Sometimes, when on a continual downwards spiral of bad news, you can become numb to how serious a situation has become. Bolton Wanderers Football Club, a founder member of the football league is very much in that category. If this shitfest of a situation had happened over say one season, rather than the last four years, I believe that the shock and reactions, both locally and nationwide, would be on a far larger scale than they have been. And maybe, just maybe, some constructive and meaningful action would have been taken by our ‘esteemed’ football authorities. But it didn’t happen short term and at time of writing this mess is STILL being allowed to drag on by the EFL.
Four years ago we went from signing Amos, a goalkeeping prospect from Man Utd on a lengthy contract we couldn’t afford, to just weeks later, a fire sale of Tim Ream to Fulham in order to pay preseason bills. Amos was just the last in a long line of ridiculously extravagant contracts being offered by a board who’s spending bore no reality to the post Premiership financial environment the club was in. There is no real evidence to suggest that any fit for purpose planning was in place to run the club on a far more sustainable level after our relegation from the top tier.
So when Eddie switched the money tap off in the summer of 2015, we went straight into crisis mode. Taking back the club reigns from an ailing Phil Gartside and employing the impressive Trevor Birch to do his bidding, asset sales, such as training grounds, offices and car parks, quickly followed to keep the club solvent. Davies tried to sell the club but no one of repute was interested in buying a franchise that was plummeting to League One, with a team gone toxic under Lennon’s management, with debts far higher than the value of its assets, even after a generous multimillion pound write off by Davies was thrown in. At this point, during the winter of 15/16, Davies should have put Bolton into administration. It was the only truly sensible option available. Alas, as later mentioned in a rare Sky interview, Davies wanted to avoid administration at all costs. Although he did put together a pot of money for an administration event, he didn’t want that stain on his club’s legacy, particularly one assumes, when writing off £185m of club debt. As the following three years were to prove, both Davies and the club were to pay a heavy price for his hubris.
Along came Holdsworth with a short term Blumarble bridging loan, no real business background and whose only attribute seemed to be a genuine love for BWFC. A consultant for the bid was a certain Ken Anderson, who quickly became Holdsworth’s business partner (after Dean’s previous partner wisely dropped out) and, claimed Holdsworth, the person to provide club funding going forward.
And what a background Anderson had. In the 1980s Anderson worked as a used car salesman, getting himself a criminal conviction for selling second hand Nissan cars as new. In the 1990s he was running pubs and restaurants, closing them down after evading tax and not paying suppliers. He got 18 failed companies under his belt before finally getting a directors ban for being an unfit person. Anderson also worked for a few years with Vantis, a firm of accountants later shut down for money laundering and aiding and abetting VAT fraud. As if that wasn’t enough, Anderson had less than favourable comments about his dealings in the football world, primarily involving attempted takeovers at both Southampton and Liverpool. Would the leopard change his spots at Bolton? Shaun Harvey and the EFL thought so, bygones were bygones and so Bolton had new last minute owners, confirmed ironically enough at a club winders court appearance for unpaid HMRC taxes.
What followed was a three year master class on how to exploit an environment of slack regulation and incompetence, applied in true brinkmanship style, with a couldn’t care less as to the consequences attitude of someone with little or no skin in the game. He even employed members of his family to enjoy the gravy train, with his lad Lee assuming ‘superagent’ status as the club’s principal football agent, whilst his missus, Pat served briefly as a director. As a matter of interest, just how many of the multitude of trialists brought in by Lee actually stayed with Bolton and strengthened the team? Somewhere between nil and zero?
As shown by the recent administrators reports, both club and hotel were not run ‘prudently’ as claimed but run on fumes whilst numerous unpaid creditor debts racked up to well over £10 million, many being local businesses/organisations.
As a side note is it a coincidence that no accounts were filed for the 17/18 season which would show how much money had been paid out to the Andersons?
Anyhow, when the player sales and EFL TV payments could no longer cover wages, they stopped as well, all under the guise that because Bolton fans had been horrible to Anderson, he saw no reason ‘to continue funding the club’. The winders court appearances soon restarted. Within a few months we had staff having to resort to using food banks, fucking FOOD BANKS, so desperate was their plight. (Provided with donations from the local community and some of the more decent local clubs it must be said.)
