Peter Bolton has only missed two Manchester United games this entire century. He even skipped his brother’s wedding because he had to attend a routine league match between the Red Devils and Bolton Wanderers.
Bolton estimates that he has watched Manchester United play over 5,000 games live in the stadium and watches at least 100 games per season across the first team, U23s and U18s. He has not missed a single first team match at Old Trafford since 1974.
By definition, the 65-year-old retired cab driver is obsessed.
Obsessed with the unexplainable rush of adrenaline when the ball hits the back of the net. Obsessed with the routine of following his team up and down the country each weekend. And obsessed with letting football take him to fascinating and often crazy corners of the globe.
Kick360 sat down with Bolton in Melbourne where the English giants currently find themselves on their pre-season tour.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said when asked about the club’s extensive support across the planet.
And nor would it, given that his support for the Red Devils has taken him to places like Astana and Odessa, a city in Ukraine that has recently been the victim of shelling and air strikes at the hands of Russia.
For most, it is difficult to get to the heart of understanding why somebody would dedicate almost their entire life to supporting a football club, but for this Mancunian, it is the experience of meeting new people, discovering new places and enjoying the football which continues to motivate him. He is not interested in the petulant discussions that often pervade social media (he rarely uses his popular Twitter account) and does not entertain “toxic” conversations about the club’s ownership.
While he relishes when the club is successful, he seems equally happy to merely allow the club to take him on adventures to places he has never seen before.
“I often think that the stranger the trip, the more I’ve enjoyed it,” he said before reminiscing about his side’s 2019 trip to Kazakhstan in the UEFA Europa League Group Stage.
“We flew to Turkey which is a long flight (roughly four hours from Manchester) and we were only half-way there. Then we got into Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) and it was like -20 degrees that day! We had our boots on and our scarves but when you breathe you just have all this mist coming off.
“As soon as you walked into a restaurant it was boiling with all the heaters on full blast and there were people in the restaurant mopping up all the time because as you walked in, you’re covered in snow and ice on your shoes and as soon as you sat there for five minutes it all melted and you’d see pools everywhere!
“But it was a fantastic trip and everybody was so friendly and it was such a lovely place.”
Bolton remains somewhat jaded about the current team and is content with the club fighting against teams of their current level in the Europa League – a competition that grants him the opportunity to visit more unvisited countries and cities.
“When people say we’ve missed out on the Champions League, well United have missed out on money, but to me, we’re not good enough to win the Champions League at the moment.
“Like last year, we might get out of the group and get one game but we’ve got a chance of winning this Europa and we’re gonna get probably one team we’ve played before, one team we’ve not played before and one team either/or sort of thing, I might even get an extra country I’ve never been before so I’m looking forward to it!”
Travelling the world following the Red Devils comes at a significant financial cost, but Bolton offsets this deficit by rarely purchasing merchandise from the club shop or food inside the ground. Now retired, Bolton funds his trips through the money he earned as a taxi driver – an occupation which proved to be fairly lucrative especially when transporting celebrities, footballers and supporters before and after matches at Old Trafford.
Once Bolton returns home from Australia after the team’s match against Aston Villa in Perth, he’ll only be in Manchester for three days before jetting off to Oslo for the side’s penultimate pre-season fixture against Atlético Madrid. During those three days back home, he plans to gather up eight or nine of his fellow supporters to make the 170 kilometre journey south to watch the reserve team play a pre-season friendly against sixth-tier side Kidderminster Harriers.
He hopes to spend more time watching the U23 and U18 sides this season because he’s excited about watching the next wave of United’s young talents on show before they make their progression to the first team. The likes of Zidane Iqbal, Charlie Savage and Hannibal Mejbri have all dazzled when called upon during pre-season and are giving fans a taste of what they may expect to see in the future.
However, Bolton’s unwavering support for Manchester United has come at little personal cost as he remains a family man and has been married for 43 years.
“I met her at the disco and we went to the cinema on a Tuesday night and then she said we should go back to the club on Saturday. But I said I won’t be back because I’m at Spurs away on the Saturday, so right from the very first date I had with my wife, she knew that I would always choose football over her!” he laughed.
“I could go out with her on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but when it came to Saturday, that would always be football. We got married in the June, a good month to get married because there’s no football.
“I took her to a match the season after I met her, before we were married and we lost and she never came back to the match again! One match in the last 45 years.”
When he’s not watching football, Bolton dedicates his life to looking after his “other true love” – his wife, who is 50% paralysed after suffering from a very serious stroke in 2015. This seminal moment in his life is what solidified Bolton’s decision to sell his taxi and adopt a role as his wife’s carer, although he remarks that his wife “would kill [him]” if she heard him say that as she has learned to become more independent over time.
In the days after his wife’s admission to hospital, Bolton found himself by her side for hours on end before doctors advised that he should return home. He found solace in returning to Old Trafford to watch his beloved team instead. It was almost a reflex action that he need not think about.
Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously said that “people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it’s much more serious than that”. For most, this is difficult to understand and to comprehend. But for Bolton, football does not transcend life, nor are results a matter of life or death.
Instead, it is indistinguishable from his life itself as, for Bolton, Manchester United and his existence are inseparable and co-exist on the same emotional paradigm. Through all the highs and all the lows, Manchester United has been beside him. It has provided him with some of his most memorable experiences and it has acted as a source of escape from some of the scariest parts of his life.
It is these almost unexplainable moments of comfort and elation that act as Bolton’s primary motivation to follow Manchester United across the world. Like most relationships, it works both ways. But like every successful relationship, it is an indescribable feeling that keeps you coming back for more.
That is the power of football.