Bolton Wanderers: "What will happen, I just don’t know. It changes from day to day, hour to hour"

11 March 2019

Bolton ownership Ken Anderson chaos
Photo: Getty Images Supporters of Bolton Wanderers showing they frustrations with the current ownership at the club before playing WBA at The University of Bolton Stadium on the 21st of January.

How did it all end up with so much chaos at Bolton Wanderers?

Off The Pitch takes a close look at the club from East Lancashire, which has undergone a change in ownership.

The saga revolves around a club-owner who was disqualified from being a company director for eight years back in 2005.

James Corbett corbett@offthepitch.com

In East Lancashire, chaos and uncertainty pervades. A football club stands on the brink of relegation and financial collapse.

Staff and players are unpaid and fans are staging protests at its now-hated owner. A takeover by a consortium is said to be imminent. Little is known about the incoming owners, but the mood is such among fans that anyone will do so long as it’s not the old regime. A match is under threat. Meanwhile the outgoing chairman takes public swipes at fans, the media and rivals.

Welcome to Bolton Wanderers, a club where chaos and uncertainty has become a way of life.

‘What will happen I just don’t know. It changes from day to day, hour to hour,’ says Ian Bridge, of Bolton Wanderers’ Independent Supporters Trust. ‘What happens next is the constant $64,000 question. We just don’t know.’

Bolton’s three MPs have called on the Football League to launch an urgent review into Wanderers’ finances with serious questions raised over the club's future.  

With matchday staff threatening to withdraw their labour after not receiving their February wages and money also reportedly owed to Greater Manchester Police, Saturday’s match against Millwall was nearly called off with the club’s safety certification under threat. A reprieve came on Thursday when staff were paid. Promises to also pay the players were not met.

EFL have failed

Chairman Ken Anderson is trying to sell the club and says talks with a potential buyer are at an advanced stage.

However the town's MPs have now spoken out about the crisis and say the EFL should launch an inquiry into the club's financial situation.

In a strongly-worded open letter to the EFL, Sir David Crausby, Yasmin Qureshi and Chris Green said that the crisis facing Bolton was unprecedented in its 145 year history.

Despite this, the EFL have watched the club fail to meet its obligations and many fans are expressing their continued frustration and anger at how this has been allowed to happen

“Never in its 145 year history has its whole existence been in as much doubt as it is today,” wrote the MPs. “You will be fully aware of all the issue with the current management of the club's finances under the ownership of Ken Anderson.

“While there are arguments about whether Mr Anderson should have been allowed to take over the club in the first place, no one can argue that the current situation is in the best interests of the club and the community that supports it.

“We believe that paying staff (many of whom are dependent on their monthly salary), paying suppliers and paying public organisations who have provided a service or are owed taxes should be top priority for a responsible, community centred football club.

“Despite this, the EFL have watched the club fail to meet its obligations and many fans are expressing their continued frustration and anger at how this has been allowed to happen.

“We call on the EFL to investigate the club's finances as to bring about full transparency as to whether the club's money is being spent responsibly in line with the ethos most expect from a club that prides itself on being a family friendly, community club.”

Suicide note

The MP’s rebuke is the latest chapter in a saga that has pushed Bolton to the brink.

Nevertheless, it seems to be reaching a conclusion with a takeover apparently imminent.

Bolton announced eight days ago that an agreement in principle had been reached for Anderson to sell his shares in the club and that due diligence was under way. This was followed 72 hours later by a lengthy statement from Anderson himself, saying that he was “hopeful” completion would be reached this week.

Will a new owner want – or pay for – a League One club with Championship costs?

"My reading is that that was a parting shot. Goodbye note, suicide note, call it what you will,” says Bridge.

Deconstructing the madness and destructiveness of Anderson’s reign is difficult, because business logic does not seem to apply to his running of the club. If it did, says Bridge, he would have cashed out and sold the club when Wanderers were promoted from League One in May 2017.

Five points clear

Had he done so then, he would have been able to sell a Championship club on a League One footing and not have to negotiate all the financial and logistical hassle of moving Bolton up a level.

Instead, Bolton narrowly avoided relegation last May, and are now five points clear of safety with ten games to go and a significantly inferior goal difference to the 21st placed club, Millwall.

