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WANDERERS FROM THE ARCHIVES: Amazing story behind this picture... by the man on it

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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We had an unexpected response to a plea for information about this photograph when the former Wanderer pictured on it gave the sports desk a call.

The snap was originally sent in by David Williams and first appeared on the Wanderers nostalgia page on November 10 with a request for readers to try to identify the player pictured kicking a ball at a target on the Burnden Park pitch.

Reader Allan Tyrer then emailed a response, which was published in the December 15 edition in which he said the player was Geoff Sleight and describing him as a winger and "a natural left-footer".

Having been shown a cutting of the second article, Mr Sleight himself rang us up.

And was a remarkable story of his life he told us, along with how he came to be kicking a ball at a target on the Burnden Park pitch one Friday afternoon.

Ringing from his home on the outskirts of Wakefield, near Barnsley, Mr Sleight, who is now 75, said: "I was told about the picture by a friend, John Marsh, and it brought back a lot of memories.

"I was at Bolton for two years from 1961 to 1963 and that picture was taken the day before I played my first game for Bolton.

"I was 18 and in digs with Wyn Davies at the time.

"I was on the bus going to the ground on the Friday morning reading the Daily Mirror.

"I was going past Doffcocker and read a winger was going to make debut for Wanderers.

"I wondered you could it be and then read it was me. I got to the ground and I was told I was playing against Manchester City tomorrow.

"In the afternoon a photographer came to me and asked if he could take some pictures.

"He took me back to Burnden and they had this target. He said I want you to shoot at it.

"I said which foot and he said you're a left winger, use your left foot.

"This is where Mr Tyrer was a little mistaken saying I was a natural left-footer.

"I played on the left wing and I could kick with my left foot, but I was predominantly right-footed.

"I told the photographer I'll not hit the target with my left foot."

Mr Sleight never made it at Wanderers and points the finger at himself for the reason why.

"I lived in Barnsley and I was at grammar school and was going to be a teacher, but Bolton offered me £20 a week to play football and I chose that instead," he said.

"Trouble is, all I saw was the bright lights and big city.

"Wine, women and song – that's me.

"I put weight on and didn't play. It was my fault I blew it at Wanderers and no one else's."

Mr Sleight recalls a chance meeting with the father of future World Cup winner Alan Ball, who was from Farnworth, at Burnden Park one day which showed how things could have been so different for both of them.

"I saw Alan Ball's dad and asked what he was doing there and he said he was there to get Alan Ball's release so he could go to Blackpool.

"I said that was a shame and asked him why and he said it was because Wanderers were going to sign him but they signed you instead.

"I lasted a couple of years at Wanderers. I enjoyed my time even though I didn't do well.

"Me, Francis Lee and Dave Hatton were all friends together and I was in digs with Wyn Davies.

"I played for Wigan for four months while I was waiting to go to Australia. Then I went.

"I woke up one day and I was 20 and in Australia. It was a bit of a shock but I had a word with myself and got back down to 10 stone and reinvented myself.

"I played in the World Cup qualifying round for Australia. We played North Korea twice in Cambodia and expected to win and get to the World Cup Finals in England, but we lost 6-1 and 3-1.

"I came back from Australia after three years and although I had done okay in Australia, I knew I wouldn't be a professional footballer, so I got a degree, got a job in local government in the education department at West Riding County Council and played non-league for Stalybridge, Buxton and Mossley.

"I became chief scout at Leeds United in 1993 and worked under Howard Wilkinson, who I'd played with for Yorkshire and England schoolboys.

"I finished as chief scout at Leeds in 1996 when I retired. I played two games in the First Division for Wanderers, against City, who had Bert Trautmann in the team, and Fulham when I played against World Cup winner George Cohen – I was left-wing and he was right-back.

"Apart from that I played in the Lancashire Senior Cup and Manchester Cup."

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