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Delays, thrashings and a new era

Can the club create impetus from a fresh start to develop into a great escape?

Bolton Wanderers v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Retention of our League One status had rightly taken a back seat against the rather higher priority for our club to simply exist going forward. We only needed to look at our near neighbour Bury, to see what may very nearly have been if Anderson hadn’t ultimately needed his skeletons to stay in the cupboard.

Nevertheless, the seemingly never ending wrangling meant that the FV takeover was a good two months later than it needed to be, in order for Wanderers to have a fair crack at this season’s campaign, considering our -12 point penalty for being in administration. Ultimately, it also meant that Keith Hill had to do the football transfer window equivalent of Supermarket Sweep, squeezing two months into just 48 hours shopping. Nevertheless, Hilly managed to ‘go wild in the isles’ and crossed the finish line with nine players in his trolley.

Prior to that we had played our first 5 league games under administrators whose sole aim was to sell the club and with little interest on running it in the meantime. The result was being left with practically just a youth team, no kit, no manager as such, no on field direction and for that matter, with no season ticket sales & literally 24 hour notice for on the day tickets, no off field direction either. Inevitably, the result was a succession of heavy defeats.

However, one hugely important and possibly still underestimated factor was reborn during those first games and that was seeing a disparate, divided, disillusioned fan base come back together and bond with the club. Let’s make no bones about it, prior to the Wycombe game, we fans had been having an ever more divided and bitter civil war. Be it disagreeing (initially) over the Anderson regime, Parky’s defensive playing style, players attitudes, that strike or whatever. Being a Bolton fan, on social media in particular, was a viscously polarised environment to be in.

But with our club’s very existence still at stake, we had nothing more to lose. All that was left was to put it all to one side and just turn up to support our young lads giving it their best shot and be thankful that we could still watch our team play a game of football. Those youngsters may have mostly been outmatched but their enthusiasm, willingness to give it their all and sheer joy at being able to play first team football for Bolton Wanderers was truly infectious. The fan bond with the club was back with lashings of goodwill. The results were almost irrelevant as the fans unified with one loud voice to support this young team, whilst learning how to fall in love with watching football once again. It’d been too long and was therefore welcomed with open arms. This tsunami wave of goodwill is a huge advantage offered on a plate to FV, Keith Hill and the players in general. We shall see if they can use it to the clubs advantage.

Upon completion of the takeover, our new chairwoman, Sharon Brittan, came across well in her introductory media interviews. It’s true that after having our fingers badly burned with you know who’s many, many false promises, we require something rather more than platitudes and positivity, but, in fairness, she has literally just walked through the door and after the effort put in to get the club, she’s well earned a honeymoon period to make her mark. Not having the wrecking ball business CV of her predecessor obviously helped but she certainly did herself a big favour in getting her interviews right. There are big question marks around how FV have structured the finance for their deal and whether it is of any substance, but those are questions for a later date. Next summer should show whether FV really have the muscle to take our club forward.

One point I’m hugely glad she didn’t take my view on was her appointment of Keith Hill. I wasn’t fully on board during the run up to the manager being announced, but his appointment, along with our other local lad David Flitcroft as assistant, could turn out to be a master stroke. The only thing Anderson got exactly right in his time was the appointment of Parky. Right person at the right time with the ability to turnaround a team on its arse from the previous seasons relegation nightmare. Hopefully Sharon has achieved the same win with Hilly. As for Keith Hill, I do love his off the wall wacky interviews. He’s like the football manager version of Eddie Izzard without the cross dressing. Mind you, that velour tracksuit is going to take some getting used to. Seriously though, the club needs someone with the drive, gravitas, local passion and above all, ability at this level, to gel a team of strangers, youngsters and cast offs into a winning formula. Early days of course, but you feel that the Hill/Flitcroft combo is exactly what we need. David Flitcroft has also come across incredibly well in his interviews it has to be said. Both whet the footballing fans appetite to watch this team develop. Great start then by both.

