The mere fact that accountants describe Wanderers as a business that can continue as a going concern may be a relief to some who remember the bleaker financial accounts the club has produced in recent times.
The latest numbers emanating from the University of Bolton stadium are calm reading compared to previous ones, despite there being a sharp drop in turnover (down 34 per cent) due to pandemic restrictions, and wages rising at £112 spent for every £100 earned, even with over £900,000 claimed on the government leave scheme.
Whatever good, or bad, has been done in the boardroom through the year ending June 2021, it will always be overshadowed a bit by the fallout from Covid and a spell on football history that will hopefully We will never visit again.
Wanderers proudly announced that its operating loss had fallen from £3.5m in the previous accounting period to just £500,000 this time – evidence, perhaps, that Football Ventures is succeeding in streamlining the intricate web of debts and agreements in which they bought. in September 2019.
But it’s also hard to ignore that some £30m in liabilities have been racked up since the takeover, and how Football Ventures continues to deal with that burden will really cement its legacy in the months and years to come.
Accounts confirmed that £2.75m was repaid directly to the trust for former owner Eddie Davies, whose continued help will be discussed later. The general policy for other overdue financial claims has been to convert loans into club shares which, for now, seems like a stable way of doing things.
Another £2.4m share allocation was confirmed at Companies House on Wednesday night, adding to more than £12m already booked in the accounts. Of that, the most interesting arrangement was a £4m cash sum raised in January by a company described in the accounts as a “Swiss consortium”.
In fact, BMLL Limited is officially registered with the stadium itself and its sole director is listed as Nick Luckock, who was officially appointed to the Wanderers board in May 2021.
His connection to mainland Europe is unclear, but Luckock, a business associate of Sharon Brittan, has played an increasingly influential role in UniBol’s boardroom in recent years and even made a speech at the club’s season finale. . awards predicting that Footbal Ventures would play a “positive chapter in modern white history”.
The well-timed injection of cash at the start of the year coincided with Ian Evatt’s investment in a number of top first-team signings including Aaron Morley, Kyle Dempsey, Dion Charles, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, James Trafford, Kieran Sadlier and Marlon Fossey. The new boys sparked a run of form that pushed the club down to a ninth-place finish, hoping they can maintain the same momentum through the summer.
Other cash was confirmed to enter a deal with the Radisson hotel chain to rebrand the club hotel and a long-discussed land deal with Bellway Homes to sell “leftover” land on Academy Way near the training ground.
While work has clearly been done to find new investment (the Swiss delegation timed its visit perfectly at the start of the year when Wanderers beat championship-bound Sunderland six times) and new sources of revenue, some significant financial challenges remain, notably while Los Blancos are playing football at this level.
Manager Evatt has been outspoken about exchanging players as key to future financial stability, but the team’s first goal is to win a football championship and to do so they will need all the quality they can muster.
There were some sobering numbers among the 40 pages. It was noted that £950,000 of interest was charged in the accounting year and that a £5.5 million loan taken out in 2016 from Prescot Business Park Ltd, secured by car park land, will also accrue interest of nearly £1, £7m unless paid next month.
The two named directors at PBP Ltd are Tom Morris, owner of Home Bargains, and Michael James, one of FV’s board members.
In a sense, it’s not what you owe, but who you owe it to. And Football Ventures can feel comfortable allowing arrangements with family businesses and partners to continue while paying attention to more pressing financial concerns.
The pandemic clearly presented a major challenge, and one of the headline-grabbing decisions made by FV during that time was to apply for a convertible loan from the government-backed UK Futures Fund.
The total installment was £5 million, half of which was matched by shareholders, and it attracted an interest rate of eight per cent. The loan was unsecured and has now been converted into shares of the company.
It should also be noted that the League Two promotion at the time it was first applied prompted a £250,000 payout to the Eddie Davies Trust. But before eyebrows are raised, it also meant that £2.75m due from a deal done in September 2020 was also written off, making the profit and loss margin much easier to read.
What happens next in Wanderers is the big question. Will Football Ventures manage to attract new investment and will Luckock and BMLL Limited get a bigger slice of the pie overall?
Promotion to the Championship would be worth around £6m to the club, but would also bring with it entirely different pressures to spend on transfer fees and wages to keep the team competitive.
Stadium naming rights and shirt sponsorship will be available next summer, which would draw a premium if it also coincided with the promotion.
Evatt and his players seem confident they can get much closer to the top six than they were last season, but if they miss a beat in January, would the finances be available like they were 12 months earlier?
Much seems to hinge on the coaching ability of Evatt and the planning savvy of Chris Markham and company to make it all work on the pitch, to get Bolton to a level where the transfer fees they could realistically charge would mark a genuine difference in business sustainability.
MK Dons have managed to turn in big bucks this summer from the sales of Scott Twine and Harry Darling, but examples at the League One level are rare.
Since Football Ventures took over, Evatt’s roster creation has been restarted on a couple of occasions, but his current options are undoubtedly his strongest yet. In those two years, minimal funds were raised from the sales of Dennis Politic and Regan Riley, but Wanderers now have gaming assets that could, under the right circumstances, fetch much more.
It is not known to what extent player swaps play a role in Football Ventures’ plan, but as the damaging effects of the pandemic recede into the past and they look to build on the positive momentum they have created at UniBol, the state of the business itself can only be accurately measured with the next set of accounts in 12 months.
Wanderers is certainly an easier sell than in the dark days before Football Ventures arrived, but with success comes expectation, and the latter is a serious test of the financial sustainability that Sharon Brittan and her team have sought. since the first day.