THE last time Plymouth Argyle came to Bolton, the town had barely had chance to settle from one of the greatest FA Cup nights in its history.

Just three days after David Lee, Tony Kelly, John McGinlay, Andy Walker and Co had torn holders Liverpool apart at Anfield, they were dragged back down to reality against a Pilgrims side managed by England great Peter Shilton – who had yet to pull on a Bolton shirt by that point – and with another very familiar face playing at full-back.

Keith Hill can remember all the sights and sounds of Burnden Park that afternoon, and the fact that the Devon side had been forced to travel to the North West on the morning of the game to save on expenses.

“I remember I had some hair,” he laughed. “It must have been quite long because Peter Shilton used to go on and on at me to get it cut.

“I remember playing against a very good Bolton team in the making. That was the process of them becoming a great side when you look at the players who played that day.

“A lot of my family and friends I went to school with were at Burnden Park that day. I got a bit of stick at times but it was always a pleasure playing there, it really was.

“Whether it was for Plymouth or the town team, I have got some great, great memories. I played for Canon Slade at Burnden as well in school cup finals.

“Obviously that particular afternoon wasn’t that special but I remember it well. Walker and McGinlay, they’re legends, and that partnership helped the club gain momentum.”

Wanderers were at the beginning of the White Hot era, and though they had a little dip in form with defeats against Brighton and Stockport in the weeks immediately after a 3-1 victory against Plymouth, Bruce Rioch’s side did little else wrong as they romped to promotion.

Hill spent four years as a player with Plymouth, making more than 150 appearances before moving back to the North West with Rochdale.

As the biggest city in England which has never had a Premier League side, with a catchment area of around 250,000, the Pilgrims have plenty of potential. But just eight years ago they went into administration – and Hill believes that they are destined to play at a higher level after dropping back into League Two last season.

“It’s a beautiful place to live, really in isolation,” he said. “You can get lost in the environment down there, a great place to raise a family.

“Home Park is a fine place to play football as well but I think you can get lost a little bit from the football community at times.

“It’s a big club and I’m glad to see they have got the structure right now. They have had financial woes but the new ownership have sorted them out and now they are in a transitional period where they can build.

“Ian Holloway took them up to the Championship at one stage. I was there with Peter Shilton and lost in the semi-finals of the play-offs. Then I had a spell under Neil Warnock and we got promoted.

“They can recruit good players and management staff because I think their infrastructure is better than most in League Two. They will continue to get promoted. How far they can go up the pyramid, only time will tell. It’ll be down to investment and management.”

The challenge for Hill is to cultivate an improving home atmosphere generated since his arrival and turn it into the sort of potent weapon it used to be at Burnden – or indeed, the backing Plymouth receive from their ‘Green Army’ at Home Park.

But though the Burnden days seem so long ago for some, Hill still has a recent association with Wanderers’ spiritual home.

“I think the acoustics at the University of Bolton Stadium are excellent,” he said. “The atmosphere is really good at this moment in time and I thank the supporters for that.

“I loved Burnden. During the summer I was playing there - walking men’s football.

“We play behind the old ground and I think when I started I was 49, so they gave me a swerve. I really enjoyed it on Tuesday and Fridays, had a brew, got into the spirit of things.

“I represented them in a tournament in Blackburn and we won it.

“The place was special and what was important in my time as a young footballer is that you had that opportunity to play there. It was a prize.

“Every kid should have a dream to play at their club’s ground and I hope there are young players in Bolton who look that way at the University of Bolton Stadium.”

Hill and his assistant David Flitcroft are trying to raise the stakes for young players coming through the club and plan to strengthen local ties to create a pathway for every Bolton youngster to get their opportunity.

“The amateur football leagues in Bolton should be our lifeline,” he said. “Every player should have a dream or an opportunity at least to play for Wanderers, and they will do, we’re adamant about that.

“Yes, there are a lot of big clubs around. But players who go to Manchester City or to Manchester United and it doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean it ends. There is a home here.

“We all leave home. But we know that your mum has that bedroom of yours that’s untouchable. And this football club for those players who want to explore other options has to give them that option. You can’t cut your nose off to spite your face.”