A remarkable story of footballing courage and comradeship is told in a single photo in the M.E.N. archive.

It dates from March 1941 and, like so many war pictures, depicts a smiling bunch of brave men on their way to conflict.

But what’s different about this image is that nine of the soldiers are from the very same football team – Bolton Wanderers.

In an extraordinary act of selfless heroism, the whole team enlisted together when war broke out in 1939.

And they served in the same unit until the war ended, fighting in the front line at Dunkirk, El Alamein and Monte Cassino, Italy.

German PoWs clear baskets from Bolton’s stand before the wartime cup final, May 1945

German PoWs clear baskets from Bolton’s stand before the wartime cup final, May 1945

Their only respite came when they played as a British XI against scratch teams assembled by foreign rulers and dignitaries.

One of these was King Farouk of Egypt, who pulled the Bolton lads from combat to play his own national side in Cairo!

In spite of their continuous involvement, only one member of the team was killed in active service – its much respected captain and leader Lieutenant Harry Goslin.

He died from shrapnel wounds sustained in Italy just before Christmas 1943.

Players leave the pitch after spectators were crushed in the FA Cup match against Stoke, March 1946

Players leave the pitch after spectators were crushed in the FA Cup match against Stoke, March 1946

It was Goslin who started the whole adventure when he made an impassioned speech before a crowd of 23,000 at Bolton’s home ground, Burnden Park, in 1939.

The 28-year-old skipper said: ‘We are facing a national emergency. But this danger can be met if everybody keeps a cool head and knows what to do.

‘This is something you just can’t leave to the other fellow, everybody has a share to do.’

The whole stadium was moved.

Nat Lofthouse as a miner – one of the Bevan Boys, April 1946

Nat Lofthouse as a miner – one of the Bevan Boys, April 1946

Goslin then led his entire squad, to a man, down to the recruiting office at the Territorial Army drill hall to sign up for the 53rd Bolton Artillery regiment.

The 13 professionals who enlisted with Goslin were Don Howe, Jackie Roberts, Walter Sidebottom, Ray Westwood, Jack Hurst, Ernie Forrest, Stan Hanson, Tommy Sinclair, Danny Winter, Albert Geldard, George Catterall, Jimmy Thompson and Billy Ithell.

Syd Jones and Charlie Hanks also signed up, but were too young for active service.

Another Bolton legend, centre forward Nat Lofthouse, served in the mines during the war as one of the Bevan Boys.

Stanley Matthews lifts the FA Cup after Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3, May 1953

Stanley Matthews lifts the FA Cup after Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3, May 1953

In fact, by the end of the war, 32 of Bolton’s pre-war professionals had seen action in the British forces.

Their first taste of combat came on the beaches of Dunkirk. Goslin’s unit was among the last to leave, taking out four tanks on the final day.

At least one of the team had to swim to a ship to get out!

Back in Britain, a few matches were played to boost morale during the war years.

In May 1945, German prisoners of war cleared baskets from stands at Burnden Park so it could host the first leg of the Football League War Cup northern final.

Bolton’s Johnny Wheeler, left, wins the ball in the 1-0 FA Cup tie victory over Luton, February 1953

Bolton’s Johnny Wheeler, left, wins the ball in the 1-0 FA Cup tie victory over Luton, February 1953

Bolton beat Manchester United 1-0 and drew the return leg at Old Trafford 2-2.

Disaster struck a year later when regular football returned to Burnden Park. On March 9th 1946, 33 Bolton fans were crushed to death in the FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke.

Another 400 spectators were injured as an estimated crowd of 67,000 crammed into the stadium while a further 15,000 were locked outside.

The tragedy led to the Moelwyn Hughes report which called for greater control over crowd sizes.

Prince Philip meets the Bolton team before the FA Cup final, May 1953

Prince Philip meets the Bolton team before the FA Cup final, May 1953

Eight years after the war, Bolton were at Wembley to face Blackpool in the 1953 FA Cup Final.

As the team lined up to meet the Duke of Edinburgh, they had no idea they were about to take part in one of the greatest finals of all time.

Blackpool won 4-3 after trailing 3-1 thanks to superb wing play from Stanley Matthews and a hat trick from Stan Mortensen.

Bolton’s three goals were scored by Lofthouse after two minutes, inside-right Willie Moir and left-half Eric Bell. But they were never going to be enough.

The match went down in history, quite rightly, as the Matthews final.

Bolton players on war service in the same unit, March 1941

Bolton players on war service in the same unit, March 1941