Bolton Wanderers administration hit by player strike

22 July 2019 7 min. read

The players of Bolton Wanderers have traded barbs with one of the ailing football club’s joint administrators, following the news the team would be taking strike action during pre-season. While David Rubin & Partners’ Paul Appleton said the players’ position “is understandable” having gone without pay in 20 weeks, Appleton also suggested their statement was “riddled with factual inaccuracies.”

Following a sustained period of financial difficulty, English football club Bolton Wanderers first appointed David Rubin & Partners, the insolvency firm which also took charge of Blackpool FC's receivership, to lead its administration process in May 2019. Paul Appleton and Asher Miller were installed as joint-administrators for Bolton, as well as its holding company Burnden Leisure, days after The Trotters were relegated to English football’s third-tier following a season marred by financial mismanagement.

With the club’s staff routinely going without pay, the situation came to a head when Wanderers players refused to take to the field against Brentford unless the salaries of all club employees were distributed. It was the first time an English Football League game had been forced to postpone by a strike. For fear of other clubs taking similar action and jeopardising league revenues, the EFL board ultimately sought to intervene to break the strike.

The footballing body informed Bolton Wanderers the club had to complete its two outstanding Championship fixtures, with or without the players who had taken industrial action. The EFL stated that it was “satisfied that a team can be selected from the players they have registered and available to them," and the games were eventually forced through. While the EFL might have been satisfied, however, the matter of unpaid wages remains a sticking point for Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton Wanderers administration hit by player strike

Players have been unpaid for 20 weeks now, while a number of other issues have hampered the club’s pre-season preparations, ahead of a difficult season in League One, where it starts life with a 12-point penalty. The team was set to return to pre-season training on June 26th, but this had to be delayed as, according to sources at the club, the players’ insurance policies had not been paid and the facilities at the training ground were on lockdown, while there were no changing or showering facilities, drinking water for training, or sufficient medical supplies available.

The situation seems to have become the straw that broke the camel’s back, triggering the players to once again down tools ahead of a match. A scheduled friendly match with Chester was subsequently cancelled, while a statement from the players claimed that despite the matter of insurance had been cleared, “the current training environment is far from ideal.” With a purchase of the club yet to be completed, the players going without pay, and being asked to perform their roles in potentially dangerous conditions, the team pointed fingers at administrators, who they claim are responsible for the situation.  

A joint player statement released to the media read, “Following the news of the club going into administration, we were optimistic that the immediate financial problems surrounding the staff and players would be resolved in some way. As we understand it the administrators took control of the football club on May 13, including its day to day running, until a takeover is completed. This included the adoption of all employees’ contracts and, therefore, the full obligations that this entails.”

It further added players were reliant on “local press and social media for any updates on any progress made,” alleging that there have been “no direct communications… from Paul Appleton as to the current position regarding our situation or that of the football club.” Similarly, the statement criticised Keith Cousins, the advisor to the administrators, whose “limited dialogue” with the team providing only information which later “proved unsubstantiated.”

The piece concluded, “Contracted players and staff have returned to what they hoped would be a resolved situation and a fresh start for everyone. They have undertaken their duties and obligations with diligence and professionalism but how long is it reasonable for us to do so without being paid?”

Deal close

Following the statement, Paul Appleton issued a rebuttal, in which he claimed to understand the frustration within the squad, but he reiterated that as football creditors they will eventually receive 100% of the money owed to them. That will not be the case for nearly 300 unsecured creditors, including HMRC and Bolton Council, who both stand to lose in excess of £1 million each during the administration process.

At the same time, Appleton said that while he has a “great deal of sympathy” for the players, he bluntly stated he believed their statement was “riddled with factual inaccuracies.” Without directly joining the dots, the joint administrator went on to argue that Bolton Manager Phil Parkinson had “continuously explained” the situation to his players. He added, “with the greatest respect to the players, they do not have a full understanding or appreciation of the club’s on-going financial position. I am working within a budget to keep this club alive until a sale is completed.”

According to the statement from Appleton, the administrators are on the brink of completing a long-desired sale of Bolton, but the deal is currently snagged on a technicality. The one outstanding element of a proposed deal with Football Ventures is the sale of Whites Hotel – which is built into Bolton’s Macron stadium. The administrators believe that if a sale of both entities to Football Ventures can be concluded, it will safeguard the club’s future, while plans for player recruitment, season ticket and match day prices are all in place and will be activated immediately once a deal has been finalised.

Appleton concluded, “We have reached a stage in the deal to sell the club to Football Ventures and are working tirelessly to complete the transaction… I would encourage all parties involved to act swiftly to ensure the pressing timeframe for completion is met. I would implore everybody to drive through this deal and ensure this great football club is restored to its rightful position.”

Since that statement, the future of Bolton has continued to hang in the balance. Sources close to the Football Ventures consortium still insist a deal to buy both the club and Bolton Whites Hotel could be sealed within a matter of days. However, after a loan agreement with the players union fell through, which would have seen the PFA pay the wages but expect repayment with interest in one month, at least two players have requested that their contracts be terminated so they can find a new club.

Josh Magennis and Erhun Oztumer, two of the remaining seven senior players on strike, saw their demand to leave for free rejected by administrators, but the PFA has been working on the players’ behalf to try and force a move. At the same time, Bolton confirmed that a further friendly against Preston has also been cancelled. This leaves the team with one potential warm-up match before the League One season commences in August.