The Bolton View: tough times for the Trotters

boltonThese are challenging times for Bolton Wanderers. While the club has it’s battles on the field, six points adrift of safety in the Championship, it has battles off it that are just as taxing, in more ways than one. New owners have finalised a takeover for as little as £7.5 million, in hope of clearing all debt and rebuilding the club. What lies ahead for Bolton? The Football Lab spoke to supporter Dan Murphy (@Murbroski) of Lion of Vienna Suite to find out…

Bolton Wanderers staved off the threat of liquidation today, the club given until 7th March to settle an unpaid tax and VAT bill. How confident are you that the club will remain in existence for the foreseeable future?

A whole lot more than I was at about 11 on Monday morning. It might be hard for a lot of people to comprehend but we genuinely, oh so nearly, got wound up today. Out going owner/new club president, Eddie Davies, literally didn’t submit his signature, proof that a deal was indeed close to completion, until half an hour before the hearing. As you said, we’re back in court in two weeks time and all our debt has to be paid off by then or we will be out of time – we will be wound up. I really don’t see why the new owners would buy the club to then let that happen, so I’m fairly confident it will all be paid. But this being Bolton Wanderers, nothing is ever that simple, so anything could happen in the coming fortnight.

Given these severe financial problems, you must be angry with owner Eddie Davies for his mismanagement of the club?

That is selling it short somewhat, I’m at a level of rage in which I feel I need to punch through a window to relieve the stress he has caused. I can understand that he wants to get out of the club and no longer invest, he’s been wasting his money on this club for years now, but owning a football club brings with it certain responsibilities to a community of people who hold the club close to their hearts – Davies has totally and utterly trampled all over every single one of them. It’s not even the financial ruin that’s the worst thing, it’s the total lack of transparency and never communicating anything with supporters who have been left in a perpetual state of limbo for months – never knowing if the day will be the club’s last. In his apparent refusal not to sell the club unless the bidder can prove they have sufficient to run it he has attempted to safeguard the club’s future, but that overprotectiveness has near smothered us to death. Then there is his constant changing of the goal posts, changing how much money he wants, changing how much money the bidder has to have, changing how much debt he is willing to write off, right up until the day before the court hearing in which he demanded that a suite in the Macron Stadium be named after him. With the deal now confirmed Davies has been named club president, which leaves a sour taste in the mouth of every fan. All we want is him to be gone but he refuses to leave, using this club to facilitate his ego when, in fact, he has completely tarnished his name forever. After the hearing he said: “we have saved Bolton Wanderers”. Yeah, he saved us from a problem entirely of his own making.

Sports Shield consortium have taken over the club for £7.5 million. Just how big a challenge do Dean Holdsworth and co. have to balance the books?

Technically, Sports Shield only own 50%, with the other half being bought by an Australian accountant named Bruce Gordon, but to your question: from what I can tell, should everything go well March 7th, the club will then be debt free, at least relatively speaking. Player wages and the every day running cost of the club is still high and cuts will inevitably have to be made, but I feel if these businessmen are buying the club, they must have some money on hand to invest – otherwise what’s the point? It’s hard to predict with Wanderers and I don’t want to jinx anything, but if we get through the next two weeks intact I feel as though things will then start looking a lot brighter.

The club’s struggles off the field is clearly a factor behind the team’s struggles on it. As well as limitations in the transfer market, do you think this uncertainty has affected the players mentally?

Yes, it unquestionably has. Uncertainty about wages has already seen some players leave the club, so it’s clearly having an affect on the mentality. During November and December when players weren’t being paid, it was apparent that off-field troubles had finally leaked onto the pitch and it must be something that remains in the minds of the players. However, some of them handled it well, for instance young pair Rob Holding and Zach Clough continue to shine despite what’s going on around them. Man for man, this Bolton team has enough quality (apart from up front) to stay up, so the turbulence around the club has absolutely taken it’s toll.

Your form has picked up lately. Just how important were those wins over MK Dons and Rotherham?

Pivotal. Words can’t really do justice to just how big they are. Simply because it gives the team and fans hope, it gives us all a fighting chance, it provokes that little optimistic voice in the back of the head that says “we could stay up, you know?”. And when everything is crumbling to pieces all around you, hope is the one thing that keeps you going – even if it is what kills you in the end.

Spoken like a poet! You put in a good performance at Molineux and came back from two goals down late on to rescue a point. Does this show that the team is still fighting?

Throughout the season all Bolton fans have asked of the players is to show fight, prove that they care about this club. For a long time it appeared that most of them couldn’t care less, now I think that number is in a small minority. Of late, despite still remaining bottom, Bolton are picking up a fair number of points. They’re battling for the club now, running themselves into the ground, throwing their bodies into challenges and showing that they do give a damn. It may not be enough in the end, but it’s something.

Some might argue that your better players are youngsters who have come through the youth academy. Is that a good thing, given the club’s financial problems?

It’s brilliant, and nothing makes Wanderers fans more proud than seeing a starting XI littered with players who have been at the club since their tender years making their mark. Zach Clough, Josh Vela, Rob Holding and Kaiyne Woolery are all stepping up to the mark and showing that they are good enough and, even better, do have the fight for a relegation scrap. The only downside is that vultures hunt for young players, and they are circling over the Macron. Holding is out of contract in the summer and heavy interest has already been registered for Clough and Vela. With Clough destined for the Premier League sooner or later and no funds yet available to tie these players down to longer contracts, they may all be gone before we get a proper chance to know them. Which would be a travesty.

And finally, hand on heart… will you stay up?

It’s a really difficult one, my head says no because we’ve got an awful run of fixtures on the horizon that could really see us stranded in the relegation zone. However, we have been playing a lot better of late and may be putting up some form of a fight. It just depends on what the owners decide to do with investment and the manager. For that, we can only wait and see.