IT’S not the destination, but the journey.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of excited Bolton Wanderers fans will be on their way to Wembley, hoping that by early evening their club will have done enough to secure its place in next season’s Championship.

To unpack the joy and pain of the five years since they last played in that division would be some undertaking, and not one that would fit inside a newspaper. Maybe that is a complicated story I can chronicle at another time?

Football rarely allows itself time to step back and look around. If Ian Evatt’s team does secure promotion against Oxford United, then you can get your bottom dollar that by Monday morning there will be questions about what happens next. Which players will be signed? How much money will be spent? How many of the existing squad are going to come along for the ride? It was forever thus.

So, before the inevitable drama, a moment perhaps on the walk up Wembley Way, with that magnificent arch stretching into the sky, a pause for reflection on where Bolton Wanderers were exactly five years to the day.

Around 10am, May 18, 2019: I was at Burnden Park asking my then nine-year-old son whether we should put chicken or tomato soup in the trolley.

The Bolton News:

As everybody knows, Wanderers’ spiritual home is dominated by a big Asda now. But on that day in particular the community and camaraderie of the old ground was thick in the air.

Just a few days earlier I had broken a story that will forever be one of the saddest I have ever been moved to write.

The Bolton Wanderers Community Trust – as they were then called – had been forced to open an emergency food bank at the stadium to assist employees at the club and the hotel who had not been paid for a fortnight.

The club had gone into administration at the start of the week but unlocking the precious little cash in the accounts had proven complicated and another pay-day had passed without folk being able to honour their financial commitments.

Bolton were effectively free of the man responsible for getting them into this mess, but the aftermath was severe, and little did we know, this was just the start of a summer of pain and misery which would push the club to the very brink of disaster, Once news of the food bank spread there were some genuinely heartwarming acts of kindness.

Preston North End donated more than £2,000 of shopping vouchers almost immediately to help out with the Warburtons bakery also making daily drop-offs.

When Bolton fan Jake Kirkman brought in the expertise of Fans Supporting Foodbanks – a charity run by well-known Evertonian Dave Kelly – the drive brought in more than two tonnes of non-perishable items which not only helped staff at Wanderers but also several other local foodbanks.

Instructed by my son, I chose to buy both chicken and tomato soup. Wheeling a trolley full of goods to the front of the store that day I was amazed by the response, not just from Bolton fans but from right around the locality – Huddersfield Town, Wigan Athletic, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Stoke City and more.

At that point it was difficult to tell what the future held for Wanderers. We knew it would be a complex financial web to untangle but perhaps hadn’t reckoned on just how tough it would be to find a new buyer with vultures still circling.

It would be more than three months before Football Ventures finally completed a deal to take Bolton out of administration, by which point the new season had already begun and neighbouring Bury had not been nearly as lucky.

There was still some distance to fall, mistakes to be made and pain to suffer before Wanderers began to rise again. A global pandemic, League Two promotion, League One stability, a Wembley win and play-off heartache were the headlines; as ever with this club, there is never a dull moment.

What happens next in that timeline, I don’t know. I’ll be wearing my lucky blue shirt and tie – the one I wore when Bolton beat Peterborough to clinch promotion to the Championship in 2017 – and keeping all my fingers and toes crossed for the right result against Oxford United.

Five years on from the lowest ebb, it would be a great place to start a new chapter in the story.