After months of worries that the club would end up with a result worse than relegation, the Bolton Wanderers find themselves heading to League One next season. A 2-0 loss to Aston Villa on Good Friday finally clinched what had seemed inevitable for much of the past couple of months. They join Ipswich Town at the bottom of the table, and will need a miracle over the last few weeks of the season to finish higher than 23rd this season.
Here’s a quick look at how the Trotters ended up in this position:
What Went Wrong
Most of the problems with the club were a result of instability off the pitch, which likely helped contribute to poor performance on the pitch.
On 20 March, the club was given two weeks to settle an overdue tax bill or face a winding-up order, which would have likely resulted in one of the oldest clubs in England all but being eliminated. Former chairman Ken Anderson has had the club for sale for much of the year, but due to the poor financial state of the club – player and staff wages have been paid late for two straight months – as well as the looming relegation or administration penalty, he had difficulty finding a buyer that met his price.
That all ended this week with Laurence Bassini agreeing to purchase the club from Anderson. The former owner of Watford, Bassini has had financial struggles of his own, both with football club management and elsewhere, and he was banned from “being involved in a position of authority” for three years after his tenure ended with Watford in 2013.
What Went Right
The club started the season well enough, winning three of their first four matches and entering September in third place with a 3-1-1 record. That strong performance failed to last, however, though the club remained out of the relegation zone until November.
They also managed to win their two matches against Birmingham City this season, and opened the year with a road victory against West Bromwich Albion, who would eventually go on to qualify for the promotion playoffs.
Recent English Football League History
The Trotters are no secret to relegation, having been relegated to League One after a 24th place finish in the Championship during the 2015-16 season. That stay in League One was a short one, however, as the club immediately returned with a second place finish in the third tier the following season. They were hoping to find some staying power back in the Championship, but instead needed a win in the final day of the season last year to avoid immediate relegation. A win against Nottingham Forest enabled the Trotters to secure a 21st-place finish, avoiding relegation by two points.
As recently as the 2011-12 season, the club found themselves in the Premier League, and for about half of the Premier League era – from the 1992-93 season on – the club played at the top level of English football. Over thirteen seasons in the Premier League, they had a best finish of 6th after the 2004-05 season, and averaged a 13th place overall. But since an 18th place finish in that 2011-12 season, the Trotters have spent six of the prior seven seasons in the Championship with an average finish of 17th.
Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?
The Trotters will have 11 players contracts terminate at the end of the season, and will also lose four players that were brought in on loan. Craig Noone leads these players with 34 total league appearances this season (23 starts), while Will Buckley leads with four goals on the season. Among the loanees, Joe Williams (on loan from Everton) leads with 29 appearances (28 starts), but no other loaned in player has more than 16.
I would imagine that some players will seek opportunities with other Championship clubs next season (if available), and the Trotters would probably be served well by clearing some flotsam from their wage books, especially in light of their financial issues this season. Most players on the club likely have clauses that will reduce their wages for the upcoming season, and chances are the new owner will look to clean up the books as best as possible in case the Trotters aren’t able to make a quick turnaround.
Chances of a Quick Return?
With a new owner in place after mounting losses, I don’t expect the Trotters to bounce back as quickly as before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Manager Phil Parkinson took over in 2016 after the club was last relegated and immediately led them back to the Championship. Per all reports, he seems to be the man going forward, so it will be nice for the Trotters to have his steady hand on the sideline back in League One.
In the end, relegation was likely the best result for the club this season. They were obviously struggling to compete on the field, and with financial issues hampering the club off the field, they weren’t going to be able to add players to help. A reset of the club with less pressure – though less revenue will hurt – in League One could help the long-term viability of the club, and allow them to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation next season. That is, unless Bassini returns to his old shenanigans as a club owner. Either way, football fans across England have to be pleased that such a storied club will remain in existence, and can start rooting for their return to the Championship and beyond in a few short months.
Until next time…