There was understandable relief among Wanderers supporters yesterday morning when it was revealed that the EFL’s appeal against a suspended points deduction was unsuccessful.
That means there will be no extra punishment, over and above £35,000 in fines, for failing to play against Brentford last April, or postponing August’s game against Doncaster Rovers.
It means Keith Hill’s side – still some 17 points from safety – can get on with the sizeable task of trying to escape relegation without wondering if all their effort is going to come to nothing in the end.
And it means Bolton’s owners, the Football Ventures consortium, can plan with a little more clarity in the January transfer window.
Predictably, the decision has prompted irate comments around League One from folk who feel Bolton’s situation has been poorly handled, the integrity of the competition compromised, and the inadequacies of the EFL’s governance laid bare.
And though the first instinct is to celebrate the fact Wanderers will not be punished for the past sins of others, it is morally right to ask the same questions about what brought TWO different independent panels to this decision?
Why, for example, was Wanderers’ offer to play the Brentford game last season behind closed doors rejected? And was an alternate venue properly discussed when the University of Bolton Stadium failed to get a safety certificate?
How did a Bolton team in administration start the season at Wycombe with no guaranteed end to their ownership issues, while Bury were put on hold?
“The two situations were very different because Bury are owned by an individual whereas Bolton are being run by administrators,” Debbie Jevans protested in an interview with The Bolton News on August 23, five days before the league activated a 14-day notice of withdrawal on the club’s membership and it nearly slipped into liquidation.
All the while, we still do not know what knowledge, if any, the EFL had of Bolton’s medical concerns over the welfare of Under-18s and 23s being forced to play more regularly than those recommended in the EPPP’s guidelines, which provided grounds for the cancellation of the Doncaster game.
Former Bolton boss Phil Parkinson revealed he had conversations with the league before his team, containing just three professional players, were hammered 5-0 by Tranmere Rovers.
Bolton’s financial problems had meant the majority of their development squad had been released over the summer, meaning the youth which flooded into the senior ranks in the opening few weeks of the season were comprised mainly of Nicky Spooner and Gavin McCann’s Under-16s and 18s.
Some of those same players were carrying injuries – and to give an idea of the margins Parkinson and Co were working with, the next reinforcements in line were just 15 years of age.
That communication clearly had not been passed on to Wanderers’ next opponents. And Rovers were particularly annoyed, claiming they had first heard the news on Bolton’s Twitter account.
Administrators, David Rubin and Partners, had sanctioned the announcement at around 3.45pm on Monday, August 19, around the same time that Doncaster boss Darren Moore was doing his pre-match press conference.
It also appeared to catch the league on the hop, too, despite any previous communication their officials may – or may not – have had with Parkinson or the Wanderers hierarchy a few days earlier.
Efforts to reschedule the game have proved problematic. It is understood the free date in January 4 was offered after both clubs went out of the FA Cup but declined by Doncaster, perhaps as they waited for the disciplinary verdict to be delivered.
Now that it has, both clubs have to host a match which has now evolved into something more than the middle-of-the-road fixture it might have been back in August. Police presences will surely be higher, increasing costs, and over what?
Set aside all the tribalism and forget the social media nonsense and ask why there were no prescribed rules for this sort of thing?
Macclesfield would argue that their punishment for failing to fulfil fixtures, which equated to six points just last month, was considerably tougher. It was little surprise to see them launch an appeal yesterday, in the light of what happened to the Whites.
Doncaster will try and examine the facts, and most likely the strength of the EFL’s case before making their next move.
A statement from the club yesterday read: “Doncaster Rovers note the outcome of EFL’s appeal following the independent panel’s disciplinary hearing into Bolton’s cancellation of their fixture against us and failure to fulfil a previous game against Brentford.
“Bolton pleaded guilty to the charges, with the independent panel deciding that our fixture should be rearranged along with a fine and suspended points deduction.
“We backed the EFL’s appeal, believing the decision has the ability to undermine the integrity of the competition, and will now review the panel’s findings.
“Everyone at Rovers is glad Bolton survived their financial problems, we wish them well under their new ownership and will work to schedule the fixture which had been cancelled by Bolton back in August.”
Reading through some of the online anger vented by both sets of fans yesterday, it makes you wonder if they have rather missed the point?
Has the EFL’s actions – or perhaps inaction – led to the situation escalating to this level?
It was announced at the start of May that Bolton’s punishment would be decided by an independent panel, a concept which floated around for months of pre-season as their situation become more serious. People were still twiddling their thumbs, no precedent set, when the second game was cancelled and the situation became infinitely more complicated as it was happening during active competition.
Since the start of this season clubs have been pointing fingers at each other, arguing over who had gained an advantage by playing the ‘weak’ Bolton packed with inexperienced players, as opposed the one which strengthened – entirely legally – in August.
Burton boss Nigel Clough was the latest to climb above the bandwagon, conveniently forgetting the fact this same team lost 6-1 to Rotherham and 7-1 at Accrington, stats that perhaps don’t fit the narrative.
Doncaster called for stronger punishment when the five-point suspended penalty was announced in November but they were by no means alone. As Bolton’s CEO, Emma Beaugeard, remarked in December “it’s a dog eat dog world” and there are no guarantees that this club would not have done exactly the same.
To put the icing on the cake, just a couple of hours after Wanderers’ verdict was published, The Athletic revealed details of a £500,000 pay-off to outgoing EFL chief executive, Shaun Harvey, who provided his public backing for ex-Bolton owner Ken Anderson just 77 days before the club was placed into administration, its players and staff unpaid.
Harvey pocketed more than £1m in his final year, which also saw Steve Dale given the go-ahead to take on Bury without seemingly having provided the correct financial proof to do so.
Due credit must go to Wanderers’ COO, Andy Gartside, who constructed a solid case to protect his club over the last few months, rewarding Football Ventures’ decision to bring him into the fold.
Upholding the panel’s decision was never going to be universally popular, and we may yet hear of more legal challenges to be aimed at the league if the rumour mill proves correct.
But rather than turning yesterday’s verdict into a squabbling point between clubs, perhaps they should be turning their collective spotlights on the powers that be, questioning exactly how this mess was created in the first place, and then allowed to expand into an emergency that has nearly wrecked an entire season?