It wasn’t all that long ago that Bolton Wanderers had a reputation that was the epitome of stability and reliability – on the pitch at least. Under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce, Bolton were a team that mixed rigid organisation with moments of flair, and in seventeen consecutive seasons in the top flight there were cup runs, big name signings and two trips to Europe.
Now – rooted to the bottom of the Championship, without a win in twelve games, and with players so far unpaid for November – the story is a very different one.
Allardyce, speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, suggested there is a depression hanging over the club that manager Neil Lennon has to lift.
“The financial side of the club is in crisis at the minute, I think we all know that,” said Allardyce, “Neil has to work with the tools he’s got and at the end of the day the next couple of players that he gets in, whether on loan or permanently, have to make a massive difference.”
At last count, the club owed in the region of £170m to owner Eddie Davies who became majority shareholder in 2003. Davies has been actively attempting to sell club for the past year, but with fortunes on the pitch taking a slide, he’s found it difficult to attract a buyer.
Davies and Trevor Birch – the man appointed to help find a buyer – have pointed to the recent failure to pay the playing squad as evidence of how desperately a new owner is needed.
Davies has signalled his intention to cease any further investment in the club, and with a net worth estimated at around £60million it seems unlikely he would have the resources to buy Bolton’s way out of trouble. £60million is a tidy sum, but doesn’t put the Bolton owner in the realm of the super-rich, capable of bankrolling a run on the Premier League.
All the scuttlebutt is now about the ‘A’-word…administration. With players going unpaid and the club looking for fresh investment, it’s natural that talk turns to non-playing staff losing their jobs.
Administration would mean a points deduction that would all but relegate the club to League One. Already three points adrift at the bottom, and four points from the precarious safety of 21st place in the Championship, overhauling a double-digit deficit would require the kind of form Bolton look incapable of.
On the pitch they are struggling for goals, having found just 12 in their 18 league games so far this season. Of the club’s six fixtures in a busy December, only a midweek visit to Charlton looks like a game they could walk away from with any sort of result. With the Addicks currently occupying that 21st spot and struggling for form and goals themselves, Bolton fans will be keeping their fingers crossed in chilly south London.
Bolton’s beleaguered manager Neil Lennon is used to operating under pressure, four years in the crucible of Celtic Park taught him that, and so far he has remained optimistic – just as Allardyce suggests he must be.
Usually when off-the-field wranglings hit a club, the manager will do his best to isolate the players from it. Build that sense of unity within the squad, tell them that while they might not be able to rely on stability in the boardroom, they can rely on each other – the only thing they can do is go out there and try to win matches. The same applies here, only that bubble of isolation has been punctured by the absence of paycheques. These might be highly paid people in the grand scheme of things, but if you’ve got a big mortgage and a couple of expensive cars on finance it won’t take long before you start to feel the pain – especially if you’re on the fringes. It’s hardly a sob story, but it’ll be a distraction.
Lennon maintains that a couple of good results and things will start to look better. It’s true enough that the Championship is a tight league and a good run of form can see fortunes change quickly – Sunderland in 2006 a case in point, winning the title having been in the relegation zone early in the season.
But, Bolton’s slump is ingrained now. A club with more resources on hand would likely have shipped their manager out by this point – rock bottom and winless in twelve isn’t a good look on the Monday after a game. That isn’t an option for Bolton, and in Lennon they have a combative manager, his challenge is to get his players fighting for themselves and for the club, because relegation this season might be the final nail in the coffin.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Mark Hammond.