THEY say you find out who your real friends are in times of need – and that is certainly the case at Bolton Wanderers.

Football rivalries run deep in this part of Lancashire, once the hotbed of English football and home to some of the most famous names in the game.

Generations of support, through thick and thin, promotions and relegations. Decades of passion, in good times and bad.

Colours are worn with pride – white, blue, red, claret, tangerine – and nothing matters more than taking three points against a neighbouring town, at least until a situation develops like the one at Bolton which makes the whole sport sit up, forget the tribalism and take notice.

That a food bank is required to help staff at the University of Bolton Stadium is a damning indictment not just on one man, but of also the flawed system which enabled him.

Ken Anderson left his employees high and dry as Wanderers hurtled towards administration, his responsibilities as a custodian of a town’s team abandoned completely.

Bolton’s Kenny Davenport scored the first goal in the Football League but as a founder member crumbled in recent months the EFL’s only instruction was that they had enough money to see out the season.

Shaun Harvey’s staunch defence of Anderson came on February 25. Not two months later the EFL were issuing a condemnatory statement after a player strike over unpaid wages forced a league game to be cancelled for the first time in English football history.

Administration means Wanderers will start with minus 12 points next season in League One as a bare minimum, a punishment which will be served by an owner who did nothing to deserve it.

It is no wonder that the whole of football outside the top flight has watched Bolton’s plight with concern, for there are plenty of others walking the knife edge. Other clubs are facing an uncertain future and unless a long-term solution can be found to better spread the wealth, to protect the have-nots, or to better insulate clubs from rogue owners, many more will follow.

Then, right in the centre of one of the sorriest stories to emerge in Wanderers’ downfall, came a timely reminder of how great this game can be.

A random act of kindness from a so-called rival club in Preston North End has been rightly praised by football fans the nation over.

Upon hearing about the troubles at Bolton, the club immediately sent £2,000 of shopping vouchers to the hard-working and most unheralded Community Trust to distribute among the lowest-paid staff.

Preston are not alone in their act of generosity. A number of big businesses – local and national – have acted without consultation or the need for publicity.

Indeed, the very existence of the food bank was being guarded until it was absolutely necessary to reveal details of how bad this situation has become for the loyal employees.

Outside the homes of Bolton and Preston two great players – indeed two great friends – are honoured in statue form. Working class heroes like Nat Lofthouse and Sir Tom Finney would no doubt have condemned what a state this grand old club has become.

But both legends will have looked down favourably on a most gentlemanly act which shed just a little bit of goodwill on a most desperate situation.