Colin Todd left Bolton in farcical circumstances. Gary Parkinson untangles the story behind his decision to leave
The business equivalent of pride before a fall is the construction of a flash new HQ followed by financial disaster and bankruptcy. Building the Premiership-standard Reebok Stadium has brought Bolton Wanderers into such financial peril that there is a grave danger of never getting near that division again.
It all started, of course, with the stock market. BWFC merged with Mosaic Investments in 1997 to create Burnden Leisure plc. Five BWFC directors shared a paper profit of £30 million worth of shares in the new company.
The initial signs were good, with a new stadium illustrating the newly promoted club’s ambition. Man-ager Colin Todd had a transfer kitty and was shrewdly bringing the squad up to Premiership level (until he signed Dean Holdsworth for £3.5 million). But the last-day, goal-difference relegation at Chelsea in 1998 was to cause more important losses than the odd tear.
Players started to leave the Reebok for sizeable sums which were not reinvested in the team. Alan Thompson was the first to go, for a club record-equalling £4.5 million. Little of it was spent on strengthening the team. Yet strangely the plc found the money for a speculative investment of around £10 million on a hotel in the South Stand at the Reebok.
On the field, the team had started the season brightly, with Nathan Blake and Arnar Gunnlaugsson scoring goals aplenty. Pity, then, that both were quickly flogged, for nearly £6.5 million in total. At the other end, the suspect defence was plugged by the loan signing of the imperious Jon Newsome, who became available at just £2 million, less than a month after Blake was sold for more than twice that amount. Yet Todd was denied the money to buy him, on the grounds that the club’s fail-ure to sell the old Burnden Park site was costing a packet in repayments on loans secured against the sale.
Although Todd remained typically impassive in the media, claiming the sales of the strikers were “footballing decisions” rather than financial (chairman Gordon Hargreaves later revealed this wasn’t true), he was becoming hampered by the tightening purse strings. On deadline day he was reduced to signing a Palace reserve, Jamie Fullarton, on loan and goalkeeper Steve Banks for just £50,000 from Blackpool – though luckily he turned out to be brilliant.
By then the messages from the boardroom were becoming dark warnings about failure to gain promotion costing the club dear. Shorn of firepower, leaking goals and fearful of the future, the team plummeted from chasing Sunderland for the championship to scraping into a doomed play-off bid.
As if the lack of spending on players weren’t enough, it then emerged that the contract to build the superfluous hotel had been “won” by chairman Hargreaves’s construction company. The contract was not offered out to competitive tender, the feeling being that the company’s “knowledge” of the ground entitled it to the job.
No money was provided for Todd during the summer, and he was forced to release the out-of-contract Scott Sellars while being denied permission to sign even loan or non-contract players. Still Hargreaves denied Bolton were a selling club, preferring the euphemism “trading club”.
Both Per Frandsen and Mark Fish had clauses in their contracts allowing them to speak to interested Premiership clubs, but at that time there were no takers. While Fish sulked in the reserves, Frandsen buckled down and played diligently, moving his boss to say that losing the Dane, whom he rated at £8 million, would be “one of the greatest disappointments of my managerial career”.
However, the straits were now dire, with Hargreaves forced to deny whispers about an emergency meeting taking place to discuss the possibility of declaring the club bankrupt: “It’s absolute nonsense to talk in those terms,” he said. “It’s just not true.” A day later, the Burnden burden was finally lifted with the sale of the site for £6.75 million. The day after that, Hargreaves and his board sold Frandsen to Jack Walker’s notorious spendthrifts for just £1.75 million. Todd resigned on the spot, though it later emerged he had known about, and pleaded against, the transfer for the best part of a week.
Frandsen will not be the last to leave. The club may still be as much as £10 million in debt and few, if any, bids for players will be turned down. By the time you read this, Bolton could have lost any or all of Andy Todd, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Ricardo Gardner and Claus Jensen. Seven first-teamers whose contracts are up in June will not be kept on. Nothing about the future is certain, except that it’s bad.
From WSC 153 November 1999. What was happening this month