Let me begin this article with a disclaimer. I am not a money person. I have never been at the top position of any company or even a club, unless you count the football team and golf society that I had to form myself, simply because no other team or society would have me. But, then again, why would I want to belong to any club that would have me as a member?
However, the minimal finances that these two clubs managed to rake in from members always ensured a piss up at the end of the year and we never lost any money. Bear in mind that there have been times that American Express have had a hit man after me. This will show you that keeping both afloat is, in itself, a small victory.
It hurts to see my club in the position that they are in, scrabbling around for a backer after Eddie Davies finally stopped bankrolling a club that he really should have stopped bankrolling a while ago. It hurts to see them holding up everyone else in the Championship, with teams coming to the Macron expecting a win. The same stadium where, a few years ago, top five Premier League teams used to bottle games. Unless they were from Old Trafford, and we won't speak about that.
And, for the first time in four years, we are making the papers again, but for all the wrong reasons. North West tonight are making us their opening sports story. Half pages are being given over to us by the red tops. The quality papers are using long words like "insolvency practitioner" and "requisite elements" and wondering where it all went wrong. And the Express are saying that we would still be in the Premier League if Diana was still alive and we are due the coldest winter since 1962. Probably. I don't read that crap.
Articles have been written here as to who is to blame before. Chris Foy looks like a good target, due to his inability to referee the Stoke game properly on that bleak day in May 2012. Then their is the succession of managers that have followed Sam Allardyce into the dugout, each doing slightly worse than the other (barring the Sammy Lee experiment), before being offered the opportunity to tend their garden. The woeful transfers, both in and out. Training techniques. The inclusion, or lack of it, of the community. Perilous sponsorship deals. Who to blame?
Who to blame?
Well, we can't really blame the appointment of a referee. But the rest? It has to fall at the desk of one man.
Now, this may not be the greatest timing in the world, but I remember the words that Jack Dearden said in a fans meeting the week before our first game back in the second tier after eleven years in the Premier League. To paraphrase Jack, we, the fans, should have been grateful that Phil Gartside was at the helm and that he had overseen the most successful period in the club's history (forgetting about anything before 1958, but that appears to be the case these days). I remember he said this as I wrote it down somewhere else. To his credit, the chairman did accept some responsibility at the time. But times have changed.
Phil Gartside is seriously ill, granted. But that in itself does not absolve him of the blame that lies at his door. Massive debt? Check. Bottom of the Championship? Check. Administration or worse round the corner? Check. He said at that same meeting in 2012 that both sides of the Allardyce story would be told at some point. Big Sam still appears to be telling his side, now in print from all good booksellers. The chairman and the club have always remained silent, despite what the former said on that summer's day more than three years ago.
The thing is, he was allowed to remain in charge for far too long. If you look at the chairman of the clubs in the Premier League in August 2001, only five remain in charge. Three are owners (Kenwright at Everton, Gibson at Middlesbrough and Peace at West Brom), and the other, Daniel Levy, whilst having a continuing battle with some Spurs fans, continues to run a profit. All the others have fallen by the wayside, bar Phil Gartside. A chairman of such a failing institution in any other business would have been removed a long time ago. Or would have stepped aside. Phil Gartside has continued to take a wage from the club whilst running it into the ground. And then through it.
He was unlucky that we didn't at least get into the playoffs in our first season in the Championship, but as only seven teams bounced straight back between us beating Preston in the play off final and drawing at Stoke on that last day, with Birmingham and West Brom doing it twice, our future should have been secured first, rather than an attempt to get back to the top table. Think about that figure. Nine from thirty three. In that summer of 2012, the club cut costs but spent more on transfers in than out. Players still within their contracts had no relegation clauses, despite our points total in the previous four seasons being enough to relegate teams in the past. We probably all had the belief that we would bounce straight back. But most of us are fans. We are allowed not to be pragmatists. This is why we still get over twelve thousand turning up on a Monday in December. Those who run our club should be.
Asked about the debt over and over again, year on year, he would say that the only true debt was the small one on the hotel, completely missing the fact that most Bolton Wanderers fans aren't stupid and that a debt is a debt, no matter who it is owed too. I may change my credit card provider every two years to avoid interest charges, but I have to pay that debt off eventually. That Eddie Davies has agreed to write off the debt is a gesture of such magnanimity, I almost cried when I heard it. But this isn't down to the management of his chairman and probably more down to advice coming from those now running the club during the chairman's absence. An absence that should, for the good of everybody, become permanent.
Phil Gartside has made no secret of being a Bolton fan, just like you and me. Being a football fan can be bad for the health at times. I wish him well with his illness and in his recovery. But if his club, my club and your club is to recover, his name should not be on any door within it. It should, howwever, be mentioned from time to time as the epitomé of how a club should not be run.