Plenty of fans around the country will recall former chairman Phil Gartside proposing a two-tier Premier League, potentially without promotion and relegation, designed to safeguard the teams at the top.
At that stage Wanderers were one of the elite. But Gartside could see the gap was widening and knew full well what could happen once Eddie Davies’s backing was withdrawn.
The plan was radical but entirely theoretical. In Phil’s own words, it was a “coffee table document” intended to create debate. But its sentiment did not sit well with clubs outside the big time, and as we sit and survey the financial horror-show this club has become, you can certainly see their point.
To use another phrase, borrowed from a friend of mine, football outside the Premier League is a busted flush.
Without a more even distribution of cash among the 72 clubs in the EFL, the story of Bolton – and indeed their near-neighbours Bury - will be told time and time again in the coming years, and there may yet be a tragic finale.
Out in the Wild West of social media, there has been a tremendous amount of support for Wanderers’ plight. In my own experience, fans of clubs who have been through the mill – Leeds United, Bradford City, Coventry City, Portsmouth – are quick to rally and offer kind words.
Others are less supportive, downright unpleasant, even. And having lived life on both sides of the divide covering Bolton I’d urge them all to think twice before taking any joy from another club’s suffering. The way football is going you are one bad decision away from ending up the same.
Even today’s opponents Derby County, whose owner Mel Morris funded the club to the tune of £3million a month at one stage, face some uncertainty as he tries to sell up.
Bolton’s future is difficult to predict. Though Laurence Bassini continues to make the most noise, his claim as the next owner has been viewed with a tremendous amount of scepticism.
Some say anyone willing to come in and pay bills, which are mounting up, would be a significant step forward. Others view the former Watford supremo with considerably more suspicion.
One thing is for sure – the current situation cannot continue. Like someone on life support, the club is gradually shutting down.
Some of the problems seem trivial. The image of a referee and his linesmen eating at Subway pre-match, or staff unable to send letters because of a lack of stamps is farcical enough to raise a smile.
Players complaining that the Sky has been turned off in the canteen, or that they had to buy their own bottled water has prompted some to scoff.
But the little problems chip away, they add up. One day cold showers at the training ground, the next there are padlocks on the gate. One day pay is ‘only a couple of days late’ the next the council has issued a prohibition order and a Championship game is in doubt.
The human impact of Wanderers’ financial problems stretches way beyond the stadium.
Local families who took in scholars last summer have not been paid since January, some owed thousands of pounds. Most involved are too duty-bound to abandon their young lodgers, see them turfed out into the street, but the club that pay their way has stopped answering their emails and phone calls. Like the rest of us, they are in the dark.
It emerged yesterday that Tim Breacker, Wanderers’ chief scout and a trusted ally of Phil Parkinson, has not been paid for three months and cannot now afford to travel the length and breadth of the country to watch Bolton’s opposition, or prospective signings. Others involved in the scouting system have also reported similar problems.
From operating on fumes, this is now a Championship club free-wheeling to the end of the season. This has ceased to be a footballing issue. The fact Wanderers could be relegated to League One this week has hardly made a ripple.
EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey will meet the Supporters’ Trust on Monday, presumably to offer an explanation on why he believed the club would have sufficient funding to see through the season. I look forward to hearing that one.
Owners have a duty of care for their football club, from the first day they step through the door, to the day they hand over the keys. If the league do not have the power to ensure that happens, who does?