It was a record that left people scratching their head.

How was it even possible?

In one unforgettable season, Paul Moulden bagged 289 goals in 40 games – 7.2 goals every match on average – the kind of record that today would have top scouts around Europe scrambling to sign the slightly-built teenage striker.

Paul’s uncle believed his nephew’s goal-scoring feat may merit more than just honourable mentions here and there and wrote to the Guinness Book of Records who agreed it was worthy of note as the most prolific schoolboy in world football.

It’s a record even Lionel Messi couldn’t top.

Moulden was a predator in the box - here, he dives to head home while Imre Varadi watches on
Moulden was a predator in the box - here, he dives to head home while Imre Varadi watches on

City did keep a watchful eye on the Bolton Lads Under-15s talent and after training with the Club at junior level, two years later, Moulden signed his first YTS (Youth Training Scheme) contract for the Blues aged 17

He was soon doing what he did best, scoring goals at youth and reserve (now EDS) level.

Moulden went straight into the 1984/85 City youth team and scored in each of the first three FA Youth Cup rounds for City who were eventually knocked out by Newcastle United.

The following season he scored six in the first four rounds and it was his double strike that overturned a 1-0 FA Youth Cup semi-final first leg loss against Arsenal into a 2-1 aggregate win for the Blues.

McNeill pitched the teenager in for his debut on New Year’s Day 1986 and City won 1-0 thanks to a Mark Lillis winner - he was off and running and there was plenty of hype in the press about this stellar youth prospect.

The 1986 FA Youth Cup final was against Manchester United and after drawing 1-1 in front of 7,602 fans at Old Trafford, a crowd of 18,164 turned out at Maine Road for the return leg that saw Moulden score a gem to set the team on their way to a 2-0 win.

Moulden (No.10) is congratulated by Tony Grealish after another goal
Moulden (No.10) is congratulated by Tony Grealish after another goal

He’d scored nine goals along the FA Youth Cup run and been integral in the Blues winning the trophy for the first time in its 35-year history.

He also scored in the 5-1 Lancashire Youth Cup final win over Wigan Athletic that season. He couldn’t stop scoring, in fact.

Moulden was a natural.

Instinctive, intelligent and able to score tap-ins and 30-yard screamers with equal ease, he had everything in his locker.

To the City fans, he was the long-term answer to a City senior team that contained several ageing journeymen strikers and free transfer signings.

He was very much ‘one of our own’ as the terrace chant goes.

Under McNeill, City had won promotion from the second tier the previous season but would struggle during 85/86. Turing to older heads, Moulden played just once more senior game that season, coming on as a sub in a 1-0 loss to Watford.

Back street boy : Moulden with Maine Road in the background
Back street boy : Moulden with Maine Road in the background

The supporters were desperate to see Moulden– top scorer for the reserves - given his chance, especially as the Blues had managed just 41 goals in 42 games that season.

McNeill quit City at the start of the 1986/87 campaign and  was replaced by his No.2, Jimmy Frizzell, who blooded several members of the FA Youth Cup-winning side including Paul Lake, David White and Ian Brightwell and when Moulden’s chance came for a run in the side, he didn’t disappoint, scoring four goals in four games before picking up an injury that hampered his progress and an inexperienced City were relegated.

It was the start of a catalogue of minor and serious set-backs for the Bolton-born youngster. 

He had finished the campaign with five goals from 16 starts before sustaining a broken leg in training that would keep him out of almost the entire 1987/88 season. It was a hammer blow at exactly the wrong time.

With new signings Paul Stewart and Imre Varadi the chosen front pairing - and both scoring regularly, chances are Moulden would have had to wait for further opportunities anyway, but  with the Blues forced to sell Stewart and Varadi moving on, in 1988/89, manager Mel Machin gave the supporters what they wanted, and Moulden was first choice striker throughout the campaign.

Again, Moulden didn’t disappoint, scoring 17 goals from 35 starts in all competitions as City were promoted back to the top flight.

Surely now the 22-year-old had done enough?

It seemed he hadn’t..

Machin returned to former club Bournemouth to buy classy midfielder Ian Bishop and the cash-strapped Blues had to let Moulden go as part of the deal.

His 26 goals from 58 starts (he also came off the bench a further 21 times) had not been enough and his value helped City pay for Bishop.

Moulden enjoyed a solid first campaign with the Cherries, scoring 13 goals in 38 games before joining Oldham Athletic a year later, then under Joe Royle’s tutelage.

Another broken leg injury meant his time with the Latics was severely hampered and he started just 19 games in three years.

Further spells at Brighton, Birmingham, Huddersfield and Rochdale followed before he was forced to retire aged 28.

In total, he’d suffered four broken legs during his playing days and had numerous niggling injury issues that all took their toll.

He remained involved with football, coaching at City’s Academy for a while and he even turned out for Accrington Stanley during their non-League days.

He also followed in his parents’ footsteps when he opened a fish and chip shop in Bolton, just a stone’s throw from the Bolton Lads Club where his footballing adventure first began, and ‘Paul’s Chippy’ still thrives today..

Now, one of his three sons - the youngest, Louie - plays for City’s Under-18s while older brother Joe is in his final year of scholarship in Indianapolis and Ted is a second-year apprentice at Bolton Wanderers - the family traditions continue.

It seems Paul Moulden, one of the Club’s most naturally gifted homegrown strikers, will continue his association with the Blues for some years to come and but for a wretched run of injuries, we can only guess how bright his star might have shone.

But 289 goals in one season. Incredible.