To see the books -
THE ‘for sale’ sign has officially been placed on Bolton Wanderers, and timewasters need not apply.
After just over a week of frantic forensic accounting, the club’s administrators have set down in print what it will cost to become the next owner of a founder member of the Football League.
How they arrived at £25m -
A document distributed by valuers Hilco Global details that £25million proof of funds will be needed and a non-refundable £25,000 fee to see the data room.
But unlike the infamous ‘taster document’ distributed by Ken Anderson at his peak 18 months ago, replete with glossy pictures and smiling footballers, the email distributed to more than 30 interested parties on Wednesday evening had no such frills.
In the fine print, mentions of “accelerated timescales” and “urgent decisions” hint at the immediacy in these negotiations with a season in League One a little over two months away and a mountain of preparation in store.
Attention was drawn instantly to a £25m top-line figure, and eyebrows raised that it was the same price peddled by Anderson and his advisor Paul Aldridge in October 2017 when their brochure became public knowledge via this very newspaper.
The crucial difference in this instance is that circa £25m will be needed to satisfy creditors, players, unpaid staff and bills – AND fulfil the EFL’s future funding pledge. No questions asked. Whether that price also includes the hotel is very much up for debate, and a matter to be thrashed out between the two sets of administrators.
The creditors -
There has been much speculation over what money is owed to key players like late owner Eddie Davies's Moonshift Investments, local businessman Michael James, ex-vice chairman Brett Warburton and Anderson, via his company Inner Circle Investments.
But it is understood that there is a willingness from all secured creditors to lower demands in an effort to get the deal completed and for the club to finally get back on an even keel. Further negotiation is another certainty.
Iles rambling on to fill article space in the paper -
The figure – and fee for seeing the books – remains unashamedly harsh. With time now of the essence, administrators can no longer afford to waste time courting potential buyers or have their tyres kicked by those who want some national exposure or to play games. There will be room for negotiation, of course, but only by those who have the cash and a sound plan.
Given everything that has happened at Wanderers in the last few years, and everything else happening in football right now, neither the administrators nor the league can afford to make a mistake here. The spotlight is on them to find a stable buyer with a workable plan.
In order to get approval from the EFL, an interested party and associated directors would not only have to pass the owners and directors’ test, they also have to provide proof that they can run Wanderers sustainably for a given period.
It is this part of the process which tripped up Laurence Bassini last month as he tried to buy the club solvent. Though the former Watford owner felt he had access to the money Anderson was looking for, it was the league who were unhappy with the way his bid was structured and wanted proof of funding for two years.
Dean Holdsworth, Wanderers’ former co-owner, also feels the EFL should examine the agreement Ken Anderson entered into in March 2016 in this respect.
“Did he made a commitment to the EFL? Yes, he did and that hasn't materialised,” he said last month.
"When the time come for reflection on what has happened, he needs to be seriously looked at for what he promised and what he's done to the club.
"He has affected so many lives in a negative way and it's not good.”
Depending on the buyer, there may not be a request from the league for two years’ worth of proof. But it is safe to say they will be keeping the closest of eyes on anyone who comes through the door.
When Parminder Basran and the Football Ventures consortium stepped away from buying Wanderers back in March, it is understood ‘hidden’ debts were the main reason behind their decision.
After investing £250,000 into due diligence it is understood liabilities of several million pounds were uncovered, and smaller debts were being added with each passing day.
Laurence Bassini claimed around £10m of smaller debts could be stripped off the club in administration, albeit to the considerable detriment of smaller businesses and unsecured creditors.
The process should, theoretically, mean that there are no such hidden surprises from here on in. The work done by accountants in the last 10 days should give a completely fair and accurate picture of what a buyer is getting into, and how much they can realistically expect to pay for the foreseeable future.
Estimates on what trading losses would be at Wanderers in League One vary wildly. They allegedly stand at £6-7m a year in the Championship with a wage bill among the lowest in the division but still one which weighs in upwards of £13m a year.
Unlike the last time Bolton went into the third tier, the residual playing squad is not an especially expensive one. Presuming Pawel Olkowski and Sammy Ameobi have now officially left the building – still not confirmed by the club - only six senior players are contracted to 2020, which presents an opportunity to bring down the overall wage bill.
In Bolton’s last season at this level the average weekly wage of a player was a massive £10,573 – more than seven times that of AFC Wimbledon (£1,451) and four times the divisional average (£2,600) in 2017.
There were reasons for being top-heavy. The so-called “big-hitters” were still carrying wages which had been agreed during Eddie Davies’s more affluent era and some, most notably goalkeeper Ben Amos, were publicly admonished on a regular basis by Anderson for remaining on the payroll.
Others, like Rob Hall, Emile Heskey, Liam Feeney, Neil Danns, Jay Spearing, Darren Pratley, Derik Osede, Dean Moxey, Liam Trotter and Connor Wilkinson were phased out over the next two summers.
The likes of Rob Holding, Zach Clough and Kaiyne Woolery were sold on to offset losses which were around £13m a year – or £250,000 a week – at the time.
Overheads have also allegedly been reduced from the last time the club played its football at this level - a product perhaps of Anderson's more effective spells of chairmanship - but while there should be plenty more scope for an owner to set his own budget, one of the biggest concerns for anyone walking through the door will be how long they should legislate for League One football.
While the finances of the club - and the more onerous aspects of Anderson's stewardship - have been laid bare by accountants, exactly how much ground Bolton will be conceding to their rivals next season is shrouded in secrecy.
The EFL has confirmed it will be deducting 12 points for going into administration after March 28 from next season’s total. The great unknown is how draconian a second punishment for failing to fulfil last season’s fixture against Brentford might be.
The most extreme predictions are for an extra nine points to be piled on top of the 12, which would make next season a relegation fight regardless of how well the squad is funded.
The league say they will not be advertising the date that the independent panel will sit, only their findings. The summer AGM will be held on June 6, at which point the new season officially begins – but the quicker a decision is made, the easier it will be for buyers to press ahead with their bid.
In the meantime, a £25,000 fee to see the books could raise some short-term cash to help pay the bills, namely staff wages, in the weeks to come.
Employees were told this week that they will finally get a regular salary, albeit only backdated to May 13 when the administrators entered the building. It will then be reviewed each month to the end of the process.
Should half a dozen serious buyers put their money on the table it will certainly help a club which has little to no cashflow at present.
While plenty would argue administration a necessary evil, Wanderers have been placed into footballing limbo as their finances are sorted. Whoever gets the nod as the next owner will have no time to settle down into their new surroundings, there will be quick decisions to make.
Every aspect of club life from assembling a squad, deciding on a management team, setting season ticket prices, sorting a pre-season schedule – even a new kit – is on hold until the club can find new ownership.
But with administrators showing signs that they do not want to hang around and get comfortable, it is an encouraging thought that there should be a new name above the door at the University of Bolton Stadium sooner rather than later.