The stakes could not be higher for a founder member of the football league. But it’s not just a rich football heritage that’s on the line. The jobs of over four hundred staff, the passion and hopes of thousands of fans, a central pillar of the Bolton community and everything that both past and present generations have strived to build and preserve, is at the mercy of a five minute court room decision.
Now is not the time for recriminations, so I’ll not be commenting on the bloody chancer who has put us in this position.
All our eyes are on the winders court and what can happen. I’m sure, like me, most fans have little real idea as to what are the potential outcomes from this court appearance. But an Insolvency Practitioner does, so I’ve asked one for advice. Here we go then.
The court session starts at 10:30 and the court judge has 155 petitions to get through in around 90 minutes. We are in good company. Petition 131: is for a business called ‘Ass Properties Ltd’, just in case you thought our humiliation couldn’t get any worse. Bolton are 148th on the list so will get heard between 11:30 and midday.
What are we up against? HMRC will push very strongly for a winding up order, which if granted, will immediately place the club into compulsory liquidation. We’ve been here before and this is nothing new.
So what are the outcomes?
Outcome 1. A sale is agreed. The deadline for agreeing a pre-court sale, assuming Basran and Anderson are still secretly in discussions, is 10:00. If this can be done, happy days, the HMRC petition is rejected as a payment is in place and we can all go down the pub.
Outcome 2. A sale in the pipeline. Anderson’s representatives will need a strategy in place to present to the judge, as per three years ago. Whilst it will need substance behind it, a judge won’t want to wind a community based business up and a adjournment is the most likely outcome. My hunch is this is what will happen.
Outcome 3. Administration. This can be applied for beforehand, so long as it is prior to the 10AM deadline. A judge can make an admin order if administration is part of the clubs strategy (as an alternative to liquidation and assuming a sale has failed pre hearing). You would usually get the secured creditors to put their consent in writing beforehand and seek HMRC consent as well. Theoretically the club could just ask a judge to make an admin order during the hearing although this is a risky thing to do. Any adjournment will be impacted by the EFL points deduction deadline of Thursday 28 March. Administration after this date means that the -12 points are deducted next season.
Outcome 4. HMRC winding up petition granted. The nightmare scenario and I suggest you do not continue reading unless this becomes reality.
The club is IMMEDIATELY put in liquidation, there is no weeks grace or get outs. The Official Receiver (OR) is initially appointed as liquidator. Likelihood is the OR won’t want to deal with it, so can appoint an independent Insolvency Practitioner (IP) as liquidator. Whoever is appointed will take over immediately. Because of the status of our club and the impact liquidation will have, it will be fast tracked as they will want to take control as soon as possible. Employment contracts will immediately and automatically terminate. The PFA will step in to cover Players contracts. The clubs registration with the EFL will terminate and we lose our membership or ‘golden ticket’. It’s for all intents and purposes a shutdown and an asset sale.
Recovery from this scenario would be along the lines of Glasgow Rangers, in that it would require a brand new club applying for registration to EFL. Considering our history, we may, like Rangers, be offered a place in League Two. Alternatively, we may have to come back through the non-league route.
Anyhow, it’s not over till it’s over. We may need an off field equivalent of a Wilbraham last minute header, but I still think I will be walking out that court room reporting that an adjournment has been agreed. Fingers crossed eh.