I expected to be finishing this series with a single post. It’s just not possible. While things have moved ahead with Blackpool, they seems to have stalled at Bolton and Sunderland still have to get out of the starting blocks. And as for Bury, their can has been kicked far down the road in the hope of allowing a solution that it reached the start of next season. Unfortunately, that only seems to have allowed more problems to build up, or at least existing ones to grow.
And with that the word length just kept getting bigger and bigger and the page length longer and longer. So once more I’ve decided to split the page and give you a where we’re at with Bolton and Blackpool and leave Bury and Sunderland to another day.
As ever supporters of both Blackpool and Bolton are welcome to chip in with their corrections, additions, thoughts, observations, even hopes, subject to the rules of decency, libel and so on. You maybe held for moderation but any posts meeting our standards do go up eventually.
Receivers were appointed by the high court in February to take over Owen Oyston’s assets including the football club, and recoup £22m still owing to the Latvian banker Valeri Belokon, after he won a judgment against Oyston in November 2017. That judgment had ordered Oyston to pay £26.77m, which he was judged to have stripped from the club, and to buy out Belokon’s original £4.5m investment, making a total of £31 million.
However, Belokon could not take over the club directly as he had failed the EFL “fit and proper person” test, having been convicted of money laundering – a conviction he claimed was politically motivated. The receivers therefore sought buyers elsewhere.
In June it was announced that a buyer had been found. Simon Sadler, lifelong fan, Hong Kong financier and quite rich person had paid in the region of £10 million for the club, the ground and a hotel – three separate companies in all. He swerved a legal loophole that might have let Oyston take over Belokon’s shares, appointed a local solicitor (and supporter) to the board and gave Tim Fielding, honorary vice president of the Blackpool supporters’ trust, who was once sued by Owen Oyston, a formal role as adviser to the board.
The fans responded, as you might expect. Their boycott of the ground ended and 15,000 turned up in March to see them score a late, late, equaliser against Southend.
In April season ticket sales, which were around 1,800 in the Oyston era, began to take off. They are now over 4,500 and a target of 6,000 is in sight.
(And, it must be mentioned, they did not suffer any points deduction for that administration. They didn’t do it to themselves, it was argued, it was a High Court decision and therefore no penalty applied. You may think that unfair, Bolton fans probably will, Bury fans might yet, Blackpool fans won’t.)
You might remember Blackpool doing OK last season. We beat them away on New Year’s Day but they held us at home and eventually finished 10th – no mean feat, given their circumstances. So what will they do now, with the same manager, off-field troubles resolved and a crowd behind them? They were gearing up for this season well before Sunderland, with four new players signed before July, and I think they’ll do rather well.
The Stadium was the Macron, the chairman was Ken Anderson and while he was celebrating promotion to the Championship he was also issuing a warning:
“The decline of this great club can be traced back over previous seasons, mismanagement both on and off the field has seen a true ‘footballing institution’ teeter on the edge of the financial abyss. “
He was referring to events before he, in partnership with Dean Holdsworth, took over the club, which had been relegated, was under a transfer embargo, losing money and facing administration, or perhaps even liquidation because of unpaid taxes from the Eddie Davies (remember the name, he crops up later) era.
After disagreement with Dean Holdsworth, who resigned in August 2017 after his company Sportshield BWFC went into liquidation, Anderson ended up in charge, (you might look up a company called Inner Circle investments) stabilised the club and not only achieved promotion but also kept the club in the Championship with, it has to be said, our help. I know, ‘cos I was at that game and we were dire.
And yet, a year later and still on his watch, the footballing institution had gone over that edge.
The club, now at the University of Bolton Stadium though it hadn’t moved, was placed into administration. Players and other staff had gone unpaid, leading to a strike, while some had left. HMRC had issued yet another winding up order and there were legal battles and transfer problems.
That promotion season the club had made an operating loss of £12.9 million, and the independent auditors included a disclaimer which began:
“The audit evidence available to us to confirm the appropriateness of preparing the financial statements on a going concern basis was limited because the Burnden Leisure Limited group of companies has not been able to substantiate any evidence that the group are able to continue to trade as a going concern. The group has provided no detailed financial projections demonstrating its ability to continue as a going concern. Without the availability of detailed financial projections we assume that the ability to continue as a going concern is dependent upon significant levels of investment and/or refinancing. Such funding has not currently been secured although we understand that the Chairman will continue to provide financial support to the group.”
And that I think, is where the problem arose. There weren’t significant levels of investment and/or refinancing, although there were loans to the club, one from Fildraw Limited, a company linked to the Trust representing the family of the by now deceased Eddie Davies. In short, no one else came on board, nor was the club sold outright, and Mr Anderson failed to provide the required level of financial support.
There were offers, apparently. Laurence Bassini claimed he could save the club from going under and offered to put in £20 million. Mr Bassini had been banned by the Football League previously but his time having been served they raised no objections. However, the bid came to nothing amid claims and counterclaims that generated a lot of copy and little else. Another alleged bidder, Football Ventures (Whites) Ltd, also withdrew from the scene over “hidden debts” (see below).
In the end, in the face of a winding up order from HRMC, Fildraw Limited placed the club into administration, ostensibly to save the club from liquidation. This removed Mr Anderson from control of the club and triggered a 12 point deduction, which as Bolton were already relegated will take effect next season. But by then awful damage had been done, including threatened closure of the stadium to fans -did it ever happen?- over safety fears and a failure to fulfil fixtures that could yet result in more points being deducted. Players and other staff went unpaid by the club, food banks were set up and chaos loomed.
Yet immediately following administration it was reported that buyers were interested, with five allegedly being interested enough to pay £25,000 to look at the books. From them a preferred bidder emerged – allegedly Football Ventures – and matters are supposed to be moving along with some urgency – although fans might disagree as that preferred bidder should have been named a while ago and hasn’t, as far as I know.
Does it matter to the players? Yes, they aren’t being paid until someone buys then puts money into the club. As a result some have gone and only
14 13 senior players and third year scholars remain available to report back on July 1, a start which was delayed from earlier this week. That number dropped this weekend because while film star Ben Alnwick has committed to the club at least one of them wanted away and made it to Celtic after a legal challenge to Bolton’s refusal to release him.
So who will turn up on Monday? Who can tell? That’s how precarious Bolton’s situation is. Players have mortgages and food bills and the start of the season’s getting closer. There is a glimmer of light, with an important announcement due on Monday but even if there’s a quick resolution can anyone see Bolton Wanderers making a good start to the season after this?
That’s 14,000 words, which is enough for anyone to be going on with. I’ll revisit the series when more is known about Bury, by which time Sunderland’s situation should have become clearer. Perhaps by then Bolton will be further along their journey – and in a renamed stadium? I did see something somewhere but maybe I was mistaken – and Blackpool will have reached their 6,000 season tickets. See you then.
And if you missed any earlier posts you’ll find them here: