Bolton Wanderers & A Fight Between A Frying Pan & A Fire

The regular domestic Football League season was due to be ending this weekend. On Sunday lunchtime the last round of fixtures will be played in the Championship, but once these are settled on those matches there will still be one outstanding. The match between Bolton Wanderers and Brentford which was due to be played last Saturday was, of course, postponed last Friday night after Bolton confirmed that they would be unable to raise a team for the match, and exhortations from the Football League to get the played this week fell on deaf ears. The team will make its trip to Nottingham Forest for their match on Sunday, but that Brentford game remained outstanding until this afternoon, when the League finally confirmed that the match next Tuesday would not be going ahead and that Brentford are to be awarded a one-nil win.

The final straw for the match being played last weekend came with Football League confirmation that they were unsatisfied that the match could go ahead. All of this came in spite of Laurence Bassini, the man who would own Bolton Wanderers, claiming that he had already transferred £1m into his personal account to pay the players ahead of last weekend’s match. The money was never forthcoming, and this week has seen what there might have been of a “relationship” between Bassini and Ken Anderson, the current owner of the club, almost completely disintegrate in a flurry of outright contradictory public statements. Bassini claims he has a “bulletproof” contract with Ken Anderson to purchase his 94.5% stake in Burnden Leisure, the holding company which owns the football club itself, and that he has now instigated legal action to claim a share certificate. It seems, however, unlikely that his contract would be so “bulletproof” that it would preclude him from having to have the funding in place to complete the sale, although it has been suggested that the contract Bassini entered into with Anderson could have prevented Anderson from pushing the club into administration without legal challenges..

Earlier in the week, Bassini requested a further forty-eight hours in order to get the funding in place to complete his takeover of the club, and was granted this time to do so. Last night, however, Bolton Wanderers released a club statement in which they confirmed that “no subsequent meeting took place and nothing further has been presented for the board of the EFL to consider” and that, consequently, “we now consider his approach for the club at an end and no further discussions will be entered into on the matter with him.” Bassini had already admitted that he had not provided sufficient evidence to satisfy the Football League that the funds were in place to complete the takeover, but claimed that an extra spanner had been thrown into the works by additional debt that he claimed to have discovered. Bolton’s statement addressed this matter, though:

We would like to confirm that despite repeated offers to allow his professional advisors to carry out due diligence in the club’s data room this work has never been undertaken so we are at a loss as to understand the comments regarding additional debt that he claimed to have discovered.

We can only assume the ongoing cash flow requirements for the next two seasons as required by the EFL for all potential acquirers of a club are what Mr Bassini refers to when talking about ‘additional debt’.

That Bassini hadn’t satisfied the Football League’s expectations was confirmed by the League itself when they were pressed into comment of their own on the subject by the broadly contradictory statements from the two parties concerned:

The EFL is aware of further comments being made this morning regarding the ownership of Bolton Wanderers and remains in contact with representatives from both the club and Mr Bassini.

The EFL’s role is to ensure any individual looking to acquire control meets the requirements of the League’s Regulations, which includes providing information to demonstrate the source and sufficiency of funding.

We remain available to the parties to assist where we can.

Football League rules, however, require all matches to be completed within four days of (what would otherwise have been) the end of the domestic season, and the decision of the Stadium Advisory Group to issue a prohibition notice against Bolton – the staff haven’t been paid, so there’s no guarantee that there would be any stewarding whatsoever for the match – seems to have sealed the fate of it ever taking place:

Following the decision taken by Bolton Wanderers’ Safety Advisory Group (SAG) to issue a Prohibition Notice preventing Tuesday’s rearranged Sky Bet Championship fixture with Brentford from taking place, the EFL will not be asking that the game is played at a future date.

There is no provision under EFL Regulations to direct Clubs to play at a later date than four days past the conclusion of the season and, as a result, it has been determined that Brentford will be awarded the three points on the basis of a 1-0 victory.

As a consequence, Bolton Wanderers is now deemed to be guilty of misconduct by the EFL which will result in disciplinary proceedings against the Club being taken at an appropriate time.

The decision to award the victory to Brentford is taken under Regulation 33.2 and is independent of the proceedings referred to above.

There will be some might argue that Bolton Wanderers, considering their form over the course of the entire season, got off a little lightly here, and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that this might all have been treated somewhat differently had either club had anything riding on the result of this match. However, with Brentford in mid-table but unable to make the play-offs and with Bolton having been relegated several weeks ago this plainly wasn’t the case. No Football League clubs have failed to complete a season’s worth of matches since Aldershot and Maidstone United in March and August 1992 respectively, both as a result of a complete collapse. As such, the portents for Bolton Wanderers as a result of failing to complete their forty-six Championship matches do not look particularly encouraging.

It’s likely that this conflation of events will now push the club considerably closer to the abyss of administration, especially with reports that the club’s financial position may be even worse than had previously been suggested, with a report in The Sun this morning putting the size of the club’s current debt at £41.6m. The common assent is that the £14m of money that Bassini has been referring to as “extra debt” is actually forward funding required by the Football League to cover the next two seasons. Such has been his haplessness over the last couple of weeks or so, however, that we could almost even be persuaded that he has been little more than a diversionary tactic for Anderson, a reason to get the club put into administration and a pantomime villain onto whom a degree of blame for the chaos for the last few weeks could be blamed.

Administration wouldn’t cover any secured debts and it wouldn’t cover any football debts, but it would at least protect the club from any further winding up petitions from being issued. With the club already having been relegated, however, it is highly likely that entering into administration would result in a points deduction from the start of next season, and it’s entirely possible that further points could be deducted as a result of the Brentford abandonment. Such a situation, of course, would leave the club looking like an even worse investment opportunity than it already does, and when we consider that Laurence Bassini was the most serious buyer for the club in its current condition, that’s not saying very much at all. It has been estimated that it would cost a new buyer in the region of £20m to get the club successfully out of administration.

That Bassini should have even been this close to the running of the club in the Football League remains a damning indictment of the lack of effective regulation of football club owners in this country. Twice bankrupt and already banned from any involvement in football for three years between 2013 and 2016, Bassini’s name should be on a list of people who should never be allowed near the boardroom of a football club again. Because he’s done his time and bankruptcies have both been discharged, though, he passes The Owners & Directors Test, a state of affairs that makes a mockery of any idea that the game’s governing bodies are even interested in keeping these people out of football in this country, let alone able to. Earlier this week, we asked the question of when a football club ceases to be a football club any more, in light of National League club Gateshead’s apparently imminent collapse. Unable to raise a team or pay any of their staff and unable to complete their league fixtures, the same question should probably now be asked of Bolton Wanderers as well.