HM Revenue and Customs has issued a winding-up petition against Bolton – the sixth in less than 18 months – as it seeks to reclaim more than £1 million in debts.
Eight points adrift of safety in the Championship with eight games of the season remaining, Phil Parkinsons side are staring at relegation to League One for the second time in four seasons.
Liquidation would see the company effectively closed and contracts cancelled, whereas administration would incur a 12-point penalty from the EFL – effectively ensuring relegation to League One – but is a more costly process and would need to be funded.
But there is a much more serious fight for survival taking place off the pitch as Bolton bid to avoid becoming the first professional club in England to enter administration since Coventry City six years ago.
The prospect of liquidation is considered unlikely but, under Football League rules, administration would mean an automatic 12-point deduction, which would effectively consign Bolton to the third tier and raise fresh doubts over their long-term future.
In previous battles with HMRC, Bolton have managed either to settle their outstanding debts at the 11th hour or secure adjournments granting them additional time.
Ken Anderson, Boltons unpopular owner, had hoped to sell the club to the Football Ventures (Whites) consortium, led by Parminder Basran and Sharon Brittan, but talks broke down last week.
Bolton confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that negotiations with one of the interested parties – understood to be the Whites consortium – had been mutually terminated, although the club said it could also confirm that discussions are ongoing with other parties.
It remains to be seen if a prospective takeover by the Whites consortium can be revived depending on the outcome of the High Court hearing, which comes against a backdrop of chaos behind the scenes and a glut of other financial problems.
Boltons players and coaching staff were a fortnight late being paid their wages for February and this months game against Millwall came close to being postponed amid a threat to withdraw the clubs safety certificate at the University of Bolton Stadium over unpaid money to match-day stewards and safety staff. That followed the closure for a day of Boltons Lostock training ground because there was no food or drink available.
Antipathy and anger among supporters erupted into violence on Saturday when Bolton fans clashed with police at the DW Stadium during a 5-2 hammering by Wigan Athletic, Boltons 10th defeat in 13 league matches since the turn of the year. It is understood Anderson – who lives in Monaco – has not attended a game since November and has apparently been advised to stay away by police.
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There is now concern among players and staff about whether they will be paid this months wages on time. Players and coaching staff have been texting associates and reporters for updates on the clubs situation, with several complaining about being left completely in the dark.
Boltons financial concerns extend far beyond just the HMRC case. A £5m bridging loan provided by Eddie Davies, Boltons former owner, days before his death in September to settle a debt with an Essex-based finance company, BluMarble, was due for repayment this month.
Forest Green Rovers, the League Two club, have confirmed they have initiated legal proceedings in relation to the collapse of striker Christian Doidges proposed move to the Championship side in January.
Several clubs are understood to still be awaiting money related to loan fees from Bolton, including Everton for defender Callum Connolly and midfielder Joe Williams, Norwich City for forward Yanic Wildschut and Birmingham City for defender Jonathan Grounds.
So much has happened since, and yet it can be argued that the threat to the club’s future as they defend a sixth winding-up petition in 16 months this morning is greater than ever before.
Stellar Group – one of the countrys biggest football agencies – is believed to still be pursuing Bolton for unpaid agent and advisory fees it says are owed.
Brett Warburton, the former Bolton vice-chairman, is owed £2.5 million, with his loan secured against land owned by the club, and another businessman, Michael James, is owed a substantial seven-figure sum.
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Bolton have been approached for comment in relation to the HMRC court hearing and repayment of the £5m loan to the Davies trustees.
Bolton Wanderers have confirmed takeover talks with an interested party have been mutually terminated on the eve of the clubs High Court hearing.
Owner Ken Anderson was previously understood to be in negotiations with the Football Ventures consortium.
Football