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Toughsheet Community Stadium, Burnden Way, Bolton

ABOUT US

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About The Bolton Wanderers Supporters' Trust

Formation

The idea of forming a Supporters’ Trust for the fans of Bolton Wanderers had been suggested some years ago. However, the idea of a trust did not gain any momentum due to insufficient numbers of supporters being interested and the lack of any realistic encouragement from the Club. Instead, it was agreed that the supporters involved at that time would concentrate efforts on revitalising the Supporters Association. It should be pointed out that at this time, the Club was resident in the Premier League, having enjoyed a fair degree of success and experienced European football for the first time in the Club’s history.

Fast forward a few years. The latter end of 2015 saw our Club planted firmly at the foot of the Championship and reporting a debt of approaching £180m, a dramatic reversal of fortunes by any standards. The Club had been openly for sale for a period of time, but with little reported interest. Several times, sketchy reports surfaced of a potential deal with another new party expressing a level of interest in buying the Club. Nothing ever materialised. No reasons were given for the breakdown of any potential takeover. All the while, the Club was descending into further debt, fueled by lack of success on the field, falling gates and unaffordable running expenses. New owners were still being sought, but with little success. Supporters were becoming increasingly disconnected from their Club.

It was in this environment that several interested and concerned fans independently contacted Supporters Direct (now the Football Supporters Association) to investigate what was actually involved in setting up a Supporters’ Trust. Genuine concern for their beloved Club’s current plight, allied to the deteriorating situations both on and off the field, moved these concerned supporters to take some action. The individual supporters who made contact with Supporters Direct were put in touch with each other. A preliminary meeting was held with Supporters Direct and the wheels were put in motion to move things forward. At the time, the idea of a Supporters’ Trust was little more than that, an idea. The first step towards gaining the BWFC supporters a voice was to organise an open meeting to assess whether there was a fans desire to move forwards with a trust. Bearing in mind the failed attempt of some years previous, it was very much an unknown as to whether a mandate would be gained to move forwards.

This time, however, circumstances were different. The worsening situation both on and off the field, fueled by a winding up petition issued by HMRC in December 2015, led to an outpouring of emotion. On 6th January 2016, an open meeting was held in the Premier Suite in the Macron Stadium. Approaching 1,000 gathered on that eventful night to vote unanimously for the formation of a Bolton Wanderers Supporters’ Trust. The nucleus of supporters who had organised the meeting then undertook to take the first steps to bringing the BWFCST into being. In association with Supporters Direct, the Trust registration procedure was commenced on 7th January 2016. On 11th January 2016, the revamped BWFCST website went live. Pledges were then taken online to allow the supporters to register their membership commitment. Within a week, membership pledges were approaching 4,000.

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On 15 January 2016, the Bolton Wanderers Supporters’ Trust formally came into being, when registration documents were issued by the FCA.

Development and Role of the Trust (2016-2019)

So, what has happened in the years since the BWFCST was formed? The simple answer is quite a lot!

Soon after the trust was formed, Sports Shield BWFC bought the club from Eddie Davies. The two new co-owners were Dean Holdsworth and Ken Anderson. The trust held discussions with both, but it became clear pretty quickly that the relationship between Holdsworth and Anderson was not working. This relationship deteriorated to the level that full control of BWFC was eventually acquired by Ken Anderson through his company, Inner Circle Investments. Holdsworth’s original acquisition company, Sports Shield BWFC was wound-up in Aug 2017. Anderson’s company bought Holdsworth’s 37% shareholding in Burnden Leisure from the liquidator, Quantuma, in September 2017 for the sum of £150,000.

One aspect that concerned the trust throughout this period was the situation regarding ownership and possible disposal of the stadium for reasons that would ultimately be to the detriment of the club, the supporters, the community and the town. This was the reason that an application was made to the local authority to list the stadium as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Application was made in Dec 2016 and ACV status granted in Feb 2017. The concerns of the trust were realised when the listing was then appealed by Anderson. His appeal was thrown out and final confirmation of the listing of the stadium as an ACV registered in Oct ’17.

Throughout this period, it became clear that Ken Anderson saw the BWFCST as an adversary. This was referenced in his many posts on the club website in which he portrayed the trust in various guises from being obstructive, an irrelevance and a general hinderance to his “ambitions” for BWFC. However, a very insightful post from a trust member was penned in Nov 2018. Take a look here and assess the relevance of the trust in the eyes of a concerned supporter. Formal concerns were also expressed by the trust in an open letter to Anderson dated 30 Nov 2018, which can be viewed here.

