Former Wanderers player and chief executive Paul Fletcher – who led the project to build the Reebok Stadium – shares extracts from his book ‘A Pitch Too Far’ which tracks the sad decline of the club he loves.

Find part one of our series below with more to come over the next few days

As the fortunes of Bolton Wanderers sink to new lows, I was asked a few weeks ago by an old school friend to try to explain how a football club can get itself into such difficulties.

After I had spent 30 minutes giving him my views on the sorry situation, he said ‘You should put your thoughts on paper.’ So, I have. Here goes.

First and foremost, I’m a big fan of Bolton Wanderers FC. Like many of you, it started when I was very young. It was my grandad’s fault. I wasn’t to know then that I would become a player for the club, be their most expensive sale, save the club from bankruptcy in 1969 when Nat Lofthouse told me: “You have to go, if you don’t the club will go under so there’s no other decision to make.” He didn’t tell me which club I was being sold to, in those days you had no choice.

But my love for the Trotters had started much earlier.

The Bolton News:

By the time I was to visit my first professional football match it was 1958 when I was seven, football was well established around the world, especially in England where crowds of 40,000 to 60,000 standing spectators were commonplace on a Saturday afternoon. This was certainly the case at Burnden Park, which was about two miles away from my grandparent’s house in Great Lever where, with my mum and dad, I spent my early years. Saturday afternoons in those days can only be described by one word – magical.

At seven years old I came of age. My grandad agreed to take me to my first match. And life would never quite be the same afterwards. I don’t remember who Bolton Wanderers played that day, or whether they won or lost, but I do remember not sleeping the night before due to the excitement.

I didn’t quite realise it then, but I can now understand what Bolton Wanderers meant to this hard-working town. In this tight-knit community of mill workers, miners, steelworkers and bricklayers, while everyone made their way to their church on Sundays, likewise everyone flocked to their religion of football on Saturdays. Fathers and grandfathers walked with their children and their children’s children to the match at the Burnden Cathedral. They walked down cobbled streets, past corner shops and chimney pots and, as these arterial roads to the match got narrower, the swell of the crowds got bigger and the noise got louder. An atmosphere fired with excitement developed as the stadium’s floodlights came into sight. I remember my grandad going for a ‘pint-of-mild’ in the Robin Hood Pub I think it was called, while I was sent to buy a pie and a match programme across the street.

This programme then became grandad’s bible through the following week and each day it would become more blackened from the coal-dust from his hands (he was a stoker in a local cotton mill). He would read it over and over again, probably dreaming of one day being a player himself, even though he was around 60 years old.

As grandad left the Robin Hood, he and I joined up with nine or 10 of his workmates and together we all walked down Lever Street towards his second home, Burnden Park, the longstanding home of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.

Once outside the ground grandad’s group was around 15 to 20 and the cobbled streets leading to the stadium were packed with Trotters supporters, many wearing their navy blue and white scarves, some carrying wooden rattles to add to the noise.

Many of the Wanderers players had been discussed during the walk down to the ground and I listened intensely. The name that I remember most was Nat Lofthouse, or ‘Lofty’ as he was affectionately nicknamed and whom a journalist had christened ‘The Lion of Vienna’. This congregation worshipped him. They were on their way to their temple, and he was their God.

The arrival at the game, fuelled with the expectation of victory, was intoxicating and very much part of the fabric of football in the community it served. That day I was to see The Lion of Vienna, at centre forward, grace the Burnden Park pitch not knowing that 10 years later aged 17, I would be following in his footsteps to play centre forward for Bolton Wanderers at Nat’s Burnden Park Cathedral.

And incredibly some 30 years later still, I would return to Burnden to arrange the tired old stadium’s demolition and manage the club’s relocation to a new stadium, The Reebok at Middlebrook, six miles out of town. Probably the biggest mistake in the club’s history. But more of this later.

None of these thoughts were in my head that day in the late 1950’s. I just wanted to see the Lion of Vienna score a goal. After that, I would sleep well that night.

I remember vividly one conversation between two of my grandad’s mates about somebody called ‘Banksy’ who apparently had a habit of scything down a Blackpool player called ‘Matthews’ and they would both finish on the track around the pitch. This was quite a feat as the red-gravel track was about two yards over the touchline and at least one metre below pitch level. No one got sent off in those days, or booked, just a simple warning ‘don’t do that again Tommy’ from the referee. These mill workers and coalminers liked to see a bit of violence on their weekends off and these incidents, where an opposing player got hammered, seemed to be talked about more than ‘Lofty’s’ goals.

So, a few years later I find myself leaving Smithills School and joining Bolton Wanderers as an apprentice aged 17.

The club paid my massive £6.10 shillings-a-week wage into Williams and Glynn’s Bank in Bolton town centre, my first ever bank account, and I would go to collect it on Fridays after training and my chores at the club were completed; cleaning the first-team players’ boots, mopping the dressing room floor and laying out the kit in readiness for the next day’s game.