Outrage and Disgust: Will Bassini Torpedo Bolton Wanderers?
On Thursday afternoon, Paul Appleton, the joint administrator of Bolton Wanderers, issued this exasperated statement through the club’s website:
It is with a combination of outrage and disgust that I have to inform Bolton Wanderers fans that the deal to sell the club to Football Ventures has been temporarily suspended in the last hour.
Late this afternoon, we were informed by lawyers acting for Laurence Bassini that he had been awarded a court order attempting to prevent the sale of Burnden Leisure Limited, part of an action against a company owned by Ken Anderson.
It beggars belief that Mr Bassini, a man who publicly professed to care passionately for the club, has now, through his actions, threatened its very existence.
Despite a long and hugely complex process of negotiation, we were finally on the brink of completion this afternoon when Bassini’s order was served.
Our lawyers are now in conversation with Counsel in a bid to overturn the order immediately.
Here we go again, then. The takeover of Bolton Wanderers by the Football Ventures consortium has been protracted enough already, predicated as it was upon the sale of White’s Hotel, which is integrated into the club’s University of Bolton Stadium. It was slightly surprising that the club was given permission to start the season when this sale hadn’t been completed even though the club had been in administration in May, but the administrator has stated that completion of everything was finally wheezing towards the finishing line. Until Bassini threw a spanner in the works, that is.
So then, what is Laurence Bassini, the twice-bankrupt former Watford owner who has been hanging around the club like an unwanted smell for the last year or so, up to now? On Thursday, he obtained an injunction in Manchester High Court which prevents the sale of Burnden Leisure Limited, Wanderers’ parent company, which holds the so-called ‘golden share’, which entitles the club to ownership of both the Football League and the Football Association. Bassini is alleging a breach of contract by Ken Anderson, with whom he had signed a sale and purchase agreement earlier this year.
Bassini, you may remember, has previously made more than one promise with regard to the future of Bolton Wanderers. In May, at the time of the cancellation of the club’s final match of last season against Brentford, he pitched up claiming that he would pay what was necessary to be paid in order to get the match played. He didn’t, and Bolton Wanderers are still waiting to see what their punishment for failing to complete this fixture might be. This came just a few days after it was reported that he had signed a sale and purchase agreement to buy the club, but failed to provide proof of funds to the Football League.
His previous behaviour with regard to the sale of the club has been predictably erratic. At the start of May, a few days before the club was placed into administration, there seems to have been some sort of falling out with outgoing owner Ken Anderson. Despite reports that the deal was off, however, Bassini claimed that he had served a ‘specific performance’ (a notice demanding that a party to a contract comes good on its obligations) on Ken Anderson, demanding he give up his share certificates for the club, and a couple of days later he claimed to have a “watertight contract” to buy it.
On the 13th May, with the takeover having not gone through, the club was put into administration (White’s Hotel followed two days later, thorough a different insolvency practitioners) and Bassini – somwhat surprisingly, considering his previous “watertight contract” statement – confirmed that he was going to submit a bid to buy the club from the administrators. When the administrators put a £25,000 price on seeing the company accounts, though, Bassini didn’t pay. It’s been reported that he didn’t complete due diligence when he reached his agreement with Richardson, and we know that he didn’t when dealing with Appleton. Football Ventures were the only group amongst the tyre-kickers that had briefly started circling the club pay that fee. Bassini claimed financial backing from the West Ham United joint-chair David Sullivan, but this came considerably after administrator had confirmed Football Ventures as the preferred bidder for the club.
On ther 23rd of July, however, Bassini held a bizarre meeting with a small number of fans below the statue of Nat Lofthouse at the stadium at which he stated that there will be a judicial review concerning his dealings with the administrators, that he “loves the club just as much as the supporters” and, most significantly of all, considering the news of the last couple of days, that, “My solicitors talked about an injunction, but I am not going to have it, even though there is a threat of it, because I don’t want to be the cause of this club if it goes down, for it to have an excuse.”
It can hardly, therefore, be said that Bassini doesn’t know what the exact effect of the injuction that he did end up obtaining on Thursday might be. But if he had a “watertight contract” with Anderson, why didn’t he enforce the terms of that in May ? or take out an injuction to prevent the club from being put into administration in the first place? As ever with Laurence Bassini, it seems likely that the answer that you’d get to that question would most likely change according to which way the wind happened to be blowing on the day you asked him.
