HomeBussinessWhy Bolton Wanderers have to concentrate on the business end this season

Why Bolton Wanderers have to concentrate on the business end this season

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A quick stroll around the Toughsheet Stadium will show you what strides have been made, particularly for those whose memory of that crazy summer in 2019 is still fresh.

Back then, you were just as likely to see a fan protest or a ‘potential’ owner lobbying with a megaphone outside the front doors as you were any signs of commercial advancement but even in the quiet off-season there are signs that business is strong at Bolton, a club now standing back on its own two feet again.

The hotel remains busy, the club shop well-stocked and preparing for the intake of three new kits selected by the supporters themselves, and even the car parks buzzed with the sound of a giant car-boot sale when Sharon Brittan dropped in on Wednesday afternoon to give arguably the most important statement since he became chairman of the club.

For all the excellent work done by the board and Wanderers’ staff in creating strong revenue, selling record numbers of season tickets and convincing nearly 1,000 supporters to commit to a bond 12 months ago which raised a whopping £4.5million, success will only ever be measured at a football club by what happens on the pitch.

And for that reason, for all the good she has done restoring Bolton’s good name in the game, repairing damaged links and bonds in the town, making it okay to support Wanderers once again, the chairman knew full well that she had to select her words carefully when she sat down in front of the club’s cameras.

It had been a little over a fortnight since defeat at Wembley in the play-off final, which in a footballing sense was the biggest body-blow encountered in the Football Ventures era. Emotions had run high among supporters, criticism had poured down on manager Ian Evatt and his players from all quarters, and the new season – just 63 days away at time of writing – felt downright uncertain for a club that had finished third in League One.

There had been speculation over the manager’s position, particularly given the proliferation of vacancies around the Football League, and a feeling that the upset of that defeat to Oxford could bleed into the season ahead, forcing a first backward step.

A punctuation mark was needed, and, thankfully, that is exactly what Ms Brittan achieved.

Her unequivocal backing of Evatt and his staff was not especially surprising, given how closely they have worked this last four years, but it was necessary to have it on-record to eliminate any doubt for the challenges ahead. And equally important was the admission that after five years of slowly restoring the club and its facilities to where they should be, the financial focus would now be placed entirely on the first team squad.

It would be incorrect to say that the team has been under-funded in recent years, indeed transfer fees invested in players like Dion Charles, Victor Adeboyejo, Aaron Collins and Kyle Dempsey were beyond anything the club had seen in the previous decade.

In Ms Brittan’s estimation, however, the playing budget of Evatt’s squad was “fifth or sixth” in the division last season. And though that revelation is unlikely to change too many hearts and minds among those still frustrated at missing out on promotion, it does at least lend an extra layer of context when assessing how well the manager has done.

The arrival of Wrexham, Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town, Rotherham United in League One next season is likely to push the average budget higher, a fact which is not lost on the Wanderers board. Some projects, such as the installation of safe standing and a complete overhaul of the pitch system at the Toughsheet, have now been put on hold, with money channelled into the very business end, Evatt’s squad.

The gamble is a calculated one, and the chairman went to great lengths to say she would not be risking huge sums, but rather reappropriating what was already planned for 2024/25. For someone who has campaigned hard for better governance in football, we are not seeing an about face, rather shift in emphasis.

Nevertheless, there is now some added pressure on Evatt to make the right choices this summer in his existing squad, implementing the ‘changes’ which he had already started to consider in the mixed zone at Wembley. Likewise, after a couple of transfer windows where the misses possibly outweighed the hits, there is pressure on the recruitment department to deliver on that front too.

Stability seemingly returned, Wanderers can get about their job of planning for a pre-season where – for once – results and performances may well count for something.

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