Groundhog Day for the Trotters?
Posted by John Beech on November 12, 2010
Reading through my Bolton file certainly makes for consistent reading, although ‘consistently inconsistent’ might be more accurate.
“We have to balance the books” he told us as far back as 2003 (1), adding “We can’t afford to spend any money we haven’t got. We’re not going to go down that route.” A fan of Mr Micawber then. Unfortunately, less than a fortnight later it emerged that Burden Leisure, the parent company of Bolton Wanderers, had debts of about £38m and the wage bill had risen from £5.2m to £21.7m during the previous financial year (2).
Later that month the Bolton financial model became clear – put your faith in a benefactor (3), but not some ‘johnny foreigner’, a thoroughly pukka British benefactor, Eddie Davies, a life-long Bolton fan, who lives in, erm, the Isle of Man. As Gartside put it, “Without Ed’s support we would be watching a very different standard of football… We can now sit down with the banks and have serious talks about restructuring our debts.“
These themes – living within your means and depending on a good old British benefactor – constitute the consistency in that regularly recur in the years since.
This week we have seen the latest Burden Leisure figures published (4) – turnover from football operations was £54.0million, which was £2.2million higher than the 2009 total of £51.8million; the retained loss for the year was £35.4million; and the cost of retaining existing players resulted in the cost of wages increasing by 14% in the year to a total of £46.4 million from the 2009 total of £40.9million.
No wonder then that one of Gartside’s favourite themes of late has been the need for a salaries cap in the Premier League. Bolton have certainly been one of the better behaved clubs in this respect, managing to keep wages/revenues at under 60% from 2004/05 to 2008/09 (see table here), an achievement shared only by Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.
So ‘where is the inconsistency?’ you ask. The calls for restraint on wages and keeping within ones income are fine and deserve to be more widely supported. The living on debt mountain sustained by a rich benefactor are not – they are forms of financial doping, attempting to disrupt competitive balance by the use of unearned money. The inconsistency is beautifully expressed by Gartside himself, suggesting that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play protocol is not quite what is wanted: “There are ways of tweaking it that would suit the English game better. Owners should be allowed to invest in equity. So if you, as an owner, want to buy a striker for 10 million (pounds) that shouldn’t be a problem. But what you then can’t do is pay him extortionate wages that take you out of the breakeven situation.” His logic is one that escapes me.