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Sharon Brittan discusses her future plans for club

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Sharon Brittan has faith in her plan for Bolton Wanderers, on and off the pitch.

The club owner says she is confident the club is now on a more stable footing nearly two-and-a-half years after the Football Ventures consortium brought Bolton out of administration.

There have been some eye-opening moments, including a global pandemic which stripped the business of 70 per cent of its revenue, but Brittan believes the club can still move towards her target of sustainability and achieve success in League One under current boss Ian Evatt.

Speaking in an interview with well-known local accountancy firm Cowgills as part of their Business Heroes series, the club chairman reflected on the difficulty of maintaining focus in the adrenaline fuelled world of football.

“It’s the most extraordinary business, in terms of looking for sustainability,” she said.

“Bolton is a great example. A lot of these clubs are based on owner funding, which is great when the owner continues to fund the business.

“The problem is when the owner stops funding, it very quickly falls apart.

“Eddie Davies, God bless his soul, was obviously an incredible man and funded this business and was an amazing person to have at this club, when he stopped the funding it spiralled.

“That’s because it was run in an unsustainable way.

“There’s no other business that you would run like that outside of football. It is the emotion, it is a unique industry. You get very wealthy people who are prepared to commit the money but I also don’t think people realise – and I have over the last two-and-a-half years – that these are very stressful businesses to run.

“They are high on emotion. We have seen it here, last time last year we were 19th, 20th in League Two and the fans were not happy, rightly so.

“I had a strong belief in where we would go. And when you have a strong belief in your journey, there may be peripheral noise but I follow what I believe.

“Never last year did I ever think of any change in management, personnel. I wasn’t deviating from the journey.

“We had the January transfer window and you saw the run we went on, getting promotion, which was nothing short of a miracle.

“Ian Evatt is an absolute delight of a man to work with, he is a fantastic person. He has an extraordinary ability to cope with the stress.

“Another thing I realised it that a manager’s job is high stress, it really is.

“Part of the industry I think is wrong is that you can lose five games and then clubs change a manager – well that not only brings costs, a rebuild, they take their team, you have to bring in a new one, their own players.

“My mindset is that you have to give a manager time to do his job. And never was that better proven than last year when everyone was up in arms in November, we gave Ian time and got promoted.

“There’s no other business you’d run on a five-week period, then sack the CEO. It wouldn’t happen.

“October here is a great example where games haven’t gone according to plan but in no way, shape or form does that affect what I am thinking about our plan for Bolton. I know where we are going and how we are doing it.”

It is nearly a decade since Wanderers dropped out of the Premier League, during which time they have played in all three divisions in the EFL and been pushed to the brink of financial disaster.

The club’s economy has changed considerably in that time – moving on from record £50.6million losses in the immediate aftermath of relegation from the top-flight to a decidedly more manageable £3.5m in the most recent set of club accounts.

Brittan is adamant that a plan for sustainability can work at the University of Bolton Stadium but is also supportive of efforts being made by the EFL, and its chairman Rick Parry, to better distribute monies down the pyramid from the Premier League.

“There needs to be a fundamental change and Rick Parry, who is a great guy, is working now and being instrumental now by talking to Tracey Crouch (chair of the recent government-backed Fan Led Review) about the changes needed to ensure the huge monies comes down to the clubs in Leagues One and Two to make them more sustainable.

“There has previously been an enormous pressure that you have to spend on player wages and I have done a lot of research and analysis, due diligence on every business, and the correlation of that huge spend does not necessarily get you where you think it is going to get you.

“Where we are now, we’re probably ninth or 10th in terms of what we spend.

“In terms of sustainability and putting a really smart senior team round the business, I think it will be really interesting to see how it plays out for now and the rest of the season.

“It is people doing the right job in the right way. There is a huge amount of emotion and ego in football.”

One aspect of working in football which does not appeal to the Wanderers owner is social media, a commercial driver for the business, but one which undoubtedly has its drawbacks.

“I have a huge issue with social media, with the phone – which I call the Weapon of Mass Destruction,” he said.

“I do no social media at all and cannot understand the things that are said to people, the way they are said and the effect it has on people’s mental health. It is just dreadful and there has to be a way that these huge organisations are able to control and stop some of the truly vile things that are said.

“Particularly coming into football, from day one I said I wouldn’t do any social media. I am sure things are directed at me but I don’t know or hear what they are because I don’t search for them.”

Wanderers’ fans have been hugely supportive of Brittan and the FV consortium – but the chairman admits there have been mistakes during their time in charge.

Frustrations have recently come to a head on the pitch after a spell of poor performances and Brittan hopes supporters will continue to be patient as the January transfer window draws nearer.

“Nobody gets everything right all the time,” she said.

“What I hope people see since I have been at Bolton is that I am honest. I have a good moral compass.

“I am tough in the boardroom but my fundamental principles are very strong and it’s about doing the right thing in the right way. And you can’t please everyone, I’m a realist, not in football.

“And I don’t mind people having an opinion or a structured, heated debate or conversation – no problem at all. But when you get personal, vile tirades directed at players or owners when they are genuinely trying to do good, it would be nice if people had some tolerance at times.”

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Andy Walker
Andy Walker

A good piece by Sharon all round but somewhat naive in places too. Football is a greedy environment and players and managers will always go to the highest bidder. Running the club sustainably is a great idea but sooner or later you will lose what you have built to someone with deeper pockets. If IE can continue to find golden nuggets like Dapo that we can sell on, then it works well but at Bolton fans have expectations and that doesn’t include always selling our better players until we’re at least out of the lower leagues.

Ten Bobsworth

El Hadji Diouf
El Hadji Diouf

This story goes out on Nuts and TW on Saturday and Iles catches up by Monday.

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