NICKY Spooner fondly remembers a time when the team coach en route to away games would be filled with home grown Wanderers.

Back in the early nineties, the full-back came to prominence under Bruce Rioch as part of a squad littered with players who had graduated from the youth ranks to make a name for themselves at Burnden Park, including Alan Stubbs, Julian Darby, Jimmy Phillips, Mark Winstanley, Mike Jeffries and Neil Fisher.

The last two decades have seen a once dependable conveyor belt of talent slow considerably, with a host of young players lost to the backwaters of reserve team football and deprived of a chance to shine.

But Spooner - now in charge of the club’s Under-16s - is well-placed to predict that Joe Riley’s recent graduation from John Henry’s second string to Owen Coyle’s Premier League line-up against Stoke City will definitely not be the last time a local lad strides out at the Reebok.

“I remember travelling down to Wimbledon one time and looking round at who was on the coach - and a good six or seven of us must have come all the way through the youth team,” he told The Bolton News. “The average age was something like 21 but it’s 20 years since that happened.

“I think in the past we might have had lads who were ready but the first team manager hasn’t really given them a chance.

“Owen Coyle said right away ‘if they are good enough, they are old enough’ and that’s a great thing to be able to point out when you’re talking to the lads, or their parents.

“The young lads can see Joe or Josh Vela with the first team and it’s a great selling point for the club. They can see they are going to be looked after and that the chance is there.”

The Manchester-born defender twice won the Lancashire Youth Cup after signing YTS forms at Wanderers in 1987 and moved through to forge a senior career cruelly truncated by injury.

Since hanging up his boots he has worked his way through the coaching ranks with the Whites, and now joins a group of former first teamers including Phillips, David Lee, Tony Kelly and Dean Crombie who have revamped the Academy system in the last three years.

The icing on the cake came on Sunday when Boothstown-based Riley - with the club since the age of seven - became the first player to come right the way through the modern youth system to pull on a white shirt.

“It’s all the more special for a local lad,” he said. “But it’s just as important for the fans to see. At Bolton, they have always loved to see one of their own get a chance.

“We knew this was on the cards because Owen’s instruction was to get the local lads coming through right away.

“You see him at the u15s, the u18s, the reserves - he knows exactly what’s going on. And with John Henry doing the reserves, there’s that link there, running all the way through.

“There has been a lot of restructuring, particularly after the World Cup when everyone took a really good look at their youth systems.

“There has been a lot of hard work but it’s worth it when you see the likes of Joe get his chance.”

Following in the footsteps of Spooner, Phillips, Nicky Hunt and Dean Holden, Riley became the latest in a long line of locally-bred full-backs to have reached the first team.

And Spooner believes the 20-year-old does have the necessary skills to make a career for himself in the Premier League.

“There must be something in the water in Bolton,” he said. “We must know how to pick them.

“Joe is a really modern full-back because it’s not just about defending your goal and sitting on the half way line anymore.

“He likes to get forward, attack, and get crosses in, but Owen would never have brought him into the team against Stoke if he didn’t have the other side to his game as well.

“He has worked so long and hard to get where he is, I’m sure he’ll be fine. And there’s no reason why he can’t be in that first team for a very long time.”