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, any prospect of the inevitable administration event happening before the end of March deadline was booted into touch with the absolutely ridiculous farce of mystery bidders culminating in a Bassini led solvent takeover. Another precious month was wasted on someone who came across as more in need of community assistance than being able to provide it by purchasing Bolton Wanderers. For the first time since as a child watching Dr Who, I was forced to peer from behind the sofa every time Bassini appeared on TV. Why did the EFL tolerate this charade?
Finally, the icing on the cake was the inevitable player strike over unpaid wages, an EFL historic first for a game to be called off due to industrial action and yet more punitive EFL measures to be applied on top of those for entering administration.
Things went to the wire again in court and had got to the point that it was with a blessed sigh of relief when Administrators were appointed on 13 May being primarily Paul Appleton of David Rubin & Partners for the club businesses and Andrew Hosking of Quantuma for the hotel. Whilst it seemed a little strange that the secure creditors had agreed different administrators for club and hotel, with the businesses being so integral to each other, surely a combined sale would be in everyone’s interest? Not a bastard chance as it turned out but more on that later.
As fans, we took a step back, we appreciated the complexity ahead, particularly due to the very tight timeframes needed in order to get everything organised for the coming new season. An end of June deadline was given and we were told that these guys meant business, were tough operators and did it by the book.
By 01 July, Heads of Terms had been agreed between the club administrators and the bid winners, Football Ventures. We were told that completion was imminent, a few days after the start of preseason maybe, but not the end of the world and totally understandable considering the underlying circumstances. Then things started to take a horribly ominous get oh so familiar path and at this point my faith in any competent regulatory process crumbled. I expected it of Anderson and his ilk but not the administrators. The whole thing seems to have become a cosy incestuous relationship for men in suits. Jobs for the boys? If not, then why was it considered vital that two consultants with less than favourable backgrounds suddenly become vital to help the administrator get the club ready for sale? So much so that an incoming bidder will have to pay their consultant fees in full upfront, along with other administration costs as part of the takeover deal.
A new broom and a fresh start for when Football Ventures start ...or maybe not?
Simple questions: Why is Paul Aldridge still here and why has Keith Cousins now got involved at Bolton?
Aldridge, joined Bolton as a consultant in June 2016 to work alongside finance consultant John Pelling and DoF Dean Holdsworth. He was brought in by Anderson with a remit of “helping oversee all areas of the business and reporting to the club’s board”. With both Holdsworth and Pelling having departed by the end of that year, Aldridge effectively became Anderson’s right hand man for everything to do with the club. A period which we can say with the utmost confidence as being seen as the most chaotic and disastrous three years of the club’s entire 140+ year history. Whilst some of the events may have been out of his hands, he was a key figure in them, if not the key figure under Anderson’s running of our club.
Aldridge has also had a chequered history before joining Bolton. At West Ham his ten year tenure (six as their managing director) involved the sordid saga where the club was accused by the PL of lying over the ownership of Tevez & Javier Mascherano. These players enabled West Ham to avoid relegation at the expense of Sheffield United. In April 2007 the Hammers were fined a record £5.5m for acting improperly and withholding vital documentation over the duo’s ownership. As reported by Channel 4 news ‘Paul Aldridge was found to have lied to the Premier League over the existence of documentation that should have been submitted.’ This view was reaffirmed at an arbitration panel the following year.
Aldridge first stint upon leaving the Hammers, was signing up with Mandaric at Leicester City, where he joined as Chief Executive during the 07-08 season. After just five months, Aldridge left to join Man City, whilst Leicester finished that season being relegated to League One.
I fully expected Aldridge to follow Anderson out the door when the administrators for club and hotel moved in last May. However, on he stayed, with no real clarification as to what his role was. I heard mention that he was the liaison between the Quantuma and the hotel staff but this was not confirmed.
Then in early July, the Bolton News reported that “Bolton Media and marketing staff have worked diligently behind the scenes to prepare the groundwork for new ownership to sign-off and it is understood that experienced football administrator, Paul Aldridge, has said he will help with the handover but has not committed to any long-term position.”
