Fan’s View 23/24 – No.20: Bolton at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, November 30th, 2023  



Very big game this one for many reasons. We desperately needed something from it following Saturday’s disappointing effort at lowly Cheltenham. Two defeats to start Des Buckingham’s reign would have been a real downer. We needed to prove we can go toe to toe with the form team, the team that started the day top of the pile. We did just that but we never ever seem to get the better of the very best. Even when we nearly made it under Karl Robinson we never saw off teams like Bolton when they came to town.

Okay, we didn’t see off the Wanderers in this, but over 90 minutes we gave as good as we got and I suspect most of our fans went home feeling rather pleased. This was the first time since 19 August that a team has stopped our visitors from scoring. They did the same to us of course but that’s no disgrace given they’ve now not conceded in their last seven games in all competitions. This though was on the back of us not scoring at Cheltenham either. Bolton have not gone more than one game all season without finding the net. A team whose goals dry up won’t stay near the top for long.

I was as disappointed with the crowd as I was with our failure to score. I was expecting a figure just shy of 10k not a thousand less. That said it did pull in supporters from all over the country. A mate came down from Chorley and another from Warrington. I met up with the latter and had a few beers in the city centre in the afternoon. The Grapes, re-opened in August and now back on the Oxford real ale scene. The Jolly Farmers, Oxford’s oldest-established LGBTQ+ venue, now having made it into the Good Beer Guide. The only disappointment being there were only two ales to choose from. Then a few yards walk to the Castle, Hook Norton Brewery’s first pub in Oxford.

One cannot be in that part of Oxford and not go in the Royal Blenheim, a proper “wet” pub. Plenty of people in there but clearly a mid-week fixture does not attract the United fans to this establishment that a Saturday one does. Then on the bus to the Blackbird, a proper OUFC stronghold. Plenty of faces in there from the old days and still going strong. No glasses so plastic it had to be but the Guinness was fine.

On our little pub tour the Warrington man told of his horrendous journey down. He’d booked a train ticket but as he was about to get a lift to the station got a text saying it had been cancelled as were the next two. Reasoning that the next train would make him much later than planned and would be very crowded anyway, plan B had to kick in. This meant driving 140 miles with his car windows down and the heating on full blast. This was necessary due to an unbearable smell caused by spilt milk and the need to transport all types of refuse oneself as the Warrington Borough Council bin men are on strike.

The things one does to get to football. Fair play.

Planning trips properly is essential. Being retired it doesn’t affect me any more but fans that still work have to arrange stuff around fixtures. A mate who lives in Tonbridge and attends many games home and away has some work commitments up north. Hope he enjoyed his hotel up that way on Tuesday night. Just to confirm H = a HOME fixture and A = an AWAY fixture. Tuesday November 28 was Bolton (H). Oh how some of us chuckled.

The stats as ever tell a significant part of the story but never quite everything. It doesn’t happen often at home but we only had 45% of the possession in this. Bolton made 561 passes to our 442. Each team made 60 long passes and passing accuracy overall and in the opposition half was exactly the same for both sides: 81% and 68%. Not much to choose between the two teams then. Apparently we had seven shots with five on target and they had ten with three on target although I thought James Beadle made more saves than that.

Both keepers were excellent both in the more traditional role and also with the ball at their feet as the 11th outfield player which is the modern way. Beadle didn’t get the battering and clattering he gets when we face the more direct teams in L1.

A focused analysis of the first half would probably have had us in front as the better team based on chances and how much each goal-keeper was worked. In the second it was very much the other way round.

Bolton keeper Nathan Baxter had to make a fine early save from Stan Mills who had been set up when a Mark Harris header was helped on to him by Billy Bodin. It was very encouraging but he should probably have done better.

Kyle Edwards then hit the angle of post and bar with a cross come shot following a short corner. Truthfully it was much more of the former than the latter but if it had gone in I’d have argued wonder goal.

Next Baxter had to back track to get a well struck Cameron Brannagan free-kick over the bar.

The Trotters came out sharper after the break and we hardly got near their goal. In no way did we look like breaking the deadlock in our favour.

That it remained goal-less through to the final whistle was largely down to Beadle and our defending as a unit. Elliott Moore’s return was a massive factor in this. Marcus McGuane’s defensive work and reading of what was going on deserves a mention.

Buckingham too for replacing Mills with Stephan Negru as we entered the final stages when the evidence before us was clearly we need to do the necessary to ensure we get a point because gaining all three looked out of the question.

This was another game of football that showcased the quality in L1 which tends to happen when two footballing teams face each other. More evidence to the argument that the strength in depth as one drops down the levels is deeper in England than anywhere else.

