Bolton Wanderers – And How they Wasted £40 million

PiggyBank“We’re not a selling club, we are a trading club.”

 – Phil Gartside

By now, fans of Bolton Wanderers will have had the entirely sobering experience of reading about the club’s annual financial statement. “How did we rack up such a massive debt” is the question usually asked, although it might be slightly longer due to a couple of swear words in there.

The latest yearly deficit is a staggering £50.7 million. Sadly, it isn’t a one off. Figures since 2007, when the loss making sequence began are listed below.

(£ million)
Year Loss Debt
2013 50.7 163.8
2012 22.1 136.5
2011 26.1 110.6
2010 35.4 93.1
2009 13.2 64.0
2008 8.1 53.5
2007 2.1 43.0

A satisfactory explanation as to why such losses have been incurred has never been forthcoming from the Reebok, although a look over the accounts from the past few years does yield interesting information. One obvious factor is wages.

Between 2009 and 2010 there was a whopping £14 million increase and one of nearly £9 million between 2007 and 2008. At the time Gary Megson was being credited (mainly by Gary Megson) with reducing expenditure in that respect.

The claim that these sums were justified by the increase in TV revenue doesn’t wash either. By 2010 wage payments were outstripping Sky’s contribution by £16.5 million.

Another factor is player movements. Bolton may be a trading club, but they’re a bit rubbish at it.

Granted, profits have been made on some sales. Kevin Nolan £4 million; Ali Al Habsi £4 million; Danny Ward £1 million (including add ons); Chris Basham £500,000; Gary Cahill £2 million, but given his status and transfer inflation during during a four year stint at the Reebok, that represents a significant failure. He was though, the only player signed by Megson to be sold for a surplus.

The most successful sell-on was Nicolas Anelka, who was acquired for £8 million and left for £15 million, with £2.6 million of that returned to club owner Eddie Davies as a ‘player success fee.’

The list of players on who losses were or will be made is longer. Some of the individuals below are still at the club. In that case, a projected leaving value of zero has been assumed. Some might see that as overly pessimistic, but do you think that Chris Eagles or Zat Knight will attract transfer fees when they can be had for free at the end of the season? That’ll be a no, then.

Player Signed by Cost Sold For Loss
Johann Elmander Gary Megson 8.2 0 8.2
Gretar Steinsson Gary Megson 3.5 0 3.5
Danny Shittu Gary Megson 2.2 0 2.2
Matt Taylor Gary Megson 3.5 2.1 1.4
Zat Knight Gary Megson 4.5 0 4.5
Mark Connolly Gary Megson 1 0 1
Sam Ricketts Gary Megson 2.2 0 2.2
Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears Owen Coyle 3 0 3
Marvin Sordell Owen Coyle 3.5 0 3.5
David N’Gog Owen Coyle 4 0 4
Marcos Alonso Owen Coyle 2.3 0 2.3
El Hadji Diouf Sam Allardyce 4.5 2.2 2.3
Heidar Helguson (£2.2 million with add ins) Sammy Lee 1 0 1
Total Loss 39.1

Then there are the signings (mainly loans) that didn’t incur a transfer fee, but commanded big wages. Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge have been judged as successful. Others can’t be, such as Sébastien Puygrenier, Ebi Smolarek, Ariza Makukula. Vladimír Weiss, Dedryck Boyata, Gaël Kakuta, Christian Wilhelmsson, Ryo Miyaichi, Tuncay Sanli, Benik Afobe and Riga Mustapha.

Wilhelmsson was paid £1.75 million for a season in which he barely set foot on the pitch whilst Riga reportedly pocketed £20,000 a week for over a season.

It is perhaps the signing of Danny Shittu that best sums up the cack handed, amateur, incompetent way that Bolton Wanderers has been run over the past half dozen years. Scout Les Padfield, worked for Gary Megson when he was manager at West Brom, then in the second tier of English football. Padfield recommended Shittu to the club after seeing him play for Charlton reserves, reasoning that he would be useful at that level. Megson didn’t agree.

“I went to see your lad Shittu, last night,” said the Ginger One.
“You must be having a laugh. He had a mare. Looks like a real liability.”*

A few years later, Megson signed Shittu – for Premier League Bolton. His first judgement was correct. The big Nigerian played in ten league games before being released from his contract two years later.

*Excerpt from Scouting for Moyes by Les Padfield, published by Sportsbooks. Bolton fans really ought to read chapter 43.

– Richard McCormick

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