HUNCHED up on the back seat, hurtling at top speed towards a game at Wycombe which kicked-off in several hours, Matty Alexander’s senior career at Bolton Wanderers was about to make the most audacious start imaginable.

It hadn’t been long since the Newcastle-born goalkeeper was snatched up from an exit trial after leaving his hometown club’s academy. In fact, the man who spotted him, Brian Morris, was at the wheel.

This was the summer of 2019 – a crazy ride of ominous financial stories, odious would-be owners, and a takeover bid that never looked like being completed. Down in Buckinghamshire, Phil Parkinson’s senior players – unpaid in months – were unsure if they wanted to take the field. Some did not even know if they were registered to play.

At just 17, Alexander was one of a handful of kids who had been asked to hurry down to Adams Park as a precaution. In the event, Sharon Brittan – now chairman but then the person fronting Football Ventures’ bid to save the club – had rallied the professional players with a promise she would get the deal done and pay the money they were owed. Her words worked, at least until all hell broke loose the following week.

Alexander had been living away from home in digs for the first time and was a year into his first scholarship contract with Bolton when the madness really began.

“I remember over that summer no-one knew what was happening,” he told The Bolton News. “Even before that game against Wycombe on the first day, I didn’t travel with the first team on the Friday, I ended up going down with Brian Morris and Steve Ellis on the Saturday morning.

“I got a text late on Friday saying ‘meet at the stadium at 7am’ – so I’m thinking something must have been happening for us to have to get down there.

“But by the time I got down to the hotel everything was normal, so I ended up watching from the side-lines.”

Wycombe won 2-0. Bolton’s line-up had included debutants Joe White, Eddie Brown, Liam Edwards, Yoan Zouma, Dennis Politic. James Weir and Harry Brockbank had only been given clearance that same morning by the EFL to take the field.

Worse was to come for Wanderers. Just five days later, former Watford owner Laurence Bassini claimed to have secured a High Court injunction stopping Football Ventures’ purchase of the club, news which sent everyone into panic mode.

This time the senior players decided there would be no negotiation. They refused to play against Coventry City the following weekend, leaving Bolton to field a team comprised almost entirely of teenagers.

Perhaps it was the exuberance of youth but Alexander recalls the mood within the group to be one of excitement, rather than trepidation.

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“That was how we saw it – if we got the opportunity to get ourselves on the pitch we had nothing to lose. Nobody was expecting anything,” he said. “It was a bit like a cup final.

“We knew that if we were out there, the club was in a very difficult state.

“Going into the game, most of us felt it was going to change and some of the senior might end up playing.

“I was in two minds. But I remember on the morning getting a text from Remi Matthews and Ben Alnwick saying ‘good luck’ and that’s when I knew I was going to be playing.

“I had nothing to lose. Everyone was saying ‘don’t worry if it goes pear shaped’ so it felt like a free hit. But we ended up battling away and getting a point.”

The precarious nature of Wanderers’ finances in administration meant tickets for the game went on sale less than 48 hours before kick-off. Nevertheless, nearly 9,000 supporters turned out to see a match they are unlikely to forget.

The average age of Bolton’s matchday squad was just 19-and-a-half. Alexander was one of four 17-year-olds to play from the first whistle, and a 16-year-old Finlay Lockett would come on in the second half as the second youngest-player in the club’s history.

On paper, they stood no chance. Yet something was on their side that day.

“We had no idea what was happening,” he said. “We knew there were players who didn’t have much experience but it had never crossed our minds that we were the youngest-ever league side. That was just something we read about afterwards. It was quite remarkable, really.”

Wanderers may have had some help from the linesman’s flag, and current centre-forward Amadou Bakayoko may have different recollections as he was continually thwarted by the Whites’ fresh-faced defence. But as Alexander started to grow in confidence, making saves and claiming crosses, the crowd responded in kind. “England’s number one,” they chanted, and the smile was hard to miss.

“I was that focussed on the match I tried to block everything out,” Alexander claimed. “But then when they started singing my name I just found it funny. I’d never experienced anything like that before.

“I’ll never forget it. I think it’s the highlight of my life so far.

