Bolton Wanderers: See You Next… Tuesday?
So the headlines were pretty clear. In court on Wednesday, the injunction brought by Laurence Bassini blocking the sale of Bolton Wanderers to Football Ventures was adjourned until the 2nd of September, clearing the way for the sale to finally go through. Bassini felt that he should have had first claim on buying the club, even though the former Watford owner and twice former bankrupt doesn’t appear to have ever come up with anything seriously approaching proof of funding for it and the fact that the club was put into administration in May. If he ever had a serious window of opportunity, it passed a long time ago.
All of this, then, knocks the ball back into the court of the administrator, Paul Appleton. At the time that Bassini’s injunction was announced, Appleton claimed that the Football Ventures takeover was “on the brink on completion.” Perhaps the question to be asking here is, what exactly does he mean by “brink”, because Appleton’s was only eight days ago at the time of writing, and there has still been no confirmation of the takeover announced in the three days since Bassini’s injunction was kicked into the medium grass.
Jumpiness on the part of Bolton Wanderers is understandable. It is entirely plausible that Bassini’s injunction could be put back in place in the 2nd of September, and that this could land the new owners in some degree of legal entanglement with Bassini himself. It says something for the desperation of the club’s current position that this state of affairs is considered a victory. The club’s life-span is being measured in days now, and buying another two weeks and five days at least buys a little further breathing space.
The court case offered a faascinating insight into the mids of all concerned. Bassini claimed that, to meet a stipulation of the Special Purchase Agreement reached with former owner Ken Anderson, he had been given approval from he EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey for his initial takeover, and that he paid £1, with a further £199,999 contingent on accounts being unfrozen. Bassini claimed that Anderson subsequently tried to “extort” more money out of him. According to his legal counsel in court:
“On the same day Mr Anderson got wind – what we do see if that on May 1 that Mr Anderson had threatened to put the club into liquidation but wouldn’t do so if a payment was made from Mr Bassini – ‘if you don’t give me £5million today I’ll put the club into administration’ to which Mr Bassini said ‘**** *** or I’ll report you’.” Bassini also claimed he offered unsecured creditors 100 pence in the pound should his takeover – which he claimed was to be funded by a company owned by West Ham United vice-chairman David Sullivan – be successful.
Anderson’s company’s solicitors disputed his claim, presenting a written statement on the morning of the trial from EFL lawyer Nick Craig, which confirmed Bassini was never given approval. Further written statements on the defence’s behalf were also produced, one from former Premier League chair Sir Dave Richards. The information received was enough to convince the judge that the whole story hadn’t been heard, hence the adjournment. But Football Ventures now need to act, and that’s not necessarily straightforward. The whole deal for Football Ventures to buy Bolton Wanderers is predicated upon the sale of White’s Hotel, which was placed into administration under a separate procedure at the same time as the footbal club, and this hasn’t completed yet.
It remains surprising that the both the administrators and the EFL were happy to pass a CVA proposal which was predicated entirely upon the purchase of another asset which hadn’t already been completed. There is little indication of where the sale of the hotel – or, to be precise, the business which owns the hotel – is up to, and without that the takeover is either doomed to fail, or doomed to be completed and for the club to fail again soon afterwards. It is understandable that all concerned want it to proceed. Everybody wants it to proceed. But if something goes wrong now, both Appleton and the EFL are going to look somewhat ridiculous. And neither can say that they weren’t warned.
The lifting of the injunction blocking the sale of Bolton Wanderers is a good thing, if only because the alternative was almost certain liquidation or, and a little suspension of disbelief is required here, ownership by Laurence Bassini. The club is still not out of the woods, though. The team travels to Tranmere Rovers for a League One match with just two outfield senior players left following the departure of Erhun Oztumer this week. Oztumer had requested a free transfer from Appleton during the summer but this was rejected by the administrator. His appeal, however, was successful and he has now signed for Charlton Athletic. Meanwhile, injuries to Liam Edwards and James Weir would leave just two senior players (plus two goalkeepers) mean that the entire remainder of the squad would be made up of youth players.
It has been suggested that the takeover could be completed on Tuesday, but it doesn’t feel as though there’s much point in placing too much faith in one date, at this point. The next critical date for Bolton Wanderers is now two and a half weeks away, although it would unsurprising if the EFL didn’t start getting itchy feet if this hadn’t been resolved by the end of next week, or perhaps even sooner. But who knows? And if there’s one thing we know for certain about the recent history of Bolton Wanderers, it’s that grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory can be habit-forming. The time for prevarication is surely now over. The ball is squarely in the court of Football Ventures and Paul Appleton. This sale needs to be completed now.