Bolton Wanderers: When The Well Runs Dry
Football, it can often feel, has an almost unique capacity to disappoint and frustrate. Bolton Wanderers supporters travelling south-east to Norfolk for their match against Championship leaders Norwich City had little reason to feel optimistic ahead of this particular trip. The team hadn’t won a league match since the end of September and dark clouds of speculation concerning the state of the club’s finances had been settling over the University of Bolton Stadium yet again, and when a Marco Stiepermann goal for the home side put them two goals down with a little under an hour played it felt as though a familiarly predictable story was unfolding in front of them yet again.
On this occasion, though, the Bolton players showed a little of the gumption that has been all too notable for its absence so far this season. It took just four minutes for them to snatch a goal back, and when Mark Beevers brought them level with two minutes to play it felt as though there might even be call for celebration at the capturing of an unlikely point. This, however, is the Bolton Wanderers 2018/19 vintage. With a couple of minutes of stoppage-time played Sammy Ameobi found himself dismissed for a second yellow card, and within thirty seconds of this Teemu Pukki slammed the ball into the top corner of the Bolton goal to secure three points for Norwich and yet another winless journey home for a club which has picked up just three draws from its last eleven matches and remains one place off the bottom of the league table.
As has been the case so often over the last couple of years or so, though, it’s been goings-on off the pitch that have been occupying the thoughts of Bolton supporters over the last couple of weeks or so, with news emerging that the Professional Footballers Association had to intervene over the non-payment of wages to players at the end of last month. It’s not the first time that this has happened, either. During the summer, the club’s players went on strike over the non-payment of wages, a situation which resulted in the cancellation of a pre-season friendly match against St Mirren. It was reported that there had been a promise made by the club’s owner, Ken Anderson, to ensure that the wages were paid by Thursday of last week, and that the PFA were called in after this deadline passed with this promise having been kept.
Anderson has been involved at Bolton since the club was was purchased by a consortium fronted by former player Dean Holdsworth at the start of 2016, buying out Holdsworth’s shares in November of that year. It has, however, taken only two years for the well of goodwill that he might have enjoyed to completely run dry. It has been suggested that the reason for this non-payment is that the club would be obliged to pay tax and national insurance payments upon paying the wages, though this remains officially unconfirmed. Regardless of this, however, it’s difficult to put a positive spin on the non-payment of player wages at any football club. This particular outgoing is, it might be argued, the absolute barest of minimums of financial obligations that a professional club should be managing, if for no other reason than that a failure to do so might be considered a breach of contract which would – presuming that they could find another club – allow unpaid players to unilaterally terminate their contracts and leave.
Last week’s events didn’t pass without comment from Anderson but when he spoke, it wasn’t with a tone that will have inspired a great deal of confidence in supporters. In a rambling official statement on the club’s website, Anderson seemed to find a way to blame just about everybody but himself for the club’s ongoing problems, from journalist Marc Iles of the Bolton News (who has been assiduously documenting the club’s Sideshow Bob-esque stumbling from garden rake to garden rake over the last few years) to “the 2,000 or so fewer supporters attending recent home matches”, who he apparently already knows to be “the ones that are the most critical on social media”, with a not particularly thinly-veiled threat – delivered in the manner of a petulant child threatening to take his football home – that “Maybe Marc is right and ‘Enough is Enough’ and l should just follow Ed Davies’ decision and refuse to provide any further personal funding.” Upon reading comments such as this, we almost to have to remind ourselves that those involved in this slow motion car crash of a football club consider themselves to be fully-fledged grown-ups.
No small part of the reason for Anderson’s ire seems to have been an excoriating editorial written by Iles a couple of days earlier, in which the writer poured scorn on the £25-30m valuation that has been put on the club by Anderson, “given the level of investment put in by the owner during his two and a half years at the helm”, which pre-emptively hinted at the disingenuity behind Anderson’s threat that, “l should just follow Ed Davies’ decision and refuse to provide any further personal funding.” Eddie Davies, as we all know, put tens of millions of pounds into Bolton Wanderers over the years of his involvement, even writing off £197.9m in loans to the club in order to facilitate the sale of the club in 2016 and even supplied a bridging loan to Anderson for £5m just four days before his death in September, a payment which company accounts subsequently found was made the day after Anderson had issued a curious statement late stating that an offer to repay a loan payable to BluMarble in full had been rejected.
Marc Iles had solid grounds for questioning the valuation of the club. It was reported at the end of last month that a takeover of the club previously trailed by Anderson, with the owner stating that, “I am fully committed to finding investment and that the perceived lack of progress is not due to any unreasonable demands from myself.” The inference behind comments regarding the collapse of the bids had been that those involved had failed to provide adequate proof of funds to allow it to continue. The anonymity of the bidders coupled with the valuation that Anderson had placed upon the club, however, seems to have been enough to persuade at least some supporters that there might not even have been any bidders in the first place. In the absence of any meaningful information to the contrary beyond statements from Anderson himself, it’s not difficult to see how this conclusion has been reached, and with the club having already been within a hair’s breadth of being forced into administration once this season already, it’s not difficult to see why they are so jumpy over the future of the club at the moment, either.
If there are new investors waiting in the wings to deliver Bolton Wanderers from their current predicament, though, it would be understandable if they were shy about getting involved right now. The club seems to have spent its entire time since relegation from the Premier League in 2012 stumbling from one near-disaster to the next, and with not playing the players being allegedly used as a tactic to delay paying the club’s tax bill, the team in the Championship’s relegation places with just one league win since August after having required a “miracle comeback” to stay at that level at the end of last season, and the PFA having been called in regarding the non-payment of players’ wages, it’s not difficult to see why investors would be uneasy at pouring more money into the financial black hole that the club has become in recent years. With company accounts to 2017 (PDF link) for the club’s parent company Burnden Leisure showing that Anderson was paid £525,000 via his own company, Inner Circle Sports and Media, for ‘consultancy fees’ and £125,000 to a company owned by a member of his family for ‘consultancy services’, though, it’s small wonder patience with his running of the club now seems to be completely running out.