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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » COMMENT: Why football must bring in salary caps and dump transfer windows

COMMENT: Why football must bring in salary caps and dump transfer windows

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Football must press a reset button if it is going to flourish again.

Even the wealthiest and most efficiently run outfits are scrambling for answers during the COVID-19 pandemic but for clubs like Bolton Wanderers, this unseen iceberg seems especially dangerous.

Football Ventures hadn’t yet hit 200 days in charge at the University of Bolton Stadium by the time the game was placed into lockdown and all cashflow was effectively stopped in its tracks.

There was already ample evidence during that short spell that they were learning on the job and that their plans had changed as they discovered more about the club they bought out of administration. But what now?

Where does this crisis leave the ‘football restructure’ which was being pushed by ex-Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, acting as an advisor to the board, and the newly appointed head of football operations, Tobias Phoenix?

Those two men will unquestionably be central to the first big challenge, that of striking an accord with the first team squad to reduce the biggest expenditure – players’ wages - in the short term.

The lack of available accounting data means we cannot estimate what wage bill Football Ventures inherited from the administrators nor what they added over two transfer windows. But the fact they have properly engaged with the players and the PFA in recent weeks sets them apart from the previous owner, who failed to do that even in times of relative calm.

There is a general feeling within the game that once immediate issues such as players furloughs or wage deferrals are solved, weightier long-term ideas should be put immediately on to the table for discussion.

It seems likely that football’s economy will be altered significantly by the pandemic and the prospect of playing behind closed doors for an undetermined length of time. As such, salary caps must be an option which is seriously considered this summer to give football an opportunity to mend itself.

It might sound rich coming from Bolton Wanderers – a club whose history is flecked with financial peaks and troughs. But to use Football Ventures’ own words: “It’s important we support each other during these times” and, with that in mind, there has to be a collective push from football club owners to put in place some proper strategies to safeguard the game, starting with its greatest expense.

During 2011, 2013 and 2015 Bolton spent more than 90 per cent of its turnover on player wages and not since 2007 have the financial accounts shown an outlay of 60 per cent or less.

Ironically it was during the happiest times of the club’s Premier League heyday – when global stars like Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Campo reigned supreme – that Wanderers looked financially prudent on paper, and even then, just so long as Eddie kept his wallet handy.

This last few years in particular, Bolton supporters have had to adapt to a very different reality. Now it’s time for the rest of the game to do the same.

Financial Fair Play may have won a few high-profile battles but, in general, UEFA’s attempt to curb overspending has been virtually unenforceable, with two new loopholes found for every one that is closed.

In Leagues One and Two, the Salary Cost Management Protocol has been equally difficult to get right – lest we forget Wanderers’ last foray into League One and the rules they exploited - but the need to create a tighter set of rules has never been greater.

The new EFL chief Rick Parry has talked a good game thus far. The league has taken a battering in recent times for its perceived passiveness during Bury’s demise and an owners and directors’ test which hardly seems fit for purpose. That organisation, as much as the clubs who serve it, has to be a primary driver if the game is going to change for the better.

Football must use this opportunity to rid itself of one of the prime reasons for inflated transfer fees and wages, the summer and winter transfer windows.

Why not go back to the days before 2002, a time when Davies and Phil Gartside had pledged that Bolton would never over-extend their finances to keep their seat at the top table. Football changed, their outlook changed, and quite frankly the lunatics started to take over the asylum.

Removing the transfer window – or at least restoring the old boundary with a month of the season to play - would allow clubs to freely buy and sell players when their cashflow dictated.

Jim White might have to leave his yellow tie in the closet and our own transfer deadline day blog may become a fond memory of the past, but football would at least get a chance for its wounds to heal.

And why not go a step further and restrict the amount of money which is being sucked from the game by agents?

If the days of the Super Deal are dead, then surely the days of the Super Agent should follow?

Broadcasting companies have certainly not been immune to the losses incurred during the last few weeks and subscriptions for Sky Sports and BT have been paused en-masse. Even before the lockdown there were signs that the next big TV deal would not be as big as the last and that the Premier League bubble was starting to deflate, if not actually burst. COVID-19 might have been the sharp pin that everyone was fearing.

