Well, Halloween week has been a horror show of sorts!

There was a time when I enjoyed our regular visits to Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, but I’d prefer to forget this week’s trip and go back to the amazing 2004/ 05 season – most folk will remember the dazzling 5-1 win at Wrexham on 18 December 2004. Goals from Humphreys, Porter, Boyd and Sweeney (2), and a team including the likes of Hughie Robertson, Jack Ross and Mark Tinkler saw off a Wrexham team including former Poolie Chris Llewellyn – I recall that Wrexham dominated for long spells but who cared when we were entertained by Andy ‘pantomime villain’ Dibble in the opposition goal (Anyone remember the shout of ‘what time is it?’ To which the response was ‘Five past Dibble!’? Even Dibble laughed).

I guess some will have forgotten the return – 5 March 2005 and Dibble had been replaced by a youthful Ben Foster and the referee was a young Kevin Friend. At kick off Pools had been fifth and Wrexham were 22nd………….an easy home fixture? Well, it was an entertaining match without question: goals from Boyd, Strachan and Porter (2) were consolation only after five goals from Juan Ugarte helped Wrexham to a 4-6 win!

How many folk would prefer to witness more 1-5 and 4-6 matches than some of the fare we have endured these last few years? Sure, last Saturday’s score line might suggest that it was an entertaining game against Sutton United, but it wasn’t. And so we’ll quickly move on….

We visit Bromley on Saturday, 3 November – we both won at home last season, the Ravens edging it 3-2 on goals scored! I’d quite enjoy a reverse of that score this weekend. Do we have a realistic chance of promotion this season? Well we must surely start taking points against the likes of Bromley and, if we lose at Gillingham and so lose out on potentially lucrative FA Cup revenues, one must start to worry about our ongoing business model: how long can the club in its current format be financially viable?

Last week I started talking about the virtual demise of Bolton Wanderers and looking at the lessons that we can all learn.

Remembering that our very own Super 6 Stadium (The Vic!) is an Asset of Community Value (thanks to our often maligned Council), back in 2017 we saw the unparalleled situation of an Asset of Community Value (ACV) application to list what was then called the Macron Stadium (now the University of Bolton Stadium, formerly the Reebok Stadium) by the Bolton Wanderers Supporters Trust being publicly challenged by the Bolton Chairman. The legislation only serves to draw attention to the possibility of a sale rather than blocking a transaction being proposed for legitimate commercial reasons, a small step to ensure that Wanderers’ ground cannot be sold off from under them. Alongside a backdrop of the sale and leaseback of car parks adjacent to the stadium, the training ground being sold to local rivals Wigan, and other clubs suffering long term legacies of ground sales (think Coventry City and Oxford United) it’s an understandable move and one that was ultimately successful for the supporters. Can you imagine the reaction of any Poolie to the Board selling just about anything to Darlington FC?

Credit to the Bolton Trust but all this really does is provide them, in certain circumstances, with six months’ to raise the money to acquire the stadium; and how long would it take any volunteer group to raise the sort of sums which would be involved in that sort of transaction? Which reminds me to increase my monthly standing order for the Hartlepool United Supporters Trust lottery……

Fast forward to today and it is the issue of repayment of the BluMarble loan (long overdue), which I mentioned last week, that threatened Bolton’s immediate future. And I ask, surely it is time that ‘football clubs’ (and other sporting clubs such as struggling Rugby League Clubs) – or more specifically, the loyal supporters – enjoyed greater protection from individuals and finance houses and other creditors?

So I’ve been rambling on about the Bolton scenario but I’d now like to ask ‘who is to blame’? There are always lessons for us in the misfortunes of others.

  • Was it Ken Anderson and Dean Holdsworth for taking on the responsibility of ownership seemingly without the resources to sustain it at the current level?
  • Was it the players that signed long and lucrative contracts with no break clauses for relegation?
  • Was it the supporters who were happy to enjoy the ride and the success, and then criticise supporters who ask questions?
  • Was it BluMarble who offered £5 million of credit with 24% interest?
  • Was it the football restructuring expert who was employed to secure a change of ownership rather than let the club suffer an insolvency event?
  • Was it the EFL or the EPL, the leagues owned by the respective clubs, who could do more to ensure the competitions are not distorted by unsustainable levels of debt?
  • Was it the Football Association who could improve the regulatory regime to protect football clubs and their assets?
  • Was it Eddie Davies who bankrolled the club, taking supporters and the town to the top table with international players and trips to Europe, but who did not then take steps to ensure the club was being run sustainably when it dropped out of the top division?

Or perhaps it’s actually no single party’s fault but a combination of the above.  What is clear though is how many of those questions you could ask of Pools over the last few years.

However, it would be unnecessary to seek to apportion blame if we, the wider football community, learn lessons from Bolton’s experience, accept we have a problem and come together to solve it. Rather than pointing the finger of blame it is sometimes preferable to take a step back, think what is happening and ask could we do it better. And I’ll start looking at that question next week. After an entertaining victory at Bromley….

Fingers crossed, John

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