James Bolton: I could have joined the RAF after Stoke release - now I'm soaring with Portsmouth
James Bolton contemplated joining the RAF after his football career was grounded following rejection by Stoke.
Now the right-back, who made his Pompey debut as a second-half substitute against Shrewsbury last Saturday, is seeking to soar after signing up with one of League One’s high-fliers.
The 24-year-old was this summer snapped up by Pompey on a free transfer from Shrewsbury.
It has proven a remarkable ride having been released by Stoke at under-16 level – a heartbreaking decision which ended seven years at the Britannia Stadium.
During the dejection, Bolton explored the possibility of returning to full-time education, as well as considering enlisting with the RAF.
Then Macclesfield offered a second chance, thereby resurrecting the youngster’s footballing dream.
It’s an inspiring clamber back into the Football League which earned England C recognition along the way.
Now Bolton is aiming to climb even greater heights with Kenny Jackett’s side.
He said: ‘I was at Stoke in the under-16s and wasn’t what they were looking for. Looking back, it was probably the right thing at the time.
‘After that there were times I thought about concentrating on education rather than football, you have to start from the bottom and work yourself up again.
‘I wouldn’t have quit the game, but I was looking at A levels, sixth form, college, any of those. I had a look around a few and definitely explored my options.
‘Among the other things I considered was being in the RAF, me and my dad went to an event to learn all about what it offered.
‘Football is a ruthless business, one minute you can be up there, the next down there. It only takes an injury or a manager not to fancy you and you can fall down the pecking order.
‘When things are going well it’s the best thing in the world, it has its highs and lows.
‘Doing my scholarship at Stoke was some of the best days I’ve had in football, playing with your mates and the bond you build in those two years was fantastic.
‘Then, after leaving at school age, I had to look at other things. Whether or not I would have gone through with joining the RAF, I don't know, but I thought about it.
‘Then I had a trial at Macclesfield along with a couple of lads who had also been with me at Stoke. I gave it a go and signed a contract there, when they were a League Two club.
‘There are not many people from my Stoke youth team still playing, you can drop out of the game completely.
‘It’s a ruthless sport and sometimes you can get dropped from a club and that’s you done – but you have to give it a go and believe in your ability.’
Bolton’s time in non-league saw service at Macclesfield, Workington, Halifax and Gateshead.
Then, in July 2017, he arrived in League One with Shrewsbury, going on to amass 85 appearances, scoring four times.
And he is proud of the alternative route which has taken him to Fratton Park.
He added: ‘Non-league football is getting better and better, with Football League managers noticing the talent a lot more.
‘I played for England C a few times and a lot of those who do that tend to eventually get a move into the Football League.
‘That was a great experience, it took us to some different places around the world such as Cyprus, Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland.
‘They were really good times, I have the caps stashed away at home and a couple of shirts, too.’