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Blow-by-Blow: Deadly Deeds in a Court Room

Ian Firth was in the court room on Monday, and here's his thoughts from the crazy day

Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Firstly, congratulations is in order for Dean Holdsworth, who, let's face it, has hung in there against what must have been infuriating and short notice demands, to come out as the new chairman (Football League permitting) of Bolton Wanderers.

We may all have serious concerns about the makeup of the deal but I personally think that Mr Holdsworth has put to bed any thoughts that he will be heading up an asset stripping takeover. Anyhow, to the court case...

Monday 22nd February 2016 will go down as a day of utter madness that topped the already utterly mad world of Bolton Wanderers. I met up with a fellow supporter, who had the exact ‘WTF am I doing here expression' on his face that I was feeling.

Quick chat and then we were in.

This time around it was a courtroom half the size of last time with twice as many judges, it was as if they'd been breeding the buggers since my last visit.

Anyone imagining a company's winding up court to be like the criminal courts on TV, with an audience held spellbound by Barristers (lawyers to you and me) trading verbal blows will be disappointed to know that it's nothing like that. It's all normally very sterile and each case is done with the same speed of, say, the firing squad Sergeant in Black Adder IV. Ready, Aim, Despite Bolton Wanderers great sporting history, they were just one of over a hundred companies trying to stay in business.

Today, though, was going to be different.

Within 30 minutes, the judge had rattled through 28 cases and then it was the turn of our beloved Whites. At this point it's worth mentioning that our lawyer, Hilary Stonefrost, is something else. This lady lives up to her super cool name and knows her stuff. It's important, because make no mistake, Bolton were within a hairs breadth of being wound up.

The HMRC lawyer kicked proceedings off, another lady, who will be called HMRC lass (because I don't actually know her name), by requesting a wind up order as Bolton hadn't moved forward from the promises made previously and was insoluble. This was immediately countered by Hilary saying that she has handed HMRC a buyer ‘Witness Statement' which is confirmation of intent to purchase and confirmation of adequate funding.

It turned out that this statement only arrived in HMRC's hands at 10am, just 30 minutes before proceedings started. Think about that for a second. We've seen it happen often enough on transfer deadline day where a player sale just doesn't quite make the deadline. Imagine if a fax machine or some normally straightforward admin process had gone inexplicably wrong.

If so, Wanderers  would be in administration now at best, possibly wound up.

Ridiculous brinkmanship by Eddie Davies caused this, he put a founding member of the Football League's whole future at risk for more personal gain. More of that later. Anyhow, the case was quickly adjourned until the end of normal proceedings, so that HMRC could read the statement, and we all piled out of the room to kick our heels for an hour.

I was having a good chin wag with Anthony whilst we waited but noticed that we were getting some furtive glances from the Bolton team. I immediately recognised Trevor Birch, who I thought may be up for a chat considering his matey dealings with Pompey FC. Not happening. When I introduced myself as just a fan to a ‘a 40ish tall suited individual' in the team who the 3 blokes and 2 lasses were, I was reluctantly told ‘Trevor Birch and a director'. Okay. On that note I left it.

Eventually, Hilary donned her wig and in we went again. At this point, it's worth noting that winding up courts aren't exactly the easiest place to hear what's going on. A bit strange considering that decisions are made on the spoken word but there you go. Hilary cleverly mumbled at choice moments when mentioning the bidders or for the more sensitive points and the judge seemed to speak everywhere bar his microphone.

In the background we had a noisy door that wouldn't have been out of place in a Scooby Doo cartoon.

When it was Bolton's turn again, the gloves were off. The judge was quite happy to discuss the dirty details in public, much to the clubs embarrassment. Similarly HMRC lass. This was all edge of the seat stuff and not at all what I was expecting. Details of what happened have circulated on the twitter sphere and no doubt been overtaken by events, but in summary:

HMRC lass and quoted that she'd read the witness statement from a Mr Manning (not Chris...), noted that a validation order was in place pending terms on the imminent sale, that terms had been agreed between Davies and the buyers for a sale of £7.5M (to pay immediate debts and also cover funds until the end of the season).

