Much like traffic crawling slowly past the scene of an accident, there have been no shortage of rubberneckers staring morbidly in at the UniBol from further afield. A founder member of the Football League suspended in crisis at a time when Premier League clubs are splashing money around like it is going out of fashion.
Wanderers have unwittingly become poster boys for poor football governance. The merits of Ken Anderson’s rise to prominence as owner and then his bitter departure – both under the watchful eye of the EFL – will be debated for many years to come.
Sadly, and with neighbouring Bury enduring similar issues down the road, it appears Bolton’s troubles are indicative of a system which is unworkable in the long term, one which attracts and rewards gamblers with little thought of what happens next.
Had Anderson sold-up in the summer of 2018 after Phil Parkinson’s side had secured Championship football with a last-gasp victory against Nottingham Forest, his tenure could hardly have been described a disaster, at least in footballing terms. It was only the third year when the plan unravelled, ego took over and the club, its players and fans suffered so horribly.
Although Anderson would eventually appoint an administrator to the Bolton Whites Hotel – more on that later – his involvement as the solitary decision-maker at Wanderers was ended the minute insolvency firm David Rubin and Partners were appointed by the trust of late owner Eddie Davies, on May 13.
Administration had been on the cards twice before at Bolton, firstly when Davies himself offered a funded option to find a new owner in 2016 – only to change his mind and sell-up to Anderson and Dean Holdsworth’s Sports Shield BWFC consortium, and secondly when finance company BluMarble readied Quantuma for the job in September last year, only to have a late change of heart and strike a deal with Anderson which would further complicate the financial web.
The timing of the administrators’ appointment, however, gave them a very definite window in which to operate. At first, Paul Appleton and his team were aiming to be done by the start of pre-season in early July and did not, under any circumstances, wish to still be working by the big kick off in August.
Players had not been paid properly by the club since the end of February but any hopes that would change when the accountants came in were quickly snuffed out.
The squad’s decision to go on strike in April to force the cancellation of a home game against Brentford split fans’ opinion but was made, to a large extent, in reaction to a ‘broken promise’ a few weeks earlier. Players were told £1million was sat in a frozen bank account and could be unlocked if they withdrew a written complaint to the PFA which could potentially trigger a transfer embargo.
When that did not happen, trouble began to brew. And when administrators opted to use whatever money was still in accounts for other purposes, including paying non-football staff, the bitterness grew again.
Sammy Ameobi and Pawel Olkowski decided early to terminate the final year of their contract, signing for Nottingham Forest and Turkish side Gazisehir, respectively. But the remaining seven – Ben Alnwick, Remi Matthews, Jason Lowe, Luke Murphy, Josh Magennis, Erhun Oztumer and Connor Hall – began an agonising wait.
The same could be said for Parkinson and his backroom team. Unpaid, like the players, they were asked to carry on regardless over the summer knowing that – eventually – they would be paid the money they were due, as football creditors.
Administrators’ chief task was to find a buyer for the business and after claiming six interested parties at one stage, the preferred bidder, Football Ventures, was selected on July 1.
Headed by Sharon Brittan, the consortium had been close to buying the club in February and March but pulled away after uncovering a mass of unexpected debts.
Now without the cash input of Cheshire-based Parminder Basran, the group still submitted the highest offer by a “substantial margin” according to the administrators.
The bidding process was not without its complications. Laurence Bassini, the former Watford owner who had come within a whisker of buying the club from Anderson back in April, was vocal in his displeasure, even organising an impromptu meeting with supporters outside Nat Lofthouse’s statue to read out emails and documents to support his claim for the club.
Bassini’s bid was purportedly backed by West Ham vice-chairman David Sullivan and was played out rather publicly compared to those of his rivals. At one stage a statement was issued by administrators accusing the Stanmore-based property developer of “threatening” calls and emails, a claim he still denies.
As the players returned for training the scars of the previous season were still there for all to see. Padlocks remained on the changing rooms and offices, no hot water was available at Lostock and threadbare sessions were supplemented by youth team players.
The first official friendly at York City was billed as a first-team affair, yet 20-year-old Connor Hall was the most senior player to take the pitch at Bootham Crescent.
After the match, first-team coach Julian Darby claimed the professional players were “not ready” – but potentially the real reason was to emerge in the next few days.
We had heard for several days that Football Ventures were inching their way to a deal to buy the club – but when it emerged they were unprepared to complete without first purchasing the Bolton Whites Hotel, the impact was significant.
Quantuma, overseeing the hotel sale, released a statement claiming negotiations could still take “four to six weeks” and players – then 20 weeks without pay – had heard enough, withdrawing their services for a friendly against Chester and issuing a stinging statement criticising the lack of communication from the club’s administration team.
Players claimed they were reliant on “local press and social media for any updates on any progress made,” alleging that there have been “no direct communications… from Paul Appleton as to the current position regarding our situation or that of the football club.” Similarly, the statement criticised Keith Cousins, the advisor to the administrators, whose “limited dialogue” with the team providing only information which later “proved unsubstantiated.”
Appleton retorted, claiming the players’ account was “riddled with factual inaccuracies” and that the length of time without pay had “a major impact on their collective mindset”.
Certainly, the role of ex-Rushden and Diamonds owner, Cousins, has come under great scrutiny since it was revealed his firm, Consulting Logistics, were on a £30,000 a month retainer and stood to make nearly half a million pounds from the club’s sale alone, plus percentages of player sales and retention.
The civil war continued as some players tried to lever their way out of contracts. Matthews, Oztumer and Murphy attracted attention from Crystal Palace, Charlton and Peterborough, respectively, but were unable to escape.
Games against Preston and Oldham were also called off after the opposition failed to get the assurances they wanted from Wanderers, although behind-closed-doors friendlies were played against Saudi side Al-Ittihad, Bradford City and Salford City.
The battle moved back to the administrators and as Appleton noted, the “one outstanding element of the deal, which is not under my control, is the sale of the Whites Hotel”.
Seen as a vital piece of the puzzle by Football Ventures, whose ranks include a major secured creditor in Michael James, the hotel surprisingly became the focus of the football club’s fate.
Bassini emerged with a claim, as did ex-Nottingham Forest owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi and a handful of other hoteliers.
All the while, the club remained in stasis. Trapped by a deal that had nothing to do with football.
The EFL then stepped in, only satisfied after issuing Wanderers a deadline on Monday that the season opener at Wycombe could go ahead.
There was no such luck for Bury, whose match against MK Dons will not take place.
A loan from the Professional Footballers’ Association, and talk of more investment, has seemingly helped Football Ventures along, the lack of information on their grand plan, and the laborious nature of the deal to date having definitely left them susceptible to doubts.
As things stand, Bolton are due to go to Adams Park on Saturday, but there is no telling at this stage which players will be available, or even want to play.
Manager, Parkinson, has made no promises on his own future, having kept things ticking over in the last few months.
At this very moment in time you cannot buy a season ticket, nor a replica kit.
This summer was meant to be the start of the healing process but has instead seen everyone pick over old wounds time and time again.