It’s precisely 11.7 miles by road from Gigg Lane to the Etihad.

Dale Stephens has taken a rather longer route from signing trainee forms at Bury in 2005 to playing for Albion away to Manchester City.

But he understands the financial chasm between the club who this week slipped out of the Football League and that which dominates the Prem.

And he has keener appreciation than many of the links between the two as he heads back to his native North West.

Stephens is a Bolton boy who, like his family, grew up supporting the local Wanderers rather than bigger clubs down the road in Manchester.

Actually, Bolton were a big club themselves back in the old black-and-white days. And, indeed, in relatively recent times when they competed strongly in the Premier League and played in Europe.

Even when Albion played Bolton in the Championship six or seven years ago, I felt like quite a big deal.

It certainly felt like Bruno’s first and best goal for the club almost seven years ago had secured a major scalp.

Bolton, to Stephens’ relief, remain a Football League club thanks to a takeover deal which came almost as late in the piece as David Ngog’s equaliser in the rain at the Amex back in 2012. 

The Argus: David Ngog scores Bolton's late equaliser at The Amex

Bury were not so successful in their last-ditch efforts. Stephens knows how tough a blow that will be to the town, the community and aspiring young footballers.

As a 16-year-old, he left school and signed youth training forms at Bury on the first steps to being a professional.

His pro debut came four months short of his 18th birthday when a Craig Mackail-Smith goal helped Peterborough win 3-0 at Gigg Lane.

Stephens told The Argus: “I was there as a two-year YT and then a one-year pro so it was three years in total, from 16.

“It was never easy. We were never really backed financially.

“We were probably one of the lowest-budget clubs in that division.

“It was in League Two at the time and I think we spent couple of years fighting relegation.

“The club developed, they moved to a new training ground recently and things seemed to be on the up.

“When you do that, you risk what you have been used to. That is what has happened over the past few years, I think.

“I’ve played against and with some of the players who have come through at Bolton and Bury.

“Phil Neville has said how his mum and his family have always been to do with the football club. Those people are still there from when I was there.

“It’s a family-driven club so it’s sad to see but hopefully we get some good news, short term.”

Stephens said he would not want to change his tough upbringing with the Shakers.

He sees such clubs as an invaluable part of the development of many English players.

Asked whether people still valued the lower divisions, he said: “Personally, I do. That is what led me from coming out of school to a Premier League player. And not just for myself. Jamie Vardy, for example, has taken the same step.

“These clubs are massively important for developing players and bringing players, especially English players, though.

“This now is what I’ve worked so hard for, what a lot of players have worked so hard for.

“I possibly did a lot more back then in terms of graft. Putting up goals, cleaning toilets, etc.

“It has all been worth it, to be get the opportunity to play against champions.

“I think you look through the leagues and see players have taken the same route. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.”

Stephens accepts Premier League giants such as City are a world away from their smaller neighbours.

But he added: “I think that has always been the case, ever since I’ve been playing.

“The difference in money between the top and the bottom is significant.

“Hopefully something can be done to save these clubs that are struggling.

Those thoughts will take a back seat this afternoon when Albion take on City.

They performed creditably in a 2-0 defeat at the Etihad this time last year.

But this remains the toughest test in the league along with, perhaps, keeping Liverpool’s attack quiet.

City have added a more physical edge to their game this term.

But Stephens said: “You won’t see them improve drastically, they are that good anyway.

“They are a team everyone aspires to play like, the way they play and the ethos they have. It is almost like perfect football in a way.”

Still, Stephens said Albion have a plan in place.

Will it be different to that which made life tricky at times for City over the last two seasons without securing a famous result?

Neither Stephens nor colleague Glenn Murray have been giving anything away on that score when asked this week.

It was put to Stephens, however, that Albion should probably have more than their four points so far.

He certainly agreed with that observation.

He said: “Circumstances take place. In the Southampton game, it was probably going to be difficult with 11 players, never mind ten players (after Florin Andone was sent off).

“We would have liked to have won that and really been on track.

“I think performance-wise we have probably been better than what we have got in results.”