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Everything Bolton Wanderers chairman Sharon Brittan said to the select committee

Chairman Sharon Brittan with Bolton Wanderers CEO Neil Hart <i>(Image: Camerasport)</i>
Chairman Sharon Brittan with Bolton Wanderers CEO Neil Hart (Image: Camerasport)

SHARON Brittan came out fighting on behalf of the EFL after being quizzed at Parliament yesterday by a select committee.

The Bolton Wanderers owner spoke frankly about the financial challenges facing her club as they go for promotion to the Championship this weekend in the play-off final against Oxford United.

And she branded the Premier League “greedy” for breaking off talks about a new distribution deal, and casting dispersions on the incoming independent regulator for English football.

Here we have transcribed what Ms Brittan said to MPs on Tuesday.

Or, if you would rather listen to the debate, please press play on the graphic below.

“I came into football five years ago for two reasons – one because I love the game, and two because I wanted a platform to do good.

“Having worked in industry I wanted to come into football and run a club the way I work in business, and that is with the right people in the right way doing an honest, transparent, coming together as a team, knowing what an impact that would have on the community.

“When I walked into Bolton Wanderers in 2019, I cannot explain the pitiful situation that I walked into having had a previous owner – I can’t even say the club was on its knees, because it was beyond that. There were staff who hadn’t been paid, they were eating from foodbanks, people hadn’t paid their mortgages, they hadn’t paid their rent. I do a lot of work in mental health and people’s wellbeing was beyond catastrophic.

“I have seen first hand the impact of having the wrong owners at football clubs and the effect that has on the community. I cannot stress enough, and I have worked with Rick Parry over the last five years, the owners fit and proper persons test has to be stringent.

“Football in the UK changes people’s lives. We have the ability as owners of these football clubs to make change, to give people hope.

“More so than ever now, since I came into the club, people are having very difficult lives. And it is not just about money or what we have to pay for salaries, it is about the impact that the whole football pyramid has, which is why the distribution has to be fair.

“It has to be fair for us, as owners, to get the opportunity to continue the work we are doing. I still go into Bolton on a Saturday afternoon and have grown men crying to me, saying ‘you saved our football club. God, my family and you are up there with what you have done.’ “And it isn’t just 300,000 people in Bolton, there is a wider impact than that because as a good owner, you work with another good owner to make sure that extends out further.

“The way the Premier League are working – and I am sorry for being outspoken – but I work in an honest and transparent way with a good, clean heart. People need to do the right things.

“This is a pyramid, it’s not just the Premier League. It is the Premier League, the EFL and the National League, and I think it is a travesty that it has got to this stage, where all you, good, hard-working people are having to be involved and spend your time dealing with this when the football authorities have been unable to resolve it themselves.

“Sorry to go on… But I have been at the heart of it for five years and I am passionate about where it is going.

“The pressure has got higher and higher in terms of what we have to spend. But Bolton is a big club, I love sporting jeopardy, I think the pyramid is absolutely brilliant. Promotion, relegation, it all adds to the excitement. Better financial redistribution will make a difference to every single club, regardless of size.”

What would you like to see changed in the current bill?

“All I would like the bill to do is the right thing. It isn’t even complex.

“That is what baffles me, it is all relatively simple.

“I have five original investors at Bolton Wanderers who have bought into this journey and done incredible things and supported me as the chairman all the way. If we get promoted on Saturday and everyone said it was incredible, marvellous, wonderful, we move into a world where it isn’t a competition anymore. How can we compete with the clubs that have come down from the Premier League and had parachute payments?

“I am hugely respectful of money, so am I to go back to our investors and say: ‘We need £20milion a season, not even to be competitive.’ The chances are the three that come down go back up again if you look at the last few years.

“I want to go higher up the pyramid because the higher up I go, the more good I can do for this country, the more impact I can have, the more I can help people who are less fortunate and who need help.

“I have to be responsible to my investors, I have to be responsible to the fans who if we are not competitive will not be happy.

“When I moved into Bolton the fanbase was over – but we now get 25,000 coming to home games. You can see the impact of running a club properly and where that gets you to.

“But my dilemma is ‘do we continue in the Championship when we know it will cost £20m a year? That £20m could be put to doing other really good things.

“I have to be a responsible human being as ask if I want to take that risk every year but it is impossible to take that next step.

“I am a custodian of this club, that is really clear, it is owned by the fans. And to keep fans happy is a full-time job.

“I have the trust of the fans, I work with them, I am there day-to-day, Saturday afternoon. I think British owners understand English football. I was brought up in English football from zero to now and we are losing that as well – even if it a different conversation.

What challenges do you face as football club owners and how could the bill help?

“All I would like the bill to do is the right thing. It isn’t even complex.

“That is what baffles me, it is all relatively simple.

“I have five original investors at Bolton Wanderers who have bought into this journey and done incredible things and supported me as the chairman all the way. If we get promoted on Saturday and everyone said it was incredible, marvellous, wonderful, we move into a world where it isn’t a competition anymore. How can we compete with the clubs that have come down from the Premier League and had parachute payments?

“I am hugely respectful of money, so am I to go back to our investors and say: ‘We need £20milion a season, not even to be competitive.’ The chances are the three that come down go back up again if you look at the last few years.

“I want to go higher up the pyramid because the higher up I go, the more good I can do for this country, the more impact I can have, the more I can help people who are less fortunate and who need help.

