BERT Tyldesley followed the fortunes of Bolton​ Wanderers through eight decades and kept a diary of his time in the terraces. With the kind permission of his family, we bring you his reflections on that journal, entitled: 75 Years a Wandering.

The Bolton News:

WELL, I wasn’t to know, was I? I mean, that was something special, the stuff from which dreams are made.

I was only four at the time so I would hardly appreciate that on April 29, 1923 Bolton Wanderers played West Ham United in the first-ever FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Nor would I be aware of the amazing backcloth two what was a simple game of football.

What made the event so special was not what happened on the field of play but what happened off it. It is recorded that 126,047 people passed through the turnstiles and that in itself constitutes a record for any game in England.

The Bolton News:

But when you become aware that another 100,000 gained admission by rushing the barriers and that the game was eventually witnessed by a quarter of a million people in a space designated to accommodate half that number – that the start was delayed by just 40 minutes, nobody was killed and David Jack scored within two minutes of kick-off – then you will appreciate that this was indeed the stuff of which dreams are made.

I would like to think it was the following day, although it could have been a day or two later, that I was part of a large crowd which had congregated in Walkden waiting the arrival of the conquering heroes with the cup. Whichever day it was I can clearly remember standing part of the time on the wall outside what became the Trustee Savings Bank on the corner of Memorial and Manchester Roads.

When the big moment arrived, I straddled my dad’s shoulders and could clearly hear the cheering as the large charabanc edged its way past the Stocks Hotel towards the monument (then in the centre of the quintet of roads).

It was a happy day. Everyone was good humoured as if it were Christmas. People you didn’t know chucked you under the chin and said to my dad: “An is ee goin’t play for th’Wanderers, eh?’ and gave you sweets. Sensing my dad was in a good mood he bought me an ice cream cornet from Mrs Squirrel’s cart as we walked the two miles home.

In a year or two’s time I became more aware of the great happenings that day and remember sitting on the corner of the old Roe Green Co-Op and hearing Colin Richardson, one of the young men of the village who worked for the railway and probably got a free pass to Wembley, recounting his experiences of the great break-in. Colin became a hero of mine and I used to walk behind him at a suitable distance on our way to Sunday School.

As my ability to read improved I used to follow the fortunes of the Wanderers in the pages of the Daily Herald and, more particularly, The Buff. Certainly by April 24, 1926 when David Jack scored to beat Manchester City in the final I was able to follow their fortunes in print.

Indeed, during this period it was my task on Saturday nights around 7pm to await the arrival at the bottom of our street of a very small man wearing a very large cap on a very large bike shouting: “Buff Final!” On the darkest nights (and kids were perfectly safe in those days) I would stand under the flickering gas lamp reading The Tramp’s account of the latest disaster or triumph.

The Bolton News:

Before it gets forgotten, the only change between the 1923 and 1926 team was at left-back where Harry Greenhalgh replaced the injured Alex Finney. Alex, one of the greatest-ever servants of the club, played in 530 games between 1922 and 1937.

He was playing for the Wanderers when I started infants school and was still playing 15 years later when I started grammar school and had been working for some time.

And he was playing on a long-ago Good Friday in 1928 when my life obsession with ‘going to the match at Burnden’ became an actuality. It was an obsession which, allowing for one’s one playing and wars etc, persisted until Friday, April 25 1997 when the last-ever game was played at the old ground.


Just the ticket


Before I tell you about that long-ago Good Friday I’d like to give you a little family and local background. The village of Roe Green is five or six miles south of Burnden Park and roughly the same from Old Trafford. It was and still is a pretty village with a large green surrounded by woodland and has two claims to fame. With its absence of a public house, due largely to the pro-temperance ethos of the Independent Methodists, Roe Green became known as the Teetotal Village.

More importantly, it was the birthplace of two of the greatest batsmen England and Lancashire have ever known – Johnny (JT) and Ernest Tyldesley. Between them they dominated the Lancashire batting scene from the turn of the century to the mid-thirties, whilst at the same time making an international reputation.

It was Ernest – second in the England averages that year with 79.57 runs per innings – who sidled up to my dad and I on Sunday, April 1, 1928, outside the chapel on Roe Green, to offer us two complimentary tickets to the Wanderers v Manchester United match the following week.

Mindful of my dad’s penchant for the annual Good Friday game between Swinton and Oldham rugby league teams I sensed his hesitancy but prayed he would weigh fairly in the balance my greater devotion to the Wanderers. I saw him take the tickets and offer a muffled, but not overwhelming “thank you” and my heart was fit to burst.

So there we were, walking the two miles up Old Clough Lane through the fields to Birch Road, up Memorial Road to the Monument where we would get the tram. Those two miles were a regular walk in those days, even for a nine-year-old, they were nothing.

The tram swayed and rattled its way up Bolton Road, past Hill Top and Longcauseway then to Moses Gate and Burnden. I’d been on the tram all the way to Bolton before but not on a matchday when it was full of men, excited in anticipation, replete with jokes, laughter and ribaldry. All, it seemed, were wearing large caps at rakish angles and smoking cigarettes held cupped in their hands.

And then Burnden, with folk pouring in all directions, and particularly like a surging torrent under the Railway Bridge at the Bolton end of the ground; all of this with the huge Main Stand, which I’d often seen from the tram, towering above me.

Our complimentary tickets took us to the centre of the Main Stand (Manchester Road) and a few rows behind where the press seats were and, as my dad told me, the man who wrote The Buff sat.

