The Whites’ owners have had a far from straightforward path since taking the club out of administration in August 2019.
With all eyes on rebuilding a football club that had gone to the brink of extinction, chairman Sharon Brittan and her team were then dealt the challenge of guiding Wanderers through a global pandemic.
That is still continuing, but speaking to the Bolton Wanderers Supporters’ Trust AGM, Gartside says Football Ventures are clear on where they see the club in the football food chain.
“On the whole, looking at every different aspect of it going forward, we look at the term, ‘pragmatic ambition’. That’s the best way to frame it,” he told fans.
“It’s still having the ambition of being a top-end Championship club, that’s where we feel Bolton Wanderers should be, and when we get that point we’ll then assess and say ‘right, what do we need to do to get to that next level again?’. But for the first step it’s let’s get back to the Championship and then see where we are.
“In terms of the long-term plan it would be remiss of any football club to predicate a business plan based on league status.
“There’s flexibility within the investors to carry us forward and while we don’t want to be there, we would be fine if we were to stay in League Two next season.
“We’re incredibly fortunate to have the investors that we do.
“The board and the investors are fully committed behind the football club. It’s a good position to be in in these difficult times. They have a desire to push the club forward.”
Sustainability was a buzz word during the virtual question and answer session which also included manager Ian Evatt, with making the most out the Bolton Whites Hotel central to the owners’ plans.
“What we want to do with the stadium is make it a 365-day-a-year venue which it hasn’t been,” Gartside said.
“One of the reasons it wasn’t done under previous regimes is because in the Premier League the money you can get out of conferencing and events is immaterial but when you’re in the lower reaches, a big conference or a hotel, those amounts of revenue become material to the business.
“We want to get the hotel back to where it was 10 years ago and turning over what it did then.”
But all that thinking was of course laid out before life was put on hold by Covid-19.
Gartside though saluted supporters for their backing, more than 8,000 of whom snapped up season tickets for the new era under Ian Evatt that they are yet to see in person.
“It’s hard to underestimate the effect of the pandemic really and not necessarily financially, maybe more operationally,” he said. “We’ve got two businesses that are the tip of the arrow when it comes to being hurt economically.
“The hotel has been absolutely decimated and that formed a large part of the plan and that’s effectively half our revenues gone.
“We have like a number of clubs and businesses utilised Government schemes whether it be furlough or grants.
“Furlough has been very helpful for us because we haven’t been operating and you’re able to sustain your staffing levels as much as you can do.
“Financially clearly we’re not in the position we wanted to be, however, this is the ultimate positive, the support we’ve been shown by the fans has been truly phenomenal.
“It’s very difficult to get across just how humbling this season has been with the support of the fans.
“The season ticket take up for the season was beyond our wildest expectations and then there was the season ticket waiver.
“There’s the other initiatives as well, iFollow has been great for us and the fans have turned up in their thousands to watch it.
“The game against Tranmere on Saturday was a record for us which was phenomenal. The supporters have been immense throughout the year.”
With it being the fifth anniversary of the BWFCST there was plenty of discussion about the turmoil of recent years. The clean up operation is still not complete but Gartside insisted there would not be an issue when it comes to repaying a £3.5million-plus unsecured creditors bill by the end of the summer.
Under the rules of the club’s takeover, the EFL requires 35 per cent of the money owed to be settled by August.
Wanderers’ bill to unsecured creditors – including Bolton Council, the emergency services, energy firms and many local companies – totalled more than £10million.
“In terms of paying off the unsecured, the plan is as it was at the time of administration,” Gartside said.
“There was an asset purchase agreement at the time, I’m not going to allude to the details because I can’t but ,we’re on course for that and the unsecured creditors will be paid.
“There was a headline number at the time of exiting administration of a huge amount of debt that was due.
“One of the things we’ve done in the last 18 months is work away at that as much as we could do.
“The unsecured creditor element of it was made up of hundreds of creditors small and large but predominantly there were probably six or seven large creditors, some of whom you can argue about what they’re owed, and that’s part of what we’ve done.
“We’ve managed to reach a conclusion to some of those large creditors. We’re well on board with that and are not going to incur any penalties as a result.”