Concern about the stability and the very future of our club continued to grow and a subsequent letter dated 06 Jan 2019 (3 years to the day since the BWFC supporters decision to form a trust) to the then CEO of the EFL, Shaun Harvey, can be viewed here. Take a look and bear in mind the events yet to unfold within 4 months of this the letter. An article by Martin Zeigler appeared in The Times on 08 Jan 2018 (view here) which is also worth a read, particularly in light of the Fan-Led Review recommendations of almost 4 years later regarding the still-current Owners and Directors Test.

An open letter from the trust board dated 01 April 2019 summarises the situation at that time, some 5 weeks before BWFC was placed into administration. The letter can be viewed here.

During this period, the BWFCST were effectively powerless to actually prevent the club owner, Ken Anderson, driving BWFC towards the cliff-edge. And despite attempts to encourage those who could actually do something (EFL please stand-up and be counted), all the trust could do, along with all other BWFC fans worldwide, was to watch by in a state of despair.

Administration and Football Ventures (Whites) Current Ownership

As all BWFC fans are well aware, the club was ultimately placed into administration with Paul Appleton and Asher Miller (both of David Rubin & Partners) being appointed as joint administrators on 13 May 2019.

In accordance with EFL regulations, the trust entered into dialogue with the administrators and were in the process of developing a community-based proposal for acquisition of the club. Contrary to some reports at the time, this would not have resulted in a fan-owned club, but would have brought about a stake in the club for the BWFC supporters and had a major community focus. As is the right of the administrator, he chose to name Football Ventures (Whites) Ltd as the preferred bidder and proceeded to move forward under exclusivity towards exit from administration. This process was far from straightforward though, as the situation regarding Bolton Whites Hotel being under the control of a separate administrator caused problems.

After several months of uncertainty, player strikes and the famous home game against Coventry City on 10 Aug 2019, Football Ventures (Whites) brought the club and the hotel out of administration and commenced their difficult task of stopping the slide and turning around the steady decline that started under Eddie Davies and continued under Ken Anderson.

Since the appointment of Neil Hart as CEO in July 2021, the relationship between the club and the trust is more stable and productive than it has been since our formation in Jan 2016.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Aug ’21 and we continue regular meetings with the club when the trust is consulted on various subjects including season ticket pricing, establishment of a new Fanzone and the ongoing situation of fan behaviour, stewarding and policing. Add in the Trust Affiliate programme and fans voices are now being heard by the club for the first time in many years.

The last 12 months - a look back at 2023

As we approach the end of another eventful year in the life of BWFC, let’s have a quick look back at 2023.

Last season’s experiences ranged from the brilliant day at Wembley, winning the Papa Johns Trophy with a complete team performance, to the disappointment of missing out in the play-off semi-finals. We hope to go one better this season, finishing the year in an automatic promotion place - fingers crossed and things are looking positive!

The mid-year Wanderers Bond issue, raising in excess of £4.5m to fund both on and off field developments, is a testament to the support that Football Ventures now have in moving our club onto the next phase. Major refurbishment of many areas of the ground is evidence of the use of some of the bond fund raise and we are aware that further improvements are being planned for the Lostock training facility.

With our renewal of the Asset of Community Value (ACV) listing in December ’22, which did receive full support from the club, our stadium now has protection for the supporters and the community until 2027. And what an asset it is! Those who attended the amazing P!NK concerts in June will testify to that fact!

Supporters’ Trust involvement on behalf of members and the greater BWFC fan base has never been more evident and positive. From voting on next season’s kit again and renewal of the free primary schools family season ticket, then the amazing improvements on the disabled facilities, including Changing Place facility and imminent Audio Descriptive Commentary, through to the fantastic Evening with the European Whites (organised by ourselves), you can see the influence YOUR Supporters’ Trust now has in OUR club.

BWFCST Affiliates also continue to grow in numbers, with BWFC USA and West Country Wanderers having joined during the last 12 months. With the impending Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) which will likely involve the introduction of Fan Advisory Boards, the growing relationship between trust and affiliates has never been more important. Get in touch for a chat if you feel any BWFC group in which you are involved would be interested in learning more about interaction and engagement as a trust affiliate.

The continuing optimism about BWFC and the Bolton community confirms that the journey is now proceeding in the right direction. For that, we thank Sharon Brittan and her board.

And as a Supporters’ Trust, we look forward to a brighter future for the club and would encourage all BWFC fans, wherever in the world you may be located, to join the trust and help our connection with the club to grow even stronger – all for the equivalent of 20p per week. Please use the link below to join or call in and see us in the Fanzone on New Year’s Day.

You can join here now – let’s do this together!

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Bolton Wanderers Supporters' Trust

Toughsheet Community Stadium, Burnden Way, Bolton BL6 6JW
Bolton Wanderers Supporters Society Limited: FCA Registration Number 7270

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