Finally it was noted that the Shares Purchase Agreement (SPA), whilst it had been exchanged, had to be approved by the Football League, to do a ‘fit and proper' owners check, before it could be completed.

Hiliary at this point said that the Witness Statement was for two bidders to buy the club, these being, mumble, mumble and cough, mumble (possibly said SSG) and that the signed Witness Statement guaranteed that all debts were going to be paid.

HMRC lass then started dropping bombs. Bolton were effectively £200M in debt, the original £2.28M tax payment wasn't satisfied, £175k of weekly PAYE payments weren't being paid. Oh and, surprise, surprise, mention of the sale of the car parks to Emerson Group, stated at the last court appearance, had not only not happened but fallen through.

Catch breath then more bombs. Additionally, a £15M payoff to Eddie Davies, an undisclosed sum to cover the SPA (assuming a proper payment rather than the nominal £1 normally used in these instances), the outstanding tax debts mentioned earlier and debts to unsecured creditors. HMRC lass ironically pointed out that the £7.5M was a tad short and quite clearly the sums didn't add up, Bolton where clearly insolvent, a company wind up was the only option, job done or words to that effect.

Then it was the judges turn. He effectively went over the same ground and asked if the buyer exactly was the £7.5M down payment going to cover, the £15.5M still owed to Eddie Davies after the £170M write off, £2.5M owed to Brett Warburton, £1M to a company whose name I didn't catch. Holy fuck doesn't even begin to cover it. Frankly I thought Bolton were done at this point.

Then a chink of light. The judge said that he was willing to side with Hilary but needed some clarification on a number of paragraphs within the Witness Statement, namely Para 13 that all creditors where to be paid in full. Mr Manning was then called forward to confirm that this was the case.

The judge then granted a 14 day adjournment for the Football League approval process to take place on the explicit understanding that if the debts weren't then satisfied, he would wind the club up. Case adjourned until 7th March.
Whilst I was elated that the club was effectively now sold, over the course of the next 24 hours my anger started to rise whilst I was back doing my day job.

On a quick check of the latest news, I find that Eddie Davies is to become the Honorary President of Bolton Wanderers Football Club. Think about that.

This bloke has taken the club to the very brink of extinction by having a cloud cuckoo land business plan that ended up with him having to stop covering ongoing costs to save cash. Remember that Eddie Davies, Bolton boy done good and lifetime fan, had not paid staff on the run up to Christmas, others had lost their jobs over the previous few years.

At that time, whilst disgusted at the mismanagement, I sort of understood that, if you've got no more money, then you have no more money! But the court revelations show that was a smokescreen.

Davies had the temerity to continue the pain by actually going to put the club into administration if he didn't get a £15M pay off, a suite named after him, a slice of future revenue, money from the SPA sale. Unbelievable stuff. When he took over ownership, Bolton where a yo-yo Prem/Champ team. He most likely will hand over a team headed for League One.

I'm personally disgusted with his total and utter disregard for paying taxes in this country be it through tax avoidance schemes or the total disrespect that he has shown to HMRC throughout this crisis. Remember that ‘HMRC lass' is trying to get taxes paid that go towards hospitals, social care and a myriad of things that people not fortunate enough to be rich have to rely on. Many of those of course being Bolton Wanderers supporters or at least in the Bolton community. Whilst what Eddie has done may not be illegal or just normal business brinkmanship, its hardly helping the community he is meant to be representing through the football club.

Additionally, this is a bloke who just wouldn't let go. He needs to be involved in the clubs future to repair his legacy and therefore satisfy his ego.

It's the same with the other board members. Quite obviously £7.5M doesn't cover all debts but if, say, the Brett Warburton loan to the outgoing owners was paid off with a Brett Warburton loan as part of the incoming owners then the figures start to make sense. Everything changes but everything stays the same. The thought that the current board members will stay on, frankly, sickens me.

This is of course an assumption on my part and may not be the case but it's the only way a can make the figures work.

So there you have it, my very own ‘War and Peace' article. Eddie Davies to be President. Great stuff, after all what did that Nat Lofthouse fella ever do for Bolton Football Club, its supporters and the local community...