The Bolton News:

Standing there, watching the ground fill from all directions, I felt like the captain of a ship on his bridge. Immediately below was the tunnel out of which my heroes would emerge and to the left, the huge Railway Embankment, the right the covered Great Lever End and opposite the Darcy Lever Stand (soon to be replaced by the Burnden/David Jack Stand of so many bitter memories). When there were no gaps in the corner, said my dad, then you’ll know there are 25,000 in the ground.

I remember three things from my very first game at Burnden… Firstly, only six of my heroes from the 1923 and 1926 final appeared in that match. Of the remainder, Jimmy Seddon, Billy Jennings and David Jack were left out, such is the contempt Bolton had for United in those days, or perhaps they were injured. Joe Smith had gone to Stockport for £1,000 the year before and JR Smith to Bury for £1,500 – Bolton putting the money towards the £6,300 they paid Middlesbrough for Jimmy McClelland, a centre or inside forward.

McClelland scored on this, the occasion of my first ever match, but only stayed three years. Also playing that day was George Gibson, an inside left who had replaced the great Joe Smith and played 255 games, scoring 81 goals. He captained Bolton and earned a cup winners’ medal but after leaving for Chelsea George later admitted the main factor had been the pressure in trying to succeed Smith in the supporters’ eyes.

And then my seat. Before the plastic buckets of today they were made out of stout and sensible wood. What is more, the seat – at least in the central part of the stand – were attached to very functional and effective springs. A consequence of this arrangement, allied to the fact that at that age I was not the size of two-pennorth of copper, was that whenever the action gravitated to the goal area I would rise to obtain a better view and the stout and sensible seat would rise behind me.

More often than not when returning to the seated position I would forget the upturned seat and deposit myself on the floor.

While this hurt my bottom from time to time and caused my short-fused dad to go red in the face, it afforded considerable amusement to the well-dressed lady seated to my left.

The third and final remembrance of that long-gone Good Friday was goalkeeper, Dick Pym.

Despite my comparatively diminutive size, I played as goalkeeper for St Mark’s school and, two years after that, after gaining a scholarship, for Eccles Secondary School.

It should come as no surprise, then, for you to learn that this first-ever viewing of Dick Pym in action was the high-point of my life to that moment in time. I was beside myself in the four or five days leading up to the match and at moment of the players emerging from the tunnel below me I was white and as near to physical sickness as it was possible to be.

There was my hero, Pym, tall and straight as a ramrod, resplendent in his green jersey, the uniform of his trade. I looked anxiously for signs of ‘Adventure’ or ‘Wizard’ about his person as I had been reliably informed that he wiled away his time during the frequent attacking excursions of his team-mates sat on the grass with his back to the goalpost reading one of the favourite boy’s papers of the time.

I can’t remember much of what happened on the field at the time other than one, awful thing.

With the Wanderers leading 3-1, Pym stood contemplating the scene from the edge of his penalty area. Whether it was a fluke, or one of the United defenders had noted the exposed position, but someone in a red shirt released a shot of much towering magnitude that it cleared all the players in the middle of the pitch, bounced two yards in front of my hero and then over him into the net.

Oh the horror and indignity of it all! Worse was to follow, just as United showed every sign of capitalising on their good fortune my dad, without any warning, said: “Come on, we’ll get to the front of the queue for the tram!”

How could he with the game so delicately poised?

As the tram rattled and swayed its way back down to Walkden I was distraught.

“Do you think they have won?” I kept asking my dad.

“Shurrup, of course they have,” he replied, although I have no idea how he knew.

As it was Good Friday there was no newspapers. We had to wait 12 agonising hours before nipping downstairs (we were living at the newsagents by this time) and checking all the papers. The Herald confirmed it, we had won 3-2.

The Bolton News:

Played up Pompey


We come to April 27, 1929, and Wanderers were the bookies’ favourite for their third Wembley final in seven years, with six veterans of previous finals in their line-up.

Playing well within themselves, Bolton allowed Portsmouth to run all over the vast enervating Wembley pitch making pretty patterns without ever really threatening Dick Pym, nursing an undisclosed injury, in goal.

The longer the game went on the more tactical know-how of the Wanderers became apparent and it was no surprise when Billy Butler broke the deadlock with a terrific shot 12 minutes from time. Shortly afterwards the tiring Pompey defence got in a real tangle, allowing Harold Blackmore to add another.

At something of 10 years of age and with a paper round it was hardly likely I would be among the 92,576 present but that is not to say I was not in touch with proceedings. Far from it!

This was before the days of TVs or transistor radios but not before the wireless, the large wood-encased instruments owned by the few fortunate individuals who could be identified by the tall masts at the bottom of their garden. Having identified one such mast at the house of Sam McKelvey, who lived a few doors down from our shop in Roe Green, I obtained an invitation to go and listen via his son, Leonard.

Neither remotely interested in football I was left in the company of Mrs McKelvey, a rather posh and foreboding woman and hardly the best host for a shy and timid lad like myself. Still, I would have put up with anything just to be there.

This was long before the present sophisticated, if frenetic, running commentaries. Even before the Radio Times used to print a squared plan of the pitch, identified with numbers, from which one plotted the to and fro of the game from a rather pedantic and deliberate instructions given by an ancillary voice until the commentary would interpose, with suitably educated tones, something to the effect that: “By jove, it’s a goal!”

What one heard on this occasion was a summary of the game played thus far every 10 minutes or so, with Palm Court Music (and even talks on gardening and embroidery) filling in the intervals.

It was hardly the ideal way to follow the fortunes of your favourite team and it was only 10 minutes from the end and with Bolton leading 1-0 could Lehar’s ‘Count of Luxembourg’ really be appreciated.

But in 1929 the fact you could hear the FA Cup final, in whatever form, was the high point of scientific achievement. We were duly impressed but whether Mrs McKelvey was, I can’t recall.