Yeterday, an independent review panel meeting had been scheduled to adjudicate on the two games Bolton failed to play on dates set by the EFL. However, due to the late discovery of a ‘meeting clash’, the panel did not sit and our purgatory continues. If the EFL cannot organise a simple task such as their meetings calendar, well...
What makes this situation even more frustrating is that the raison d’être of the EFL, by their own admission, is to ensure that league fixtures get played. So when a decision is finally made, it’s most likely to result in Bolton getting a right walloping, whether justified or not.
Remember that whilst the Brentford game was initially postponed because of a player strike over unpaid wages, it finally got canned because Bolton council’s safety advisory group couldn’t guarantee that the game would go ahead at a later date due to unpaid club staff wages. Also remember that the person responsible for both the above, Anderson, had been lauded just a few months earlier by the then head of the EFL, Shaun Harvey, as doing a great job that Bolton fans should be grateful for. But Brentford were awarded the three points and a ‘1-0 victory’ for the record books and Bolton were charged with misconduct. None of it was the EFL’s fault though. No sir-ee.
Nevertheless, as most detractors state, particularly those from around Doncaster, if you break the EFL rules, then you should not complain about the consequences. A fair point maybe on the face of it, but if you scratch beneath the surface, it’s not as straightforward as it seems.
Firstly, what are ‘the rules’? For example, Bolton are under an EFL embargo after coming out of administration in late August, but what does that exactly involve? Well, no one actually seems to know, be it the local or national press, MP’s, fans, or indeed maybe even the EFL. Our very own BN reporter Marc Iles just yesterday tweeted “...going into admin meant two years of ‘embargo’. But the severity and parameters of that are mysterious, to say the least...”.
We are told there are restrictions on transfer fees, wages, and the size of our professionally contracted squad but it’s all kept under wraps. A two year embargo but alternately we hear that the transfer restrictions may end next summer. Or maybe not.
Similarly there are rules that are set up to protect development players such as only being able to play one senior game per week. Prior to the Tranmere game, our then manager, Parky, had contacted the EFL over his concerns on having to use youth team players in every game. (Our game against Coventry didn’t contain a single recognised first team player and had an average age of just 19.) He was ignored. Having played Tranmere on the Saturday, then having to play mostly youth players again just three days later against Doncaster was too much. Did Bolton handle the situation well? Probably not, a unilateral last minute postponement is not the way to do things and I had sympathy for Donny at that time. However, the reasons behind the postponement were sound and actually resultant from following EFL rules on youth player welfare. Do some rules only count if other rules aren’t broken? Is there a priority for rules? It all just seems a mess to me.
Then there are the consequences. This was discussed by some of our MPs at a DCMS committee meeting on Tuesday. In summary it gave a number of recommendations on how to properly regulate football and ensure it’s rules are adequately enforced.
In my opinion it is vitally important that those who are responsible for clubs failing are the ones brought to account for their actions. Otherwise what is achieved?
For example, imagine a bank robbery that’s an inside job. If the robbers get caught then they face justice. They’re punished for their crime & that punishment also doubles as a deterrent to other would be bank robbers. What doesn’t happen is that the culprits are just barred from entering banks again with the bank itself taking the punishment, because the robbery happened on its property and the robbers worked for the bank.
But that IS what happens in football! Because it was our club that ‘broke the rules’ it’s the club who must be punished, including new owners who played no part in the previous incumbents misdemeanours. Meanwhile the actual perpetrator(s) can just walk away, being barred from owning a club again as the only likely consequence. Why’d they care about that? They’ve got their money and that’s what counts. Similarly what deterrent is that to other potential rogue owners out there?
Anyhow, ‘rules is rules’ and we got that 12 point penalty for going into administration, with another penalty pending for the missed game against Brentford.
To ensure the integrity of the following seasons L1 campaign, a decision should’ve been made re the Brentford misconduct charge prior to its start in August. It wasn’t and that’s left the EFL in an even bigger pickle.