“The day before I’d been preparing to play Watford’s Under-18s and then the next I’ve got thousands of people singing my name.”

The takeover at Wanderers was completed a couple of weeks later. Keith Hill took charge and brought in a raft of new signings amid short-lived optimism that the team could overturn their 12-point penalty imposed by the EFL.

The Junior Whites did get a final hurrah, sent out to face Bradford City in the Checkatrade Trophy, another bumper crowd packed into a reduced capacity UniBol to create another memorable atmosphere.

“I think it was an even better than the Coventry game because they’d closed half of one of the stands so it looked full. That was a similar day because, again, nobody was expecting anything,” Alexander recalled.

“For a lot of us, including myself, it was the last chance we had to play, so we wanted to enjoy it.”

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The rest of the 2019/20 season was somewhat of a formality. New boss Hill made the right noises but the huge turnover of staff and players alongside the huge points handicap made it a battle he was never likely to win.

For Alexander there was an opportunity to work with the first team squad as back-up to Remi Matthews and learn a side of the game he had not seen before.

“It was crucial for me because my first team experience to that point had all been with younger players, go out and try your best. Then it became a case of, no, we need three points. You had to be fighting for them and it was very different.

“It was important for me to see that side of it for my development.

“It was a hard season. When everyone came in it was a tough task but we were up for it and after we’d beaten Bristol Rovers away we went on a little run and confidence started building within the group. Then it we got a couple of injuries and it slowed the process down a bit. Once Covid hit we just didn’t have the points per game.

“Lockdown was just confusing, more than anything. With administration, other clubs had been through it so you could talk to other players and how they handled it. But with a global pandemic, nobody knew how to deal with it.

“The year before I’d just got to know all the first teamers but by the time I got back nobody was there. I was starting again.”

Over the course of the lockdown Wanderers changed manager to Ian Evatt, and brought in more wholesale changes to the playing staff.

Alexander knew he had to start again but having had a taste of senior football he wanted to gain experience out on loan, moving to Lancaster City and Runcorn in the Northern Premier before a knee injury cut the latter spell short.

“Those loan spells were very important, just getting into the rhythm of games,” he said. “For the first six or seven weeks I was playing Saturday-Tuesday and that was crucial for me to get the experience of playing. Before that, it was just travelling and being on the bench.

“It was good just to get an experience of being out there twice a week on the pitch, it all counts for me.”

Now 20, Alexander has come a long way from the teenager who had been picked up by Newcastle United just weeks after he decided to play in goal for his local boys club, and having had no formal goalkeeper training.

“In Newcastle I was an outfielder, growing up,” he said. “But I don’t know what it was, I just always wanted to be a goalkeeper, throw myself about, dive in the way of the ball.

“I joined a local side and that’s when Newcastle spotted me.

“I was at the development centre at first but then they signed me to the academy side.

“I was there for a couple of years but when it came to the scholarship decisions they didn’t want to offer me one. I went out on trial at a couple of clubs but then ended up at this exit trial where you play a couple of games and there’s an opportunity for scouts to come and watch you.

“Bolton sent Brian Morris at the time and he was brilliant. Straight away he got in touch, said he’d like me to come down. I’d never been away from home but he made it really easy, telling me what the club was about, what stuff was in the area, and it was great for me.

“I started a scholarship in the July and playing Under-18s but by the March time things had got pretty serious with the administration and all that.”

In total, Alexander spent three years with Wanderers. He was told this summer that his contract would not be renewed.

“It was Matt Gilks who told us, being the keeper coach and the club said it early on, which was good of them because they could have waited until after the season had finished so we could try and get a plan in place,” he said.

“It was just a case of ‘unfortunately, the way that the club is moving, you are not going to fit in our plans’ so, that’s just football.

“I honestly had a great time with Bolton. I enjoyed working there and I wish them well for the future.

“I need another club right now but I feel confident in my own ability. I know I can still do it.

“I’d like to think that even with the Coventry game, I am a better keeper now than I was then, so I feel confident I will get fixed up.

“I’m not looking at any set level. I just need to be playing to get more experience so I can progress and push on.”