It is truly beyond me as to how someone who was so central to the fiasco of Anderson’s reign at Bolton would be kept on by administrators or, heaven forbid, the expected new owners Football Ventures.
And then we come to Keith Cousins. Considering that the administrators can’t make any player signings it seems strange to me that an agent based out in Portugal is so needed. Why not use the scouts employed by the club within Parky’s team? Is this not also something that could and should be Football Ventures (FV) remit to do independently? Do they not have their own plans on how to take the club forward on the playing field?
As reported in the Bolton News, the ex Rushden & Diamonds owner and ex Peterborough United vice-chairman, “has been working as a liaison between players and coaching staff and the administrators since their arrival on May 13.
He has been working with Phil Parkinson to identify a pool of targets for next season and has also been approached by clubs in the Premier League, Championship and SPL about potential loan moves, which could be brought in at short notice.” and... “The club feel they can move into the transfer market at short notice and a list of suitable players has been compiled by Keith Cousins, who is acting as a football advisor to the administration team.”
I don’t know about you, but under all that waffle it sounds total bollocks to me.
Cousins also, not surprisingly, has previous, being involved in what is known as the Nene Park fiasco, which resulted in the incredible achievement of liquidating one club in Rushden & Diamonds whilst also managing to make another, Kettering homeless. Yep, just the kind of thing you need on your CV to become a vital cog in Bolton Wanderers future plans.
Back to the sale and as July progressed the imminent sale most definitely wasn’t. We then had the bombshell that Quantuma had not had any real dialogue with David Rubin & Partners and that they’d essentially been waiting for the club sale to go through before running their own sale of the hotel, which was another 4-6 week process. As that effectively meant that FV would not sign off on the club until it had the hotel, it also meant the playing staff had to go an additional 4-6 weeks without pay, so then the notices unsurprisingly went in. In the name of all that’s holy, how on earth could Quantuma come to this decision? Even monks taking a hermit tour of deeper Mongolia know that Football Ventures (FV) would only buy the club if it included the hotel, that the football season can be delayed for no-one and if that start date was missed, then a sale would be unlikely. Club and hotel are so integral to each other that one cannot proceed without the other!
Hot on the heels came the stories on social media that the secure creditors were effectively playing all kinds of brinkmanship games, determined to recoup every possible penny from FV, regardless of the impact this dick measuring contest was having on the very survival of both the club and the community it serves. These people, these bloody people, have caused so much damage. They have turned what should be seen as a community asset to Bolton into a community curse. When you read the list of unsecured creditors, it makes you weep. Do they not have any shame that said list includes unpaid charities in its number? Creditors, including many from within the local community, who will only see a fraction of a return for work that was carried out in the honest expectation of full repayment for their efforts? Even then, they may need to wait up to three years to get some of their money back, effectively becoming unwitting lenders to the club going forward.
I know that the usual line will be put out that this is what happens in administration but the football authorities need to act. Punishing incoming owners going forward should quite obviously not be the answer. That punishment needs to be on the people who have caused so much damage and hurt to so many people in a community that should be benefitting from its football club not suffering because of it. Another factor is that this is just the start, because if Anderson and his like wangle out of this fiasco without any repercussions for their actions and indeed having made money, then you can be sure that it will open the floodgates for other pretenders to try and follow the same path. The EFL need tough, watertight, draconian regulations in place NOW to ensure that the Bolton, Coventry, Blackpool and Bury scenarios do not happen again, otherwise chaos will undoubtedly reign going forward. Ask Charlton fans how confident they are going forward under their dubious owner now back in the Championship...
When I look at our stadium now, I do not feel that love for my club, nor envisage the memories of those great sides managed by Ian Greaves, Bruce Ricoh, Colin Todd and Sam Allardyce. I just feel utter disgust for what our club has become and what it has done to the very people, be it fans or local businesses, who are the very reason for its existence, it’s life blood if you will, the ones that carry forward that rich heritage that is the soul of Bolton Wanderers.
Until something fundamentally changes in how football clubs are governed and regulated, a large number of fans will not be back next season, maybe never to return and that’s the absolute fact of the matter.