On 13th May it was officially confirmed that Bolton had gone into administration and that if the club remains a going concern, it will start next season’s League One campaign on minus 12 points. Like all Brentford fans the BU Board members were frustrated that our club were not immediately given the three points when Bolton first failed to fulfill the fixture. BU Chairman Stewart Purvis has tried to get to the bottom of the saga.
The threat of a financial meltdown at Bolton Wanderers was a long time in the offing, as far back as February EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey assured supporters that the league would work towards a swift conclusion to the club’s takeover and ‘wouldn’t hang around’. As it turned out it took until the end of the season to come to the crunch. Brentford were the innocent party with good reason to be annoyed about how it affected us but all Bees supporters would recognise that it is the fans of Bolton Wanderers who have suffered most and still face an uncertain future for their club as the EFL discuss with the administrators how to create a long-term future.
A club which did not fulfil a fixture because of its owner’s financial mismanagement was given a second chance to play the game and according to one Bolton player things were so bad at the club that 15 year olds were going to be selected for that match because of a players strike. Only when the club failed again to get its financial act together and pay for adequate safety precautions at the ground did the EFL finally face the inevitable.
The core of the issue seems to be EFL regulation 31.1 :
‘Any Club failing to fulfil its fixture obligations in respect of any match under the jurisdiction of The League on the appointed date or dates or causing The League to suspend any fixture shall be deemed guilty of misconduct, unless the circumstances giving rise to such failure are outside the control of the Club and could not have been reasonably foreseen or reasonably anticipated and remedied prior to the match.’
On one of his rare public outings to explain his interpretation of this rule outgoing EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey said: “Our starting point is that all games must be played and it is only in exceptional circumstances that we’ll actually break away from that position. I think the current ownership issues at the club, the fact that a prohibition notice has been issued and that we’ve only got a regulation that sees Brentford being required to turn up for a four day period thereafter, all those things together I think we actually got to the right decision in the circumstances . Could it have been done earlier? You have to give everybody every opportunity to be able to do that to meet your objectives’. You can see the interview here https://twitter.com/BurndenAces/status/1124403340257964032
The bottom line from this seems to be that even if the reason a game is called off is within the control of the club i.e they haven’t paid the players for months, the EFL will ‘give everybody every opportunity’ to avoid being found guilty of misconduct. How can it not be ‘reasonably foreseen’ or ‘reasonably anticipated’ that if you run into millions of pounds of debt then one day you won’t be able to pay for essential services such as ensuring that your ground is kept safe. Perhaps this is too near the truth for too many Championship clubs. It seems they will only get into trouble if they pull out of games so near the end of the season that they run out of days to play the match. My own view, and one that I know is shared by other BU members, is that the EFL has set a precedent it will regret.