Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ll be well aware that for the first time ever Bolton Wanderers will be starting the season with a 12 point deduction for entering administration at the end of last season, with likely a further few points to be taken off for the players choosing to strike the Brentford game (Cheers lads...). It’s a bitter pill to swallow but it’s a necessary evil we have to accept if it means putting the torrid running of the past few years behind.
Some fans will say 12 points isn’t that much to make up. That we could easily finish mid-table still and build for next season or (whisper it very quietly) push for play-offs. Some may say that this will anchor us into an inevitable struggle to avoid dropping into the 4th tier for only the 2nd time in our history. Both valid opinions considering the state we find ourselves in. But what can history tell us about the sufferers of these point deductions? Were they column A or column B? Did they come out swinging or go down limping? Let’s find out how they did and how some of their actions can be learned from as well as how they led to our administration deduction.
The first example of a massive point deduction for financial mismanagement and the incident which led to the now infamous “Fit and Proper Test”. Owner Darren Brown as one Guardian reporter summed it up “emptied the club of cash and drove it to the edge of ruin in a few hair-raising months” - Must sound somewhat ominously familiar to Bury fans. Though much like Bury last season, even despite these troubles Chesterfield were still promoted from the Old Division 3 in 3rd place. There was a move to expel them from the league but they endured and Darren Brown was imprisoned. A happy ending for that chapter of Chesterfield. They were the lucky ones.
Wrexham and Cambridge 2004/05
The first clubs in the rebranding of the Football Leagues to incur the new -10 penalty for entering administration, this was the first counter measure to prevent clubs from using administration as a way to manipulate insolvency rules. For example, removing previous debt just to continue spending in the same manner as before. With debts of £1 million (Cambridge) and £2.5 million (Wrexham) respectively, both clubs ended up relegated because of these new measures. While Cambridge would’ve been relegated regardless, this was the first time the points deduction was significant in deciding who would survive. Without this punishment, Wrexham would’ve survived with 2 points with MK Dons (ironically after their own rebranding) taking their place instead. This was only the beginning though.
One in every lower league 2006/07
This time was the turn of the Uniteds, Leeds, Rotherham and Boston from top to bottom league-wise. Boston were already familiar with points deductions, suffering a 4 point deduction in 2002 and the former 2 still had more to come but we’ll get to that later. All entered administration and all were relegated with Rotherham being relegated because of it. However, it was more a case of the timing for the other 2 clubs. Leeds took their hit before their final match when they were doomed to relegation anyway yet Boston still had a chance to survive on the final day. However, when it became clear they would not survive, they used a loophole in the old ruleset and went into administration before the final whistle blew, meaning their points deduction would apply to the current season and not the next. From then on the 72 league clubs at their AGM voted unanimously in favour of changing the rules so that any club going into administration after the 4th Thursday in March would get a -10 penalty if they were outside the relegation zone or could still survive the drop for that season. If they were already doomed, the punishment would carry on to the next campaign. This is exactly the 2 effects we saw last season with us, the latter and with Birmingham, the former examples.
League One 2007/08
Us and Bury aren’t the first time though that 2 clubs have point deductions in the same tier, not even close. This season saw 3 teams suffer deductions with Luton Town and Bournemouth suffering -10 points for entering administration and -15 for Leeds due to leaving administration without a Football League compliant CVA. For those that don’t know a Company Voluntary Agreement is something agreed between insolvent companies and creditors on how much the creditors are owed and when they have to pay it by. It’s a necessity for all clubs to leave with one or suffer further points deductions. However in a cruel twist of fate, Luton and Bournemouth were both relegated (Bournemouth because of the deduction) and Leeds made it to the play-offs, losing to Yorkshire neighbours Doncaster in the finals. It demonstrates how a points deduction can mean both a horrid campaign though and how it also doesn’t have to prevent a team from succeeding. The madness doesn’t stop here though folks.
League Two 2008/09
Anything One can do, Two can do better by having FOUR goddamn teams suffering a ridiculous amount of deductions. Familiar faces Luton, Bournemouth and Rotherham are back with current National League North side Darlington joining the points deduction gang after going into administration themselves thanks to the ridiculous costs incurred by their not that new stadium missing out on a play-off place. Bournemouth and Rotherham suffered -17 for breaching insolvency rules, causing Rotherham too to miss out on a play-off place. Notably only Luton were relegated thanks to a -30 deduction for the breaching insolvency rules coupled with being found guilty by the FA of 15 charges of misconduct concerning payments to agents by unusual means. No surprise they went down as that’s a difficult climb for any team to come back from, never mind one in financial chaos. Admittedly though, we do have to consider that we ourselves could still find ourselves in Luton’s position. Maybe not to the same extreme but there’s no precedent for points deductions based on industrial action so who knows if we get lucky or found ourselves climbing Everest with just our elbows like Luton. Before we move on we have 1 more noticeable case to look at.
3 in 4 - Portsmouth 2009/13
I’m sure a lot of you are aware of the story of Portsmouth. The first Premier League side to suffer a points deduction because of administration, just 2 years after their FA Cup win. 5 years after that special moment, they find themselves relegated to League 2 after 3 relegations in 4 seasons, helped along by three separate 10 point deductions in 3 different seasons. 2 for entering administration under different owners in the Premier League (09/10) and the Championship (11/12) and in League 1 (12/13) for leaving administration without a CVA compliant with Football League policy. They were nearly liquidated before their Supporters Trust put in a monumental effort to make Portsmouth a fan owned club and keep it competitive in League 2 before Michael Eisner shot a rocket up their arse in 2017. It’s a cruel reminder of what overspending can lead to and how these point deductions can be insignificant in the grand scheme of things if you can’t use the opportunity of administration to steer your club back on the right path.
So what can we learn from all this?
There’s admittedly little to inspire confidence of a truly productive campaign in spite of points deductions with just Chesterfield and, ugh, Leeds as examples. There’s also quite a few clubs here who have also suffered tremendously because of it with Cambridge, Boston and Wrexham having been National League sides or lower recently and currently and even Darlington having been liquidated at one point before their reformation.
However, we also have a good examples of how a club can still survive in spite of it. It’s all a matter of sensible rebuilding and desire to succeed in spite of it. Bournemouth are now one of the most stable clubs in the Premier League. Leeds were in the play-offs last season and look likely to make it again this season. Luton have risen from National League failures to the Championship in just a couple seasons. Points deductions and administration don’t have to inspire doom-mongering. Just finishing mid-table can be considered a successful campaign and be used to begin propelling clubs back into positive times. Fellow League 1 yo-yo club Rotherham now run their club sustainably and with a modicum of success, even with the tight purse-strings.
There is precedent that Bolton can draw from to give fans belief that the deduction(s) don’t have to mean a tough campaign ahead, on and hopefully off the pitch. We as fans just need to give our support to the club and the players for this coming campaign and show belief in them that they can overcome and triumph in spite of the points deficit.
It is possible after all.