On November 25, 2006, Bolton Wanderers hosted Arsenal for an eagerly-anticipated Premier League clash at the Reebok Stadium.
Arsene Wenger’s men had recently played in the Champions League final, the squad was packed full of Invincibles and they were among the favourites to win the title. However, they were no match for a Bolton team led by the formidable talents of Nicolas Anelka and El Hadji Diouf.
Abdoulaye Faye headed the hosts ahead and Anelka then banged in a 25-yard screamer against his former club. Gilberto Silva pulled one back for the Gunners, but Anelka finished them off with a clinical strike. It was the height of Bolton’s pomp under Sam Allardyce. The finished seventh and qualified for Europe that season. The fans were used to seeing supreme talents like Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff strut their stuff at the Reebok, and the future looked bright for the club.
Fast forward to 2020 and the situation looks decidedly bleak. On Saturday, the visitors to Bolton were Accrington Stanley and they battled to a 0-0 draw in a thoroughly drab affair. It was a result that left Bolton marooned at the bottom of
League One, 21 points below safety. They are doomed to be relegated to the fourth tier of English football, and fans are simply left with memories of better times.
What Went Wrong for Bolton?
Bolton are one of the founding members of the Football League, they are four-time FA Cup winners and they reached the last 16 of the UEFA Cup just 12 years ago. How are they so close to oblivion? Their troubles began when they were relegated from the Premier League in 2012. Sam Allardyce had abandoned ship by that point, and Owen Coyle was the man tasked with keeping them in the top flight.
They still had some talented players, including Gary Cahill, Ivan Klasnic and the long-serving Kevin Davies, but they finished 18th – a point behind relegation rivals QPR – after winning just one of their final eight games. Any hopes of yo-yoing back to the top flight were crushed when they finished outside the playoff places in the Championship the following term.
They were still paying the sort of exorbitant wages of a Premier League team, but the revenue dried up. That plunged them into chaos. A number of poor signings and a confused strategy under chairman Phil Gartside led to a deterioration in results. By 2014, they had strayed dangerously close to being financially shipwrecked.
The following, the club took out a loan with creditor BluMarble Capital to stay afloat, and there was a finding gap. A winding-up order over an unpaid tax bill threatened to torpedo the club, but former Bolton striker Dean Holdsworth led a £7.5 million takeover under the Sports Shield banner.
That could have provided the springboard for an upturn in fortunes for the club. Former owner Eddie Davies said he did not wish to claim back the money owed to him, and Bolton’s £172.9 million debt was largely written off. However, Bolton finished bottom of the Championship that season and dropped down to League One.
They bounced straight back up to the Championship in 2017, but Sports Shield then had to be liquidated after BluMarble lodged a winding-up petition in relation to non-repayment of a £5 million loan. Inner Circle Investments, owned by Bolton Wanderers chairman Ken Anderson acquired Sports Shield’s former 37.5% shareholding in September 2017.
They managed to scrape survival in the 2017-18 campaign, finishing 21st , but they were then relegated last term after ending up 23rd in the standings. Bolton immediately went into administration.
The start of the 2019-20 campaign was utterly disastrous. They began the season with a 12-point deduction. It was issued as punishment for going into administration, as they owed more than £1 million to HMRC. The summer was taken up by a protracted takeover of the club, as Anderson resisted attempts by Football Ventures to buy it.
The club had to call off their match against Doncaster citing welfare concerns, as they only had five senior outfield players available. Manager Phil Parkinson finally walked away after he was forced to field a youth team in a 5-0 defeat to Ipswich.
Football Ventures finally purchased the club on August 29, 2019, with the Eddie Davis Trust helping facilitate the deal. Former Rochdale manager Keith Hill took over and quickly signed nine players before the transfer window slammed shut. However, it has been a grim old season for the long-suffering Bolton fans.
A Cautionary Tale
They have lost 18 out of 32 games, and they would still be well adrift even if they had not been handed a 12-point penalty. If you check here for the League One odds, you will see that they head into almost every game as underdogs and they are all but certain to be relegated. Bolton have not languished in the fourth tier of English football since the 1987-88 campaign.
Six months ago, they faced extinction. The club was saved, but Bolton fans are likely to experience a lot more pain in the years ahead. Not so long ago, Bolton revelled in their status as the poster-boy team for every smaller club that dreamed of climbing into the top tier – they dazzled, with Okocha and Anelka wreaking havoc on the pitch – but now they serve as a mere cautionary tale about the pitfalls of continually spending beyond your means.
The debt piled up, and Bolton fell into despair on and off the pitch. It will be a long way back from here. They are lucky to have such loyal and passionate fans, whose support could yet drag them back from the abyss, but this proud club needs much tighter financial management in future.