Even this wasn’t the only potential cloud on the horizon for the club since the club was given permission to start its EFL season. Adam Kamani, a businessman who set up the online fashion retailer Boohoo.com and who now owns the PrettyLittleThing fashion website, confirmed that he had expressed an interest in buying White’s Hotel, but not the club itself. Amid increasingly frantic speculation, Kamani siad: “We aren’t interested in buying the football club, however we did ask the administrators about the hotel situation which we haven’t heard back from yet – wish you all the success in the future and hope you get this situation sorted!”
It’s entirely possible that the adminisstrators didn’t get back to him because the sale of the hotel to Football Ventures is so close to completion. It remains yet another worry for all concerned for the club’s revival, though. The sale of Bolton Wanderers to Football Ventures is entirely predicated on the successful sale of the hotel. The money behind Football Ventures was understood to be a businessman called Parminder Basran, but he walked away from the project earlier this year after the failure of an earlier attempt to buy the club and resigned his position as a company director at the start of July. Football Ventures, it would seem, need the forward revenue stream from the hotel in order to fund their plans for Bolton Wanderers. Should the hotel be sold to someone else, there’s every chance that the takeover could yet collapse.
Bassini’s injunction, however, definitely threatens the existence of Bolton Wanderers. There had been signs of a potential issue when ticket sales for today’s home league match against Coventry City only went on sale just over a day before the match. It had been reported that the club sold 7,000 tickets were sold in the three hours after their finally went on sale and that 8,500 tickets had been sold by the end of yesterday, whilst Coventry supporters – who, of course, have issues of their own, as ever – had almost sold out their allocation of 1,800 as well. Meanwhile, it was also reported that Quantuma, the administrators of the hotel, were preparing to move forward on the sale of the business despite the injunction. Meanwhile, lawyers are now seeking to overturn the injunction and Bassini, who had stated that “I will be at the match on Saturday against Coventry City”, has been strongly advised not to attend. His safety quite plausibly couldn’t be guaranteed.
Only time will tell whether Bassini is yet again just a distraction, or whether this injunction could yet threaten the existence of one of the founder member of the Football League. It was a little surprising to see a purchase that was entirely dependent upon the sale of a property that was held up in other insolvency proceedings be waved through by everybody, but when the EFL confirmed that Bolton would be able to start the season they confirmed that, “The board has fully considered the club’s further submissions and is satisfied that they are sufficient to meet the requirements of the league, subject to the completion of formal documentation.” How might they be feeling about that statement now? It’s certainly not difficult to imagine that the EFL feeling somewhat less “satisfied” about all of this as a result of Bassini’s latest shenanigans.
The supporters of Bolton Wanderers, meanwhile, remain in an unenviable position. The Football Ventures proposal has dragged its feet for so long that there are no illusions that this group are going to start throwing money around like confetti should they complete this takeover. On the other hand, though, Laurence Bassini is twice-bankrupt and changed his name from “Bazini” to “Bassini” after his first bankruptcy in order to have a “fresh start.” That this “fresh start” would also make him unsearchable on the Insolvency Service’s register was surely just a coincidence.
Such was the nature of his only previous spell of football club ownership, at Watford in 2011, that shortly before the third anniversary of his arrival the club, local newspaper the Watford Observer made his a story about his return its April Fool’s Day joke, whilst in March 2013 he was banned from being involved in any position of authority with any EFL club for three years of misconduct and dishonesty over financial dealings on behalf of Watford by an independent commission, who found him to have been “dishonest in his dealings with the league and with his fellow directors” and that he “practiced secrecy and deception” in telling neither the league nor the other members of the Watford board about secret financing arrangements.
Only time will tell whether Laurence Bassini’s injunction has any legs, but there is precious little evidence to suggest that he would be anything other than a disaster for Bolton Wanderers. Small wonder fans of the club have been recoiling at him dragging his way back into the new again this week. His injunction could yet persuade the EFL that Bolton Wanderers are a lost cause, that the club cannot reasonably undertake to remain viable as a business for the remainder of the season. And if you don’t believe how troublesome this might be for the club, here it is again, straight from the horse’s mouth: “My solicitors talked about an injunction, but I am not going to have it, even though there is a threat of it, because I don’t want to be the cause of this club if it goes down, for it to have an excuse.”
Small wonder it seemed to to leave the administrator seemed so exasperated on Thursday afternoon. Paul Appleton has had a taste of what it must have felt like to be a Bolton Wanderers supporter over the last few years or so.