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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » INSIDE WANDERERS: How a lack of quality communication killed Bolton

INSIDE WANDERERS: How a lack of quality communication killed Bolton

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
If there is a lesson to be learned from the wreckage of Ken Anderson’s reign for the next owner, or indeed any footballing hierarchy experiencing difficulties, is it that meaningful communication with employees is key to preventing a complete catastrophe.

A common theme runs through accounts of players, coaches and staff when they retell the hardships experienced over the last few years at Bolton – and that is the feeling of being left in the dark by their employers.

On a monthly basis, as pay day approached, the same questions would be asked of me, and probably anyone else who supposedly had a tenuous grip on what was going on.

Calls, texts and Whatsapp messages would trickle in, one by one: “Will wages be paid? Will they be on time? Where is Ken? Has he got the money?”

More often than not the concern would spill into pay day itself. On a few occasions payments were made during the course of the day, employees reduced to guesswork at when that might be.

As ex-player Mark Little so eloquently put it in this very newspaper last week: “They say it’s a need to know basis and apparently we, the players, didn’t need to know.”

This all started a long time before Wanderers’ biggest problems hit the headlines and had helped erode confidence and trust long before talk of boycotts began.

The fact staff could were not getting answers from within prompted us to start asking questions. And it was at that stage The Bolton News ran a back-page article suggesting we should be concerned about the financial state at Bolton, demanding some real answers from Anderson. We all know how that panned out.

When challenged, Anderson claimed his communication was satisfactory. And, for some time, his regular missives on the website were widely applauded, given they were in marked contrast to his more private predecessor.

The Supporters’ Trust once called for Anderson to sign up to a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ which would tie him to regular structured meetings with the fans, the contents of which would be reported to the public. The proposal was refused. Anderson truly believed by opening up on certain matters in column form that he was being transparent, even though the information being dispersed was one-way, and unchallenged. And perhaps by trying to please the masses he also forgot to keep his own staff in the loop?

As the testimonies from players continue to spill forth from last season, the running theme is that they felt starved of information. Inevitably that had an impact on what happened on the pitch, even if it – potentially – gave some a ready-made excuse for under-performance.

For two years, Phil Parkinson and his backroom managed to keep the discontent at bay. The training ground was a relative oasis of calm, even when Anderson was kicking up a storm in the media for one reason or another.

Concern about pay was there – as I have already mentioned – but the lads and the manager carried on diligently, at least until the Scotland training camp last summer.

The decision to boycott the friendly against St Mirren over unpaid bonuses was a turning point. Players had taken matters into their own hands, effectively by-passing the manager to make a direct point to the club’s owner.

From there on in, the lines of communication were damaged. Players issued joint statements via the media, Anderson responded with typical acidity via his web-notes, round and round the war of spin went.

For people trying to make sense of it all, the exercise was a frustrating one. Parkinson relied heavily on Anderson’s man on the ground, Paul Aldridge, but even someone with his extensive football background was reduced to a shrug of the shoulders more often than not.

Unlike many other clubs there was no board of directors to bounce ideas off, or to get a second opinion. Senior staff at a stadium Anderson no longer visited knew no more than the rest of us. And it was not long before the situation spiralled out of control on the training ground, too.

By Parkinson’s own admission, his words were having less of an effect. No amount of reassurances that wages were on his way were able to satisfy a group of players now feeling betrayed by their employers.

The Wanderers boss would keep in regular contact with his senior players together to try and pass shreds of information on and called regular team meetings for the more serious matters. But, like the rest of us, Parkinson had reason to mistrust what he was being told from above.

Is it any wonder, then, that players abandoned the chain of command in the end?

Ex-Wanderer John McGinlay is among those who has suggested a stronger stance should have been taken by Parkinson and his staff to keep players in line. The sense of professionalism he has kept in troubled times has been appreciated my many – but there is no question that other, more flammable characters, would have spoken out sooner.

I firmly believe that other groups of players would have reacted differently too.

If the club’s ownership had tried to pull this sort of trick in McGinlay’s time, for example, would the dressing room have given so many opportunities? I highly doubt it.

Contrary to the belief of some, Wanderers’ current dressing room is packed with conscientious types who fully appreciate the wage structure of a football club. This is not a militant group by any stretch of the imagination.

I can think of shop stewards who have worn a Bolton shirt in the last decade who would have made a much bigger and more public issue of what has unfolded. But the decision to go on strike was always going to separate opinions, and those responsible knew that it would not be universally popular.

Parkinson and his staff again found themselves in a difficult position – unable to fully support strike action in public but well aware of the issues his players had faced. His diplomatic responses have been made more in a sense of duty than anything else.

The honest truth is that without honest communication, people can only be pushed so far.


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