Tomlinson came on as a 65th minute substitute for Rovers in their reserve match against Yorkshire rivals Rotherham as part of a charity partnership with the local Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in northern England.
More than 5,000 fans — an extraordinary figure for a midweek reserve match between two lower league clubs — turned out to watch Tomlinson, with many of the crowd, some of whom had come from as far afield as Mexico, used to pop concerts rather than football matches.
Tomlinson’s day started with a visit to one-year-old Harrison Ellmer, who made a remarkable recovery after being sent to Bluebell Wood for end-of-life treatment as a newborn.
Harrison was given just days to live when he contracted meningitis at three weeks old but defied doctors’ predictions to survive.
Tomlinson said: “Harrison’s story is remarkable, it’s been inspirational meeting him and his family. I can’t think how difficult it must have been for them.
“Bluebell Wood is a fantastic place that helps so many children and I’m honoured to be their patron and help raise money,” he added.
Fans paid £7 to watch Tomlinson’s football debut, with all profits going to the hospice.