The lockdown has forced football fans – and journalists – to look back to the past for inspiration and talking points, and it has been a pleasure to reconnect with some of the famous names of Wanderers’ past and hear their stories from the days when football somehow still felt in control. So faced with such an uncertain future it seems entirely right that we should look to what worked in the past for some inspiration.

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Ten Bobsworth

Andy Walker
Andy Walker
During 2011, 2013 and 2015 Bolton spent more than 90 per cent of its turnover on player wages and not since 2007 have the financial accounts shown an outlay of 60 per cent or less.

Wages as a percentage of turnover were actually 72% in 2007 and had been consistently and persistently rising from 48% in 2004. The main reason, at least initially, was to avoid falling off the cliff face that relegation to the Championship entailed.

But spending 72% of turnover on wages and lashing out a further £24m on transfer fees and agents costs on players on the books in 2007 was not enough to keep Sam Allardyce happy. He plainly fancied his chances of doing better elsewhere.

Having failed to get the England job he coveted, Newcastle offered him twice the £1.5m BWFC were paying him and off he went later claiming that Eddie Davies was a 'ruthless businessman' who wouldn't meet his ambitions.

Successful as Allardyce was at galvanising disparate players into competitive teams it was at a cost and relatively few building blocks were put in place for the future.

The departure of Allardyce was followed by even more money being spent year after year to avoid the dreaded drop. Some were reasonable 'investments', the majority weren't.

What I find interesting is that Iles never seemed to understand how much of Eddie Davies' wealth was being spent or even noticing at all when Davies paid off all the Reebok debt together with the further debts that had accrued since the stadium's opening in 1997.

The only explanation I have for this is that Iles was misled when he joined the Beeno and never had the inclination or gumption to figure out how or why.

In 2016 the board did manage to get the wages down to 76% of turnover (even with the excessive cost of Amos) but the club still had an operating loss of £8m, not to mention relegation,  the terminal illness and death of Phil Gartside and the battle to avoid administration or liquidation.

Ten Bobsworth

Andy Walker
Andy Walker
Can anyone explain to me why Sam Allardyce was justified in the derogatory comments he made in his book or justified in having it published unaltered whilst Phil Gartside was seriously ill (terminally as it happened) and the club on the brink of administration or liquidation?

I ask because I know of none and have difficulty imagining why someone would do that eight years after leaving the club.

Many thoughts went through my head when I was one of a  comparatively small number of Bolton Wanderers supporters attending the memorial service of Eddie Davies. This was just one of them.

Ten Bobsworth

Andy Walker
Andy Walker
Deloittes Annual Review of Football Finance for the 2018/19 season isn't out yet but most clubs in the Championship will have filed their accounts.

The three promoted clubs overspent by:

Sheffield United  £21 million
Norwich City      £39 million
Aston Villa       £112 million

Norwich spent 138% of turnover on wages, Sheffield United 202% and Villa say they spent 14% (summat not right there) but if you believed Iles of the Beeno, it was BWFC (loss est c.£5m) that was the worst offender in cheating the system.

Ten Bobsworth

Andy Walker
Andy Walker
Sorry, Sluffy, but its time to leave the political wing of Nuts to its political whinging but I just thought, before I depart, I'd let you know about Villa's wages.

They don't seem to report them like most clubs I've looked at and the £7m shown in the last accounts of Aston Villa Football Club Ltd was obviously a long way short of the true cost.

Villa are owned by a company now called NSWE UK Ltd. Its most recent accounts show the wages bill at £95m or 176% of turnover.

I expect that BWFC, under Ken Anderson, would have had one of the lowest wages bills in the Championship in both real and percentage terms in 2018/19 as well as one of the smallest losses but I'll wait to see what Deloittes come up with in due course.

In the meantime, stay well and don't let b.....ds get you down.

P.S. You can always turn to the ST if you are in need of support. They've now morphed into a social services agency and will be after a grant from the Council next, I shouldn't wonder.


Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Bob, you can't can't just slope off into the night to the safety of your home planet. How are we going to find out about Chester and his doings?
Is it because I botched the operation yesterday? If so, I should remind you that if Lionel Blair can function without buttocks, then so can you.
You'll feel better when the stitches come out, but you won't be able to talk for a while of course.
You'll be back. We always come back. Twisted Evil

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