A FIFTY year friendship that’s been restricted to written letters and phone calls was brought to life on Saturday at Villa Park.
Blind Solihull resident John Flanner first made contact with Bolton super-fan Ruth Crawshaw in the early 1960s.
The pair used to swap wanted programmes by post after reading adverts in the weekly Soccer Star magazine.
And it was only until John – who has been fully blind since the age of 19 – published his first book ‘Beautiful Games Beautiful Memories’ that both supporters were reunited in communication after decades of no contact.
“I was a keen collector of football programmes as a teenager and I decided to write a chapter about it in my book,” said John.
“One lady whose name I never forgot was Ruth Crawshaw’s – I’m not sure why but her name and address stuck in my head. I’d never met Ruth so left the message ‘I wonder what happened to her’ at the end of the chapter.
“A reader took the ending note as a challenge. One thing led to another and before I knew it the Bolton club passed on her number and we got chatting.
“Ruth is an incredible football supporter. She hasn’t missed a first team, reserves, or under 23s match in decades.
“Even on the day I first called her she had to cut our conversation short so she could catch a train to Brighton to watch the under 23s play away.”
Though Ruth now struggles to walk and requires two sticks to get her around stadiums, nothing stops her from supporting her beloved Bolton.
She even spent extra time prior to Saturday’s game to dig deep into her programme stock at home and find a copy of the match-day souvenir from Aston Villa’s game against Bolton in 1907.
John said: “The programme was in perfect condition.
“There were few things more exiting than seeing the postman come down your street in the 60s. Remember there were no tablets, laptops, or phones then. Everything was done by mail.
“Nowadays programmes are complete with a glossy design. But they had character in the old days, no two programmes were the same.”
John had the last laugh on Saturday though as Villa defeated Bolton 1-0 thanks to a first half penalty from Jonathan Kodjia.
The author, who also follows the progress of local club Solihull Moors, added he’d like to see his side reach the playoffs.
He said: “Consistency is key and it’s nice to see some partnerships developing on the pitch.”
John’s book ‘Beautiful Game, Beautiful Memories’ is available to buy now on Amazon.