Incidentally, a shout out has to go to Mike James. I’ve slated, quite rightly in my opinion, those predominant in the clubs business dealings over the last few years. Whilst I was always frustrated with James seeming ‘rollover’ attitude to Anderson’s demands, it cannot be denied that his altruism has kept the clubs pulse going during some very dark times this year. A horrific situation could have been even worse without his timely financial input, particularly in regard to staff wages, so all credit to him for that.

So we come to the team. Can they do the impossible? The 6-1 thumping at Rotherham under Hillys first league game in charge at first glance suggested perhaps not. Almost breaking a club goals conceded record, with a team of seniors to boot. Then you look at the many mitigating circumstances. The youngsters may not have been ready for regular senior football but they knew each other, played together and had won together. The senior squad had been on the same pitch less than a fortnight, playing a professional league match at a stage where most of them should still be warming up against preseason pub teams. Lack of match fitness, familiarity, games played, good opponents, playing away from home and the small matter of 8 injuries from the 22 available professionals, leaving no strikers and the need to sign a third left back just 24 hours earlier, doesn’t make for a winning formula.

The post Saturday debacle needed calm heads, good organisation and great leadership. The Tuesday performance and result against Oxford showed that had been achieved.

Another question is, given more time, how many of those ten signings would Hilly still have made? Also without the restrictions of the EFL embargo, how many of the other 12 players would get games? The Rotherham aftermath suggest not many. The Oxford aftermath suggested many of them will be vital. For me, the best example is Buckley. Just like Madine three seasons back, most fans wanted Buckley gone. In the space of two short weeks, our new management team have potentially turned a walking disaster into a vital cog for the forthcoming campaign. How many others will similarly come good once up to speed? Verlinden and Bridcutt already look outstanding signings. Once the shackles of natch rustiness and lack of fitness are removed, can this team come good. Very, very early days I know but the first shoots of promise are starting to show.

Crikey, almost forgot, the attacking football, bloody hell, how good is that? The Rioch way was always the best way to play the game. It’s what David Lee preaches to the development squad to this day. And done if the current senior squad wee part of Less’s league winning team just the season before last. Whilst I appreciated the necessity at times of Parky’s defensive style, I’d rather watch a team make a go of it any day of the week.

Finally, we come to the EFL. You just know that once our club has got back on its feet, those buggers at EFL House will finally make a decision on what further penalties we will face due to the cancelled Brentford match and the last minute postponement of the Donny game. I’ve described in my other articles about the absurdity of punishing new club owners for the mistakes of the past. I’ve not changed my mind. They got pretty much every decision wrong with Anderson. And then again at new season start with both us and Bury. If you take your Wanderers hat off, you have to admit that the integrity of league one was compromised by letting us play games with a youth team. But those weren’t the clubs decisions. The new owners have completed a sale after events out of their control had already happened, they have also passed EFL scrutiny (assuming that they bothered doing it properly this time of course), so should be allowed to move on without further ado. I get that a club needs restrictions and oversight when coming out of administration. I get that a club should live within its means and that the EFL need to show caution. But bloody hell, don’t kick the arse out of the penalties eh. Particularly when prior EFL decisions were the cause of many of Bolton’s issues. Are you listening Debbie Jevans?

So to the future. The new owners and management team could prove to be another false dawn, another disappointment waiting to happen. But there again they might not. All I know is that I’m fed up with balance sheets, burnt out by dodgy owners. The new owners have a clean background, the new management team are untainted with our past. The players want to be given a fresh start and grab this chance with both hands. I want to ride that tsunami of goodwill and fresh optimism and just watch my team play some football. Preferably without a dark cloud hanging over my head worrying about the repercussions of some dickheads off field actions. Hopefully that’s not too much to ask. 8000 plus season tickets sold in just a few days says I’m not alone. Flat cap on and hopefully Saturdays match against Sunderland is a blinder. COYW.