“Will a new owner want – or pay for – a League One club with Championship costs?” asked Bridge.

A hugely public spat with the Forest Green Rovers chairman Dale Vince earlier this year gave an insight into the running of the club. Last summer Bolton loaned the Rovers’ forward Christian Doidge with a view to signing him permananetly in January, but according to Vince, Bolton did so “without the means to honour it, and perhaps the intention to do so as well.” Bolton reneged on the agreement to sign Doidge for £1 million in January, after Forest Green Rovers had somehow ended up paying Doidge’s wages for four months.

Vince alleged that Anderson told him he could not force Bolton to pay even if Rovers sued and bankrupted Bolton, because Anderson was a secured lender to the club with a charge on loans he had put in, while Forest Green were not. As a consequence, they might only have been able to claim 10p in the pound.

He feels immune from the consequences

“Ken Anderson made a lot of promises on the last day of the transfer window, both to Christian and FGR, and has kept none of them,” Vince wrote in a Facebook post.

“This is all his work and from talking to Ken he feels immune from the consequences – but some of these promises are written in legally binding contracts and we’ll be pursuing them.”

In the end, Doidge returned to Forest Green Rovers, though claimed to be “damaged” by the experience. The EFL agreed to reimburse Forest Green for Doidge’s wages from money that was due to Bolton. The amount owing was understood to be in excess of £30,000.

Yet despite the EFL’s “fit and proper persons” test, Anderson did not fall foul of its requirements once his disqualification order expired in October 2013

Vince described Anderson publicly as “a rogue chairman, a slippery character and untrustworthy”. Certainly his record before his involvement at Bolton does not make good reading.

Following the bankruptcy of his company Professional Sports International Ltd and seven other of his companies, in September 2005 he was disqualified from being a company director for eight years. The issue here wasn’t the bankruptcy, but, according to the Official Insolvency Services notice a failure to ensure his companies paid VAT, then failure to cooperate with liquidators.

The order added that at PSI: “Mr Anderson diverted, sought to divert PSI funds by depositing them into a personal bank account in his own name and invoicing in the name of another connected company.”

An arrest warrant was even issued against Anderson after he failed to be examined about one of his stricken companies’ finances, but a court officer was unable to execute the order.

Yet despite the EFL’s “fit and proper persons” test, Anderson did not fall foul of its requirements once his disqualification order expired in October 2013. Indeed it would be a further 30 months before the opportunity at Bolton would arise.

Wrote off £180 million interest free loans

By then The Trotters had already fallen far since their 11 year stretch in the Premier League had ended in 2012. Their benefactor Eddie Davies had called time on his bankrolling of the club, but in an extraordinary final act of generosity agreed to write off the £180million interest free loans he had made to Bolton. 

The club, nevertheless, remained hamstrung by a legacy of high wages, unpaid taxes and falling income after the Premier League parachute payments ended in summer 2015. Even when the club was available for just £1 a buyer could not be found. 

In March 2016 with the club facing relegation from The Championship as well as a winding up order from HMRC, the former Trotters’ striker, Dean Holdsworth, came in as the club’s saviour, backed by a high interest loan. Anderson, who had initially acted as an intermediary on the deal, joined Holdsworth as a 50-50 partner.

There was some initial optimism that after years of limbo things could be turned around. Recalling Anderson’s first press conference, the writer Dan Murphy recorded in The Blizzard: ‘He spoke with charm and impressed. He was pragmatic but hopeful, realistic but seemingly excited by the job at hand. He did, though, reveal that another £1m was owed to Davies and the current debt now stood at £29.35m.’

Holdsworth and Anderson agreed to inject £7.5m to pay off debts. Yet this money was loaned against club assets and the investors expected repayments to begin almost immediately. At the same time the club was losing £1million per month.

Anderson took full control

Although there was some initial success, with the inspired appointment of manager Phil Parkinson gaining Bolton a return to the Championship at the first time of asking, the partnership was riven by disputes. Holdsworth was unable to refinance his high interest loan and there were arguments over his role as director of football. In September 2017, Holdsworth’s company went bust and Anderson took full control of Wanderers.