Seeing as whataboutery is accepted behaviour for Doncaster reporters, I’m allowed a go as well. Imagine that we finally get that EFL decision just before our game at promotion chasers Peterborough next month. The outcome is another 12 point penalty. A huge blow to the club after being on a superb run. The players are stunned. They go out and promptly get thrashed 5-0 by Posh. Wouldn’t Barton’s fellow promotion chasers at Fleetwood have something to say about that? Has the integrity of L1 been damaged by a mid season EFL penalty? See what I mean? By leaving a decision so long (6 months and counting for the first missed game), the risk of unintended consequences are legion. Any club can spin any sob story to their own advantage. Surely best for the EFL to just draw a line under it and move on? It’s not that we got away with it scot free anyway.
Moving on to this season and this is where the EFL made its biggest mistake. This is the point that our fellow L1 clubs have a genuine complaint that the integrity of this season’s competition was badly damaged. The EFL decided to take at face value our administrator, David Rubin & Partners view that the club was imminently due to be sold to FV. They enabled 3 player signings to go ahead and more fatefully decided that Bolton MUST start the season at Wycombe, despite having effectively no first team. It was a shocking decision. Putting youth team players against seasoned professionals on a regular basis was bad enough, but to create a situation where clubs with early season games against us effectively got a free pass, whilst clubs with later fixtures had to face a full strength squad, was always going to end in tears. The only correct decision the EFL made for the Bury debacle, was not allowing their games to go ahead until the clubs future was sorted. It should’ve been the same for Bolton.
At this point it is worth highlighting that Bolton being forced to start the season in administration effectively cost us another 14 points. It would’ve been 15 if it wasn’t for the fact that Coventry couldn’t score a goal whilst onside. That’s a 26 point total penalty that our club must overcome if we are to survive this season.
Now we come to the Yorkshire whopper and Doncaster Rovers in general. Their complete lack of empathy for the situation Bolton Wanderers have had to face and their utter determination to take a blinkered view re our delayed match against them is something to behold. You’d think the local journo would take a more sanguine view. But no. Liam Hoden’s recent article for the Doncaster Free Press was a delightful example of biased thinking to justify Donny just getting given three easy points, seemingly backed up by nothing more than whataboutery. It contained some absolute pearlers.
Firstly he stated that continued EFL delay in a decision somehow meant ‘the ultimate fate of that one game became increasingly significant’. Nope, me neither. It’s one game that’s been postponed during a season. We’ve had others against Burton due to players away on international duty and Lincoln because their pitch couldn’t handle a cloud burst.
Then ‘Under Football League governance, there have been no examples of such an incident in recent memory, giving the board of the league nothing to base their decision upon.’ Notice how he qualifies it by referencing the EFL. That’s because a precedent WAS set under similar circumstances in the Prem, when Boro were fined £50k for cancelling their game against Blackburn in 97.
Anyhow, he then states that because the EFL decision on this game will be used as a precedent for the future that ‘it is for this reason that the EFL must take the hard line - awarding Doncaster the win.’ Seriously, you couldn’t make it up. I’d argue that for the reasons given earlier in this article, the EFL will further damage the integrity of this L1 campaign by giving Doncaster a bye. That would make 6 teams, rather than 5, having had an unfair advantage in comparison to the other 17 teams who will have to face a full strength Bolton team. To me it seems that League integrity DEMANDS that Doncaster face a full strength Bolton. However, Liam believes ‘rearranging the fixture would be a foolish measure.’ He then dives into some fantastic whataboutery scenarios to try and prove his point. You’ll have to read his article because frankly I can’t be arsed paraphrasing any more of it on here.
To me though all this Donny bitching comes across as the rant of a spoilt child. It’s like a lad expecting a free ice cream as per the five lads in the queue in front of him, only to be told he has to now wash his dads car before he can get it, as per the 17 lads behind him in the queue. Okay that lad from Coventry dropped his ice cream before he had chance to eat it all but that’s his fault. I’m from Donny and I was promised a free ice cream. It’s so unfair. Boohoo.
To finish off, here’s a thing. How about Doncaster accepting a game of football between two competitive teams? Isn’t that what the league program is all about? Isn’t that why fans go to watch matches. Time to grow up Donny. Let’s get the game on and may the best team win fairly.