I think that to fully and fairly assess the reign of Ken Anderson, you have to ignore recent events initially and look at the bigger picture from even well before day one. After relegation from the Premier League and bearing the weight of a huge debt to former owner, the late Eddie Davies, as succession of managers were allowed to fritter yet more money away on players frankly not good enough to get us back to the “promised land”.
Messrs Lee, Megson (that’s another story for another day, of course), Coyle, Freedman and finally Lennon paid over the odds for sub-standard players and placed them on lengthy contracts at Premier League wages in a frantic bid to regain our place at the top table.
A turning point and possible catalyst for our more recent strife came in September 2015, after a poor opening half dozen games of the season. The previous season had seen Neil Lennon, to his credit, stabilise the ship taking us to a mid-table finsih and making us look far more organised, especially defensively.
The opening half dozen games were that poor, most of us couldn’t understand why, but a closer look at the body language and attitude from he bench painted an unattractive picture. Assistant manager, Johan Mjallby, widely credited with creating the defensive backbone we’d previoulsy lacked, cut an increasingly forlorn and unhappy looking man on the sidelines and it probably wasn’t a great surprise that he chose to leave the club at this point.
The defence subsequently went to pieces, eventually conceding 81 league goals as Bolton Wanderers finished bottom of the Championship.
In the second half of the season, some key decisions were made at the club on and off the pitch. From a footballing perspective, Neil Lennon and his backroom team were relieved of their positions, whilst at boardroom level, our owner (and his family) decided he/they were no longer willing
to underwrite the continued losses of the business and stated an intention to sell the club. No new manager was appointed, but Academy coaches were asked to “caretake” as a cheap option.
The closing months of Eddie Davies’ tenure were nothing short of tumultuous, a decision was understandably made not to continue pumping money into a business that was losing millions each year and a secondary decision was made to sell off assets to keep the club afloat whilst a buyer was sought, effectively if not officially placing the club into administration (the appointment of Trevor Birch being a sure sign of what measures were to be undertaken).
Eventually in the weeks before almost inevitable liquidation over an unpaid tax bill, an unlikely saviour appeared in the figure of ex-Wanderers striker and former Brentwood Town manager, Dean Holdsworth : a £3.5m millstone around the club’s neck in his playing career, but was destined to cost the club even more as a “businessman”.
Bolton were facing what they expected to be the inevitable move into administration, after the Davies family decided that an outstanding £2.2m tax bill (that they were, with due respect, responsible for) was the final straw and that it would go unpaid.
The High Court and the HMRC, however, had other ideas about the planned hearing as they both felt that Bolton Wanderers had visited the last chance saloon once too often and that they’dbe seeking a liquidation of the club.
This, of course, leads to the desperate acceptance of a deal with Mr Holdsworth and un-named backer/partner. Mr Holdsworth was funding his share of the business via a high interest £5m loan secured against the club itself. At the last minute, the un-named partner (probably after seeing Dean’s business strategy) decides that it’s not the right deal for him after all and the club is left limbo.
Enter Ken Anderson in “injury time”
Ken arrived pretty much at the 11th hour prior to the liquidation hearing and clearly sensing an opportunity to make a profit on a club with Premier League infrastructure available at a cheap price, agreed to help Dean Holdsworth buy the club.
I’m not entirely convinced that Ken did his own due diligence on the club, because he inherited an unfavourable loan and some really poor business contracts alongside a managerless football club that had spectacularly just bombed out of the Championship.
We were still haemorrhaging money, had very few players under contract and were under a transfer embargo that never looked like coming to an end in the near future. He shrewdly (luckily, some might say) appointed a manager not only capable of getting us out of League 1 but one also willing to work for a relatively low wage in difficult circumstances.
This newly appointed manager, Phil Parkinson, his scouting team, Ken (and his son Lee) then set about gathering a squad on the cheap with surely only an objective to stay afloat as a football club. Mid-table mediocrity in League 1 could well have been deemed a success, as many of us feared the club wouldn’t be able to limp throught he season without going under.
Ken’s game plan seemed to be to take control of the club, stem or reduce the flow of losses and then make the club a more viable prospect to another investor or even a buyer. This way, Ken could make a profit from his time here and then hopefully leave us in the hands of someone with deeper pockets than his own. It was always made clear that Ken couldn’t really fund the club going forward.
Ken took control of the club after a very public disagreement with Dean Holdsworth, an incident that I’m not convinced wasn’t entirely engineered/stage managed by Mr Anderson to take overall control, but if you had to choose one of the two to run a business, not many people would have side with Dean, yet strangely both the Supporters Trust (more on their vested interest/bias on another day!) and the local newspaper chose to do so. Sadly, the fact that both backed the wrong horse has led to both outfits taking a clear anti-KA stance.
Meanwhile on the pitch, things went far better than a realist could/would have expected, an instant promotion and subsequent survival in the Championship, whilst still under the transfer constraints imposed by the EFL and had Ken managed to find a buyer at the end of last season, the anger currently felt by many Bolton fans probably wouldn’t have surfaced.
Football fans by our very nature always seek a scapegoat in times of crisis and rather than is the norm whereby the manager and/or his players get it in the neck, more and more attention is being directed at Ken’s business methods.
These methods have been dubious and dis-tasteful at times with the owner seeming to pick and choose who he paid and when, staving off court orders and winding-up proceedings along the way, but if you’ve not got the money to pay everyone at once, you have to choose who to pay first and work out who you can ask to wait.
It is true that the club has been slow in making payments left, right and centre, but everyone with the possible exception of Forest Green Rovers seems to have got paid eventually.
The Christian Doidge saga was particularly strange, as we’d taken a striker from League 2 who looked out of his depth and was hardly a raging success. Ken clearly had some loophole in mind where he could send the player back and whilst not being a pleasant way to do business, I doubt we broke any rules.
FGR’s owner seems the litigious type and did indeed say he’s be taking legal action. Is it therefore not unfair to assume that the lack of said legal action means that no actual breach of contract took place? After all, both Gary O’Neil and Remi Matthews were eager to re-sign in January and I’ve got a feeling that had Doidge knocked a few goals in that Ken would have somehow found the money for the first instalment.
Multiple winding-up petitions have appeared and disappeared and with the club currently losing far less money than when he arrived, in a division higher than when he arrived and operating outside of a transfer embargo, then surely that is signs of progress, albeit slow.
Further sources of income via concerts and rugby etc have been re-introduced to the stadium, which also bodes well for the future, but it is true that brinkmanship and sheer cheek have often been the order of the day as Ken has run the business in a way that just about keeps us afloat until he is able to sell the business on to someone with enough resources to take the business on In the future whilst rewarding him financially for his efforts.
Some would suggest he’s already had ample reward, but if his rumoured salary/consultancy fees are at the value people claim, he’s still taking far less money out of a club he wons that the previous chairman who was allowed to run up debts approaching £200m, but got very little flak from the fans.
And now we apparently come to a point where eventually a buyer, after a long time, has been found and hopefully there is a future for this business.
So.. hero, villain, saint or sinner?
In my eyes, none : just a hard-nosed businessman who came here to make money and like it or not, it’s because he’s been as arrogant and unwavering that he is. that he has managed to keep us going, avoiding administration and have us still, just about, in with a chance of us staying as a Championship club despite having no money.
P.S. I wrote this before it became clear that February’s salaries wouldn’t be paid on time