“I have to be responsible to my investors, I have to be responsible to the fans who if we are not competitive will not be happy.

“When I moved into Bolton the fanbase was over – but we now get 25,000 coming to home games. You can see the impact of running a club properly and where that gets you to.

“But my dilemma is ‘do we continue in the Championship when we know it will cost £20m a year? That £20m could be put to doing other really good things.

“I have to be a responsible human being as ask if I want to take that risk every year but it is impossible to take that next step.

“I have to behave as a responsible human being and it is whether I can go to my investors and say ‘would you like to commit £20m a year, and the reality of it is that you’ll probably fail.’ “I want to be progressive every season. That gives me a bigger platform to do good. But because of the parachute payments in the Championship it makes it almost impossible.

Have you encountered a culture shock in football after working in business?

“Generally in football it can be a non-trusting environment. I have a manager which has stayed with me for three years and has turned down three jobs in the Championship which would have given him three times his salary, I have a CEO that has stayed with me for three-and-a-half years, I have built a team of trusted people because we are working in a culture that everyone has brought into on the journey where this football club is going.

“You can see after five years that we are different how we work at Bolton and if more clubs worked in that way I am absolutely positive it would enhance the economy and the lives of 65 million people who live in this country and beyond. I’m sort of on a mission.”

Do you think a regulator could have helped avoid the problems Bolton encountered in the past?

“Football has a habit of bringing semi-maniac type of people to the table, or has had a habit of doing that. It is driven by ego.

“In those situations, that is down to the fit and proper persons’ test. A previous owner at Bolton, who was a very good man, spent £180m, and a huge amount of that was trying to get out of the Championship.

“I think if you have someone who is hell-bent and wants to spend, I don’t know if you can actually stop that.

“People go in to own football clubs for the wrong reasons and that is why you need people who go into club with the right intentions. The responsibility that goes with running these clubs is enormous. I’d ask any of you to come to Bolton Wanderers and see what we have created – but the work that goes into that, it’s non-stop, every day, and the stress, if you can’t handle stress then you should be nowhere near owning a football club.”

What do you make of the ‘unintended consequences’ eluded to by Richard Masters and the Premier League?

“I like to look at both sides of the story, from the EFL and from the Premier League side, and I don’t understand ‘unintended consequences’ I can’t even work out what he is referring to.

“Unless I am missing something, I can understand the EFL’s arguments very clearly but from the Premier League’s point of view nothing has been presented to me so far that I have thought ‘do you know what, that makes sense.’ “I think they have conducted themselves poorly, presented themselves in the right way, I think they are arrogant and think they are an island on their own, forgetting that 14 of the clubs in the Premier League come from the EFL.

“To illustrate how the Premier League does work together, we loaned two players over the last couple of seasons, James Trafford and Conor Bradley, and both went back to their respective clubs absolutely flying, and talking about their time at Bolton Wanderers.

“I could bring players in here now who will say they have never worked in a culture like this. People need to work in the right culture to bring the best out of them.

“Unintended consequences? I’d love to sit down with Richard and have him explain to me what that means. They are just words. There is no substance behind the words, no argument behind the words. I haven’t come across yet a cohesive argument where I could say ‘OK, that’s a fair point.’ “We all know the numbers, and in my opinion this is back to greed, envy, jealousy, and thinking about me, myself and I.

“I cannot comprehend how someone can view this through that lens when we are a football pyramid, and what we do as custodians affects this county and beyond. We should be cherishing what we have here.”

Would the Football Governance Bill stop ‘bad owners?’

“Even in the five years I have been involved there are better owners coming into the game because the EFL have changed the rules.

“You can’t have a bankrupt owner or someone who has been struck off. The rules are much more stringent but the problem we have – I don’t like talking about numbers, but over five years we have put a huge amount of money into the club, and any sensible business person probably wouldn’t do that. They would look at it and say it doesn’t make any financial sense.

“The Premier League have allowed 13 of our precious 20 clubs to be owned by Americans. It needs just one more and they have the vote. How has that been allowed to happen?

“The Premier League stop FA Cup replays without consulting us. How has that been allowed to happen?

“The Premier League is not fit for purpose, in my opinion.”

Ian Mather (Cambridge United director): “Real-time monitoring would have been really helpful. A lot of the problems we have seen, and Bury was a really good example, you look back over time and thought ‘well that wasn’t very good, in fact that was terrible.’ But it was years ago.

“The ability to look at things in real time is really important.

“I know one of the criticisms of that is it will be an expensive item for small clubs, but can I say as a small club – our turnover is £7m – and to put that into perspective, Erling Haaland earns £7m in about eight weeks.

“Nothing in this bill causes me any trouble at all, form-filling or submitting accounts. If you want to see them they might be four weeks out of date but that is as much as you’ll get.

“Cashflow forecast, cashflow profit and loss done every month, a business plan, it is all done. I wouldn’t buy the argument that this is all cumbersome and difficult.

“I think that sort of monitoring would have prevented situations at Bolton, Bury and Derby and I could list a lot of other clubs.”

If the Championship is ‘impossible’ how do you explain the success of Luton and Ipswich?

“I am looking to get longevity and success. I am not looking to bounce around the pyramid. I think to get longevity and success, you have to create a culture that people buy into, so that people stay on the journey with you. So far it looks like we are doing that but we’ll see.

“There are so many unscrupulous things happening in football, let’s try to remove them so that we can enjoy the game, the jeopardy.”