Bolton Chairman Phil Gartside tells Andy Lyons how his club is ready for anything
"We have a plan for various eventualities, such as whether we stay up or go down. If the worst came to the worst we could reduce our wages significantly. We haven’t really looked at other clubs who have gone down as case studies of what not to do because we’ve been up to the Premier League and relegated twice before, so we’ve had the experience. It might be possible to do things like increase the parachute payments to relegated clubs, but the rules are the rules and you have to plan around them.
If a new backer approached Bolton and gave us money to spend, we wouldn’t necessarily spend it all on the team, but use it to create a bit of stability. We realise that you have to give a manager time. We gave Sam Allardyce a well publicised ten-year contract, saying that he has a job to do over that entire period.
Our policy has been to sign experienced players on short-term deals. It’s a way of getting quality players in without paying transfer fees. The team ethic built up through promotion and relegation battles could be watered down by big-name imports, but you have to find the characters who can come in and contribute to the club’s spirit. We’ve been quite successful with that on the whole.
There will be 22 players out of contract at the end of this season. With some of them we’re renegotiating, but others are close to retirement and some are on short-term contracts. There would be a huge reduction in our wage bill, 75 per cent, if all those contracts weren’t replaced. So obviously if we went down, we’d then have to bring in new players, but if we have to reduce our wages we can, we’ve got that flexibility.
We did talk to Juventus about a tie-up, and it’s still something we’re keen to do. We would have looked to pick up some young players on loan and there was a commercial tie-up – they wanted to benefit from our stadium experience. In Italy they don’t have the same levels of corporate hospitality as we do.
The Reebok Stadium is hugely important as a source of income. The hotel makes profits, and there are banqueting suites, property that we let for office space, and we’re spending about £4 million on office development for Reebok’s European design centre. This is the sort of thing we’ve got to do. We’ve started a medical business doing conferences for physiotherapists and providing a physio service for sports centres. This is a link-up with JJB Sports, who are involved at Wigan. We’ve developed a serious medical backroom out of taking a scientific interest in players’ fitness levels etc. We sat down and said ‘How can we earn income for us?’ and the senior medical guys at the club came up with this idea.
To some extent the increase in Bolton’s support is due to the new stadium, but we have widened the catchment area generally due to the successes of the last few years. There are floating supporters in the region, but you need success to drag them in. If Manchester United built a stadium for 90,000 they’d still fill it. You can have good facilities, cheap beer and the rest of it, but you can only get more supporters in as a result of a long-term plan. Premier League football has brought in more people first and foremost – we’ve been in the Premier League four years out of 11 and involved in play-offs and promotions the rest of the time. We get average gates of 25,000 now, which we wouldn’t see in the First Division.
Peter Kenyon at Manchester United made comments recently about how there should only be two divisions of professional clubs, but I don’t think you can say how many divisions there should be – economics will dictate that. We played Yeovil in the FA Cup a couple of years ago and they were full-time professionals and they can support it which is fantastic. Some of the bigger clubs aren’t financially secure: there’s a hell of a lot of wages swishing around at Leeds and Chelsea.
I remember Bolton’s lowest points, playing in the old Fourth Division in the late 1980s. People had been concerned about the club’s future before then and they certainly were at that point.
Once you’ve had success, you’ve got to try and build on it. If we could sustain midtable in the Premier League over a ten-year period that would be fantastic for us."
From WSC 192 February 2003. What was happening this month