The short, shrill blast of a referee’s whistle, and then total silence.

Bolton Wanderers wanted their pre-match tribute to Iain Purslow to mean something, and it did.

A lifelong fan, he had sat for many years as a season ticket holder watching his beloved Whites in action, through the good times and bad. And in recent years, he must have been proud of the club they have become.

The Bolton News: A tribute to late fan Iain Purslow

Photographer Alex Dodd / CameraSport

Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay - Bolton Wanderers v Luton Town - Tuesday 16th January 2024 - Toughsheet Community Stadium - Horwich
World Copyright © 2024 CameraSport.

The 71-year-old fell ill during the first half of Saturday’s game against Cheltenham Town, a suspected cardiac arrest. Despite heroic efforts to save him and the prayers of thousands who had stood in desperation watching the tragedy unfold, it was confirmed on Sunday that he had passed away.

What happened next shows exactly why the football club means so much to the people of the town. It became the voice of sympathy, the focal point for grief, and also a source of inspiration for the future.

The Bolton News: Picture by Alex Dodd/CameraSportPicture by Alex Dodd/CameraSport

A small collection of scarves and flowers was laid at the front of the stadium, in front of the Book of Remembrance, which has stood for many years as a beacon in times of grief.

Additionally, a wreath was laid by supporters in front of the statue of Bolton legend Nat Lofthouse, who passed away 13 years ago this week.

Wanderers welcomed Premier League Luton Town for an FA Cup third round replay where victory could provide a lucrative fourth round game against another top-flight side in Crystal Palace or Everton. Prior to the game, however, football talk had been kept to a bare minimum. Club manager Ian Evatt had repeatedly played down any emotional impact on his own team after Saturday, choosing only to express his sadness and consolation for Mr Purslow’s family, some of whom were invited by the club as special guests.

The Bolton News: Bolton Wanderers and Luton Town players during a minute silence for Bolton Wanderers fan Iain Purslow who died on Saturday, ahead of the Emirates FA Cup third round replay match at the Toughsheet Community Stadium, Bolton. Picture date: Tuesday January

“They need time, space and quiet to mourn,” he said. “Our role in this is just to make sure we play in a manner that would make him proud.”

Football is a tribal sport not without its problems. On occasions like this, however, it can also showcase the good in people.

Last Saturday’s opponents Cheltenham sent a floral tribute and a message of condolence. They will return to the stadium next Tuesday, with Bolton’s board of directors offering to pay for the supporters’ coach travel as a thank you for their respectful behaviour on the day.

Luton too provided their own touching tribute, placed on Mr Purslow’s seat prior to kick-off, their manager Rob Edwards also adding some sincere words of condolence after the game.

The Bolton News: The team captains of Bolton Wanderers and Luton Town hold up a shirt featuring the name of Bolton Wanderers fan Iain Purslow who died on Saturday, ahead of the Emirates FA Cup third round replay match at the Toughsheet Community Stadium, Bolton. Picture

Bolton’s captain, Ricardo Santos, also presented a shirt to the family as players from both teams gathered in the centre circle for a minute’s silence.

Match announcer, Phil Heys, asked respectfully that supporters stand – but nearly everyone was already on their feet. In fact, the whole of Horwich fell quiet as Wanderers remembered one of their own.

It was quite the opposite in the 71st minute when a pre-arranged minute’s applause very nearly inspired a Bolton goal.

The game ended in defeat for the Whites but a valiant performance bodes well for the future, as Evatt and his team attempt to return to the second tier of the English game for the first time in five years.

Achieving their target would be the ultimate tribute.