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.

Newcastle United’s calm before the storm

AFTER AROUND a dozen games of the 2021-22 season, Newcastle were being written off as relegation certainties. In their first 11 fixtures, they drew five and lost six. They were scrambling around at the bottom of the Premier League, the fans hated the club’s owner and they were urging on the controversial sale to a group of investors led by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund.

It was widely believed Newcastle, while a big club in the eyes of their fans and many others, had fallen too far behind the competition. The Geordies get tired of hearing about their lack of success and the fact their glory days are now a very deep sepia, and they’ve had plenty of false dawns since 1969 when they last won silverware.

Their 2020-21 finances revealed their total turnover was £ 140 million, a fraction of the Premier’s top clubs and 8% down on the 2019-20 season. Newcastle under owner Mike Ashley were run prudently and invariably made a profit – over the past 10 years, only four clubs (Tottenham, Manchester United, Liverpool and Burnley) have made a higher consolidated profit than Newcastle’s £ 48 million.

Despite this achievement, a lack of continued investment and, it would seem, a big shortage of ambition, created a stagnant club with disillusioned supporters.

Inevitably, Newcastle are being linked with dozens of players as the 2022 season ends.

In 2020-21, Newcastle made a loss for the second consecutive season, although their pre-tax deficit of £ 13.6 million was modest compared to some of their Premier bedfellows. For a club that can pull in crowds of 50,000-plus, Newcastle’s income is definitely on the side of underachievement and is only a quarter of Manchester City’s and less than half of Tottenham Hotspur’s £ 360 million. The potential is very significant, but will surely require a complete overhaul of the club’s commercial strategy as  the new era gathers momentum.

Newcastle’s commercial revenues fell by 29% in 2020-21 to £ 21 million, underlining one of the key areas where the club is punching well below its weight. Matchday income was almost wiped out, but broadcasting rose by 12% to £ 119 million. When Ashley took over the club, their income was among the top half dozen in the league, but since then they are well below halfway. Clearly Newcastle’s decline has been on and off the pitch.

Newcastle’s wage bill for the season was £ 106.8 million, representing 76% of income. The ratio actually fell in 2020-21, but two seasons ago, it was 55%, despite a rise of only £ 10 million in actual wages. In that time, the club’s turnover has gone from £ 176 million to £ 140 million. Covid-19 has cost the club some £ 40 million, a figure that is actually less damaging than some Premier clubs, notably Everton, who believe the pandemic has had a negative effect of some £ 170 million.

The club shaved £ 25 million off operating expenses, which limited the overall loss for the season, but was also helped by taking advantage of the UK government’s furlough scheme during the pandemic. Ashley used the programme in both covid-affected seasons. However, when the new owners took over, they were shocked at the low level of wages among non-playing staff, and have since raised salaries.

Since buying the club, the new owners have pumped in £ 167.9 million and Mike Ashley has been paid back his £ 107 million loan to Newcastle United. As at the end of 2020-21, their net debt was £ 94.5 million, which was £ 50 million higher than 2019-20.

The January 2022 transfer window saw the club spend heavily to avoid relegation. In November 2021, Steve Bruce was sacked and Eddie Howe installed as manager. The January transfer window saw the club spend heavily to avoid relegation with short-to-medium term signings such as Chris Wood (Burnley £ 25 million), Kieran Trippier (Atlético Madrid £ 12 million), Dan Burn (Brighton £ 13 million) and Bruno Guimarães (Lyon £ 33 million). Howe’s record was enough to keep Newcastle in the Premier, 13 wins and five draws from 27 games taking them to 11th place.

There is expectation the club will spend big in the summer of 2022, although they will have to be wary of Financial Fair Play issues. Inevitably, they are being linked with dozens of players, including the sought-after 22 year-old Uruguayan Darwin Núñez of Benfica and Lyon’s Brazilian striker Lucas Paquetá.

In theory, Newcastle United became the richest club in the world after being bought by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, so some fans will expect an instant transformation. At the same time, the debate about human rights and the regime in Saudi Arabia will refuse to go away, so they will have to endure ongoing criticism and plenty of questioning.

The owners have a target of title contention within five years, a sensible aspiration because the football world has changed since Chelsea and Manchester City were bought by Roman Abramovich and Abu Dhabi respectively. It is that much harder to play “fantasy football” and sign everything that moves in today’s environment. Nevertheless, that won’t stop St. James’ Park being the centre of attention in the summer of 2022.