I have approached this article guardedly because it is based largely on press reports and I am mindful that there has been little in the way of a substantive response from anyone who may be involved. The not inconsiderable difficulties that Bolton Wanderers FC is reportedly experiencing are by no means unique and in my view, it should not be singled out. Cash-strapped sports clubs and organisations abound and rather than being seen to criticise I have approached this article with a view to treating this issue as a learning experience.

In the early part of 2019, there have been a number of reports mostly in the UK sports press about difficulties encountered by Bolton. These include  a protracted company winding up procedure initiated by HM Revenue and Customs, a prohibition imposed by the relevant local authority’s health and safety officer on the staging of two home matches because of safety concerns, and references to salaries due to players being unpaid for quite some time. Around two weeks ago the wages issue came to a head and it was reported that a match against Brentford FC had been postponed because of a players’ strike. An article in the UK Guardian newspaper [1] reported that a proposed purchase of the club had fallen through and that administration loomed.

I suspect that at present, Bolton’s ground is not a particularly happy place to be. Equally, it is distinctly likely that there is a lot for the current club management to address and any successor or administrator to rectify. This may necessarily involve a quite lengthy internal investigation process and it is entirely possible that HMRC and other creditors will continue to press claims for payment while further court proceedings are a distinct possibility. The protracted involvement of both management accountants and lawyers cannot be ruled out, factors that may doubtless help to resolve matters but at the same time will add to what may already be considerable levels of indebtedness.

Accordingly, albeit looking at matters from the outside, I did wonder if those responsible for sorting matters out will know where to start, particularly when they address the issue of how to keep costs down and at the same time deliver fair and just outcomes for all concerned.

Mediators are not substitute accountants or lawyers and the undoubted prowess and professionalism of those who may be instructed is not in question. However, those professionals will undoubtedly be instructed by one “side” or another and some of the protagonists may call their impartiality into question.

I therefore strongly suggest that those affected by Bolton’s current difficulties jointly agree to engage the services of an impartial outsider – a facilitator who can also undertake an investigative role, identify the relevant issues and help the parties to identify a way forward. This input may well fall short of full mediation and, particularly if the facilitator is engaged early, the protagonists may find that they are better able to negotiate objectively and rather than adopt “positions” they can properly evaluate and move forward. Such input will complement the input of any lawyers or accountants that are instructed and who may not be seen by all concerned as completely independent.  It will free up their time so that they can focus on their core tasks to deliver a much more focused service.

The net effect is that there will be considerable savings of costs and there is a greater chance that whatever money is available can be distributed amongst those to whom it is owed. Alternatively, with the benefit of lessons learned, resources could be applied to improving management and accounting processes so as to hopefully avoid the recurrence of any past mistakes. ASM PLUS which is a completely independent external organisation has the expertise in its civil/commercial and employment/workplace teams to implement a meaningful evaluative strategy.

[1] “Bolton closer to administration after Brentford match cancelled.”  The Guardian,  4 May 2019