Today is arguably the most important day in the modern history of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
We find ourselves at the High Court in London for the second time in 2016, staring down the barrel of a winding up petition and potential administration, or, even worse, complete liquidation.
With the contingent from the Macron Stadium including Trevor Birch, insolvency expert Hilary Stonefrost and board member Richard Gee all present, the court session began. Ian Firth (@SuperWhiteSmurf on Twitter) is one of many London-based fans that attended the court case, and he kindly live-tweeted the whole thing for the benefit of others.
As many fans in the North West watched the minutes tick by and the club's future hang in the balance, it was announced that HMRC were seeking to liquidate us for a second time due to the widely publicised unpaid tax bill - which was, if we're honest, what we all expected. It was then revealed, in rather dramatic fashion, that HMRC had received a takeover witness statement that they, and I quote, "hadn't had chance to read yet". So, with the level of brinkmanship at an almost heart-stopping level, the case was adjourned until after 11am to allow the relevant parties time to read and review said witness statement.
For those of you that don't know, a takeover witness statement is a detailed document that essentially gives those we owe money to concrete confirmation that we are very close to a deal, meaning the debt to HMRC will, at some point in the future, be paid. However, without HMRC onside from the outset, this was an almighty gamble by the club. For anxious Wanderers fans, the wait continued until Item 20 on the High Court's "Not before 11am" list was concluded.
As the court session resumed, it was announced that HMRC had rejected the club's offer, which presumably contained some sort of minimal payment, but that happened back in January too. The judge then revealed, in bizarre circumstances, that not all of Eddie Davies' £180million debt had been written off, stating that our (soon to be) former owner wants around £15million of that back. This is presumably part of the news that broke yesterday - Davies wanting part of future TV money and a stadium suite named after him. Go away please, mate.
Then came the news we'd all been waiting for. The judge announced that the sale agreement had been exchanged by the club and its new owners, meaning a deal is very close indeed. He acknowledged this and granted the club a stay of execution to complete a sale, adjourning the court case between BWFC and HMRC until March 7th.
It's worth noting that if we can't get a deal done before March 7th, we will 100% go into administration as it's very unlikely the High Court will adjourn the case for a third time. If we officially go into administration after March 24th, the mandatory 12 point deduction will be taken from next season's total, but whether we start with -12 points in the Championship or League One remains to be seen.
Bolton Wanderers live to fight another day. Just.
UPDATE: 22/02/2016 @ 12:15pm - Sky Sports are now reporting that a deal has been concluded with Sports Shield. This is weird...
BREAKING NEWS: Bolton sold for £7.5m to Sport Shield Group Consortium and winding-up order adjourned for 14 days. #SSNHQ— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) February 22, 2016
UPDATE: 22/02/2016 @ 12:27pm - Marc Iles and Dan Houlker have both confirmed that the club has been sold to Sports Shield for £7.5million, subject to Football League approval.
Deal is NOT through the gate. Football League approval has to be given. But I feel a lot more comfortable now... #bwfc— Marc Iles (@MarcIles) February 22, 2016
Sports Shield in joint venture with accountant Bruce Gordon. Looks like shares are split 50-50. That has been kept very hush hush. #bwfc— Marc Iles (@MarcIles) February 22, 2016
UPDATE: 22/02/2016 @ 12:53pm - The club has released a statement confirming the sale to Sports Shield and telling us nothing we didn't already know. No surprise there. Presumably we'll wait until a week on Sunday to get this over the line, because we're Bolton Wanderers and that's what we do. Oh, and we're also trending on Twitter, so that's exciting.