitions before. I’ve tried to go into great detail and not just focus on the players who won medals.”

Other historical rarities are discussed, including Wanderers’ 1945 War Cup victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

“Bolton won the game 2-1,” Williamson explained. “I think George Hunt had scored the first goal but the winner came from the penalty spot and was scored by a player called Lol Hamlett.

“The story goes that when he went up to take it, someone ran on to the pitch and pinched the ball and refused to give it back.

“They got it eventually after a bit of a fuss and he scored with it, but can you imagine that happening these days?”

Guest players were commonplace during the war years and it may surprise some Bolton fans to know that Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Tom Finney and Bill Shankly were among the stellar names who appeared briefly for Wanderers at the time.

The book is a labour of love for Williamson, whose love of the club started at the age of nine as Lofthouse came through the ranks at Burnden Park, where his mother and three aunties worked.

But, he explains, it is also a reminder of a time when Wanderers were regarded up and down the land as one of the game’s greats.

“There’s an old book written in the 1960s by a fella called Percy Young and even back then he questions how a team like Bolton Wanderers, who had been so dominant, could decline so quickly?

“He asks where did the money go? And it strikes a chord because there are a lot of people asking the same thing these days.

“If the club had kicked on in that era, like Liverpool did, Everton did and Manchester United certainly did, then who knows where we could be these days?”

The Wonderful Wanderers goes on sale at Bolton Central today priced at £14.99 and is already available to order online via Amazon, with a foreword written by John Ritson.