Now to turn our attention to the FA Cup. Hopefully this distraction will be a pleasant one against Grimsby on Saturday. Since they sacked David Hurst as manager on 28 October they’ve been unbeaten in seven games in all competitions but without being all arrogant have not faced a team anywhere near as good as us. I feel we will need to play better than we did in the last round if we’re guaranteed to be in the hat with the big boys for round three.  New manager bounce for the Mariners? David Artell got the gig on Monday.


Colin Barson’s Financial Analysis of Bolton Wanderers

 Bolton Wanderers are a very interesting case study for a number of reasons. They very nearly went under four or five years ago, and many felt that they were dealt with rather leniently by the football authorities, particularly after the way that the EFL expelled Bury FC round about the same time. They were owned by Ken Anderson, a man who seemed to treat the club as his own personal bank and had run up enormous debts in the club’s name. Needless to say, Anderson would feature high in any football owners wrong’uns list. The club were in administration for quite some time and on the verge of liquidation, a very bleak and worrying position.

In 2019 their long-suffering fans were put out of their misery with the club being saved when a takeover by Football Ventures (Whites) Limited finally went through. FVWL are headed up by Buckinghamshire based businesswoman Sharon Brittan. It’s a fairly complicated company construct, with a number of FVWL companies forming the group, but principally FVWL Football Limited is the arm running the football side of things, and the one that provides most of the information that I normally analyse. I’ve also looked at FVWL Hotel Limited, as I feel it is relevant and may be of interest to OUFC fans, with our new stadium (complete with hotel) on the horizon.

Having previously aired my views on some of the club owners that I wouldn’t put on my Christmas card list I’d have to say that I’ve found Sharon Brittan to be a delightful person when I’ve met her. In the earlier days of her tenure she was, without doubt, learning on the job, but I’d say she’s certainly a quick learner, as she has transformed Bolton’s fortunes since she arrived. That’s not to say that she was a novice in business as she had a long career in banking and has had numerous company directorships too. The other people in her group are also polite, engaging and pleasant to deal with.

OK, I’ve blown enough smoke up their arses, so now onto the numbers. As you can see from the details below Bolton feature toward the top of most metrics and are clearly one of the larger clubs in the division, while being well run, both on the field and off. Their average attendances last season, of 19,000 places them second of the current 24 clubs and has steadily climbed each season since the takeover, from 11,500 in 2020 up to a current average this season of 21,000. Their league position has also steadily improved year on year from being relegated (with a 12-point deduction) that year, to being promoted back up to League One the following year, to then finishing 9th, then 5th, and currently sitting top of the league.

As we can see they have one of the larger incomes in the division at £17.5m, although this is inflated somewhat by a conversion of debt to equity of just over £8m during the year. More indication of good owners, doing the right thing for the club. They only made a moderate amount from player trading and but had the second highest commercial income of just over £3m, an amount that will be further boosted by their new five-year stadium naming rights deal with a company called Toughsheet Limited. I still think of their ground as the Reebock Stadium, but it shall henceforth be known as the Toughsheet Stadium! They were the most profitable club in the division, with a profit of just over £3m, although this would have been what they describe in their accounts as a “managed trading loss” without the parent company loan being deemed not payable and the amount returned to the Profit & Loss Account.

Their expenditure isn’t crazy, as one would expect from a club that nearly went under, and their cost of sale (wages) was seventh of the 17 clubs that report the figure at just over £8m. Although this only equates to 47% of turnover, a figure only bettered by one club, it is slightly misleading due to the previously mentioned debt to equity situation and would be somewhere above the divisional average without it. I’d suspect their wage bill may be slightly higher now, as they’ve continued to improve their squad. They now have a healthy positive equity situation of £11.5m, putting them third of 22. They have a higher than average Admin cost, but zero other cost, so I put that down to the way they prepare their accounts, rather than anything else. They finished the year with a modest amount of cash in bank of £173,000 but this wouldn’t alarm me as there is cash elsewhere in the group of businesses.

This leads me onto FVWL Hotel Limited. There is a hotel built into the fabric of the stadium at Bolton and it belongs to the group as mentioned, which is exactly as things will be at The Triangle. Last year it turned over £5.5m and made a profit of £1.5m. If a hotel on the outskirts of Bolton (with all due respects, it’s not exactly the city of dreaming spires) can produce this sort of income and profit then it bodes very well for what we can expect from 2026 onwards.

I don’t expect Bolton to be in this division next season and I think their steady progress on and off the field, from a position where they were about £150m in debt and about to go under, is a great story and proof that if you run the club properly and have regular dialogue with your fan base, then that fan base will get on board with you, and it will grow, just as Bolton’s has, and continues to do so. When Sharon Brittan took over, one of her opening statements was that she wanted the Bolton fans to know her, to know who she was, and how she would look after their club. The club has regular fans’ forums and the board are visible and engaged with the fans. Meanwhile at Oxford United it sometimes feels that the attitude from the board toward the fans is one of Toughsheet………………..

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 30th, 2023 at 8:26 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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