And yet, despite all this financial disarray, £525,000 was still found in 2017 to pay Anderson a consultancy fee. A further £125,000 was found for a company controlled by his son, Lee, a ‘football agent’ best known for the emoji ridden diatribes about rivals he sends from his Twitter account

Anderson had already tried to address Bolton’s precipitous financial state by selling players such as Rob Holding and Zach Clough, but stable cashflow seemed a perpetual challenge.  After narrowly avoiding relegation in May 2018, the players were forced to go on strike briefly in the summer over late wages.  Suppliers were left unpaid for long periods. A transfer embargo in place since January 2015 was lifted in September 2017, only to be reapplied the following September.

In September 2018, with Holdsworth’s £4million loan to Blu Marble due for repayment, the club looked set for administration as Anderson looked set to default. Blu Marble said that they were prepared to fund administration for 'several months' until a credible buyer was found, while Anderson went public in inviting the administrators in, noting the difficulties Bolton would be placed in should that happen.

“They will now need to fund the club administration going forward, which will take a minimum of three months and will automatically put the club in a two-year transfer embargo and a minimum immediate points deduction of 12 points,” he said. “In my opinion, their actions will substantially reduce the value of the club in respect of any future sale and will make it far more difficult to find a future investor/buyer.”

Died a few days later

In the end, Bolton were saved from the abyss as Anderson took out a £5million loan from former owner Eddie Davies to repay the Blu Marble debt. Davies died a few days later, aged 72. 

And yet, despite all this financial disarray, £525,000 was still found in 2017 to pay Anderson a consultancy fee. A further £125,000 was found for a company controlled by his son, Lee, a ‘football agent’ best known for the emoji ridden diatribes about rivals he sends from his Twitter account.  

Since then avoiding administration in September, Bolton’s promising start to the season has long since ended and the club find itself embroiled in another relegation battle. There have been supporter protests, spats with other clubs and a litany of incidents involving unpaid or late wages.

Anderson senior has taken to the internet to provide rambling justifications for his running of the club. He claims that Bolton’s next set of accounts may even show a ‘small profit’, which will be some achievement for a club run at a loss for most of the past two decades.

Yet financial disarray pervades even into what may be the last days of Anderson’s reign. January’s wages were late, February’s too. The staff were finally paid for February a week late, although the money apparently came out of the bank account used by the hotel that operates on the site of Bolton’s stadium.

Debt is unknown

Player wages were promised on Friday, although as the takeover seemingly neared a question mark over who would cover them arose – Anderson or the new owners? With £800,000 at stake that question mark hung over this weekend. The wages, invariably, are still to be paid.

The club’s debt – described by Anderson as £29.35 million three years ago – is unknown. The estate of Eddie Davies is believed to be owed at least £20 million. Sources say the local council is owed a seven figure sum. Catering suppliers, police, stewarding companies and a litany of other suppliers are owed thousands to hundreds of thousands.

“We’re a League one club now, seven points from safety with 11 games to go,” Ian Bridge told me last Thursday. The tally has dropped to five points from safety and 10 games to go after the win over Millwall on Saturday. Victory at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday may reduce the gap further. “We just don’t know what will happen,” said Bridge. “All we know after the last few years is that anything could happen.”

A new consortium lies in wait to take over this once illustrious club, although little is known about either the motivations on the resources of either Parminder Basran or Sharon Brittan. The pair set up Football Ventures (Whites) Limited on 11 January 2019.

A director of four other companies

40-year-old Basran is a partner at VGC Partners, an investment fund with £100m under management across several funds and investment vehicles. It claims on its website to be backed by a number of institutions and high net worth individuals with experience in consumer, media and technology companies. Brittan, 52, is listed as a director of four other companies – a property management company, a performing arts business, a management consultancy and a holding company.

‘Everything remains in the balance and no one knows how it’s going to go,’ Dan Murphy wrote som 16 months ago. ‘On the far side, just in sight through the fog of uncertainty, is a land of stability, improvement, perseverance and normality. Underneath is a sheer drop onto the spikes of bankruptcy, court cases, administration, liquidation, relegation, unpaid players, a hollow squad and a flattened stadium with a big PC World in its place.’

At Bolton, nothing and everything remains the same.