The Trotters turn a corner and look forward

BOLTON WANDERERS are one of the grand old names of football, a club that hasn’t always achieved as much as it should have and one that was overtaken by the rise of bigger clubs from bigger cities in the north.  As a founder member of the Football League, and participants in that first campaign of 1888-89, Bolton have never been considered a title-chasing club but have enjoyed considerable success in the FA Cup, notably in the 1920s when they won the competition three times.

But in recent years, Bolton have had a rough time, suffering relegation to the bottom tier of the EFL for only the second time, in 2020. For all their recent problems, Bolton have spent And it is easily forgotten that when they were relegated in 2012, they ended an 11-year stretch in the Premier League, a period which saw them finish in the top half four times, including a top six position in 2005.

However, not many people anticipated that once Bolton were relegated, it would be unlikely to see them bounce back immediately and regain their Premier place. Being part of the elite was never something Bolton could sustain once the bubble had burst.

Many students of the game have feared for Bolton’s future in recent years, notably when their collapse into administration could have seen them expelled from the Football League. Their financial condition was certainly an existential threat.

The plight of Bolton underlined the perils of smaller clubs playing at the highest level and attempting to remain competitive.  Once the riches of the Premier League disappear, unless costs and wages have been reduced dramatically, the cost can be catastrophic for clubs who have come down the other side of a golden period, unless a quick return to the top can be guaranteed, of course.

Bolton’s income fell from £ 58 million in 2012 to £ 28 million in their first season after relegation, but their wage bill, although cut from £ 54 million to £ 36 million, was still 128% of income. By 2015, the club was reputedly £ 173 million in debt and two years on, income had slumped to just £ 8.3 million. In 2019, Bolton went into administration, which came with a 12-point penalty and, consequently, relegation to League Two. 

Bolton were taken over in August 2019 by Football Ventures (Whites) Limited, a group led by Sharon Brittain with involvement from various business people from the worlds of property development and finance. Bizarrely, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason also had an interest. 

The arrival of Ms Brittain, a dynamic individual, heralded the end of the previous regime and sparked renewed hope at Bolton. She has praised local people for the way they have reacted: “I have been made to feel very welcome here by the fans, the community, the University, the town, and I have met some delightful people through all the challenges and difficult times.”

In 2019-20, the club lost £ 3.9 million, but this was a fraction of the amounts lost in the past. In 2020-21, a lockdown season, Bolton managed to climb back to League One, but the pandemic still impacted the club’s finances – “we lost 70% of our income overnight and that was a huge challenge,” said Brittain.

Bolton’s overall revenues for 2020-21 were down by 34% to £ 6.15 million, but the annual loss was reduced to less than 1.5 million. The club also had half a million pounds in the bank. But the wage bill, at £ 6.9 million, down from £ 7.4 million, was 112% of income. Losses would have been worse but for the government’s furlough scheme

Bolton’s finances remain a little complex and ultimately, the club may continue to need fresh funding from shareholders and owners. They raised £ 4 million via a share issue and £ 12.5 million of loans have been converted to equity.

After finishing ninth in League One in 2021-22, Bolton could make a challenge at the top end of the table and start to think about promotion. The club has the potential to draw decent crowds; they averaged 15,400 in League One in 2021-22, higher than their last Championship season. Moreover, season ticket sales have been buoyant this summer, with 13,000 sold by the end of June, the sort of momentum not seen at Bolton since their Premier League days. They start the 2022-23 season at Ipswich on July 30 and their first home game is on August 6 against Wycombe Wanderers.

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