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Inside Wanderers: Facts of points penalty debate should be public

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
The ongoing debate over Bolton Wanderers’ points penalty has descended into a ridiculous battle of entitlement, a contest to see which club, owner or set of fans can feel more aggrieved than the rest.

Rather than waste time with pithy tweets, or misinformed quotes, would it not be a better idea for football’s influential figures to demand that the facts of this debate are made public knowledge?

Why, if this matter is so important to the ‘integrity’ of the league, does nobody know such basic information as who actually made the original decision to suspend Wanderers’ five-point deduction for 18 months, and what their reasons for doing so were?

If a player or manager finds themselves in the dock for a serious disciplinary matter with the Football Association, the transcript of the hearing is made publicly available. It often makes for unpleasant reading but the whole thing is usually wrapped up within weeks.

In this case, some seven months after Bolton’s players went on strike to force the initial postponement of the Brentford game, we are still none the wiser what the punishment will be.

The EFL made great play of referring the issue to an independent panel, separating themselves entirely from the issue over the summer and into the autumn, but then when a verdict was reached they were railroaded into action by a handful of member clubs who wanted stronger – and more immediate – punishment.

And therein lies the problem. Of course Bolton’s League One rivals are going to want the book thrown at them, stifling out any chance they have of avoiding relegation this season. Turkeys have taken a similar stance against Christmas, I hear.

With the league effectively powerless to do anything other than be manipulated by the majority, mob rule takes over. Should the second independent panel come to a conclusion that does not meet their liking, do we pursue a third? Can an appealed appeal be appealed?

Monty Python would have struggled to come up with farcical satire like this, in fact, perhaps the reason that the identity of the mysterious three-man panel is being kept such a guarded secret is that Messrs Cleese, Idle and Gilliam have been called in for their thoughts.

Now I didn’t come here for an argument. It is clear that a precedent will be set with this ruling and that clubs cannot be allowed to cancel games without good cause. But I would like to think that if any other club got into the state that Bolton Wanderers was in during April and August this year, that I would also be more understanding.

I watched the Channel 5 1998 documentary ‘They Think It’s All Rovers’ the other night – which chronicles the incredible issues Doncaster Rovers had under a previous owner when they dropped out of the league. It left me wondering two things: ‘Had the cameras been around to film what I have witnessed over the last 12 months at Bolton, would there be more sympathy, and how do these people get to own football clubs in the first place?’

Lest we forget that just two months before the Brentford strike, the EFL’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey, was eulogising about Ken Anderson and that “Bolton Wanderers will be here for many, many years to come and Ken Anderson has played a part in that history".

If Wanderers are to be judged on the wrongdoings of past guardians, it seems only fair that the rule should be applied across the board.

The last few years at Bolton has been spent dwelling in grey areas of the EFL rulebook, from the current disciplinary issues to the omnipresent embargo, the parameters of which are a greater mystery than the Colonel’s KFC recipe.

It is high time such matters were laid bare. No more secret phone calls, no more clandestine meetings, a clear and defined way of dealing with problems that is visible to all.

I sincerely hope that the second hearing considers the same facts and reaches the same conclusion. If not, I hope the reasons will be clearly defined and those who demanded an appeal are identified.

If it is bad news for Wanderers, then so be it. But at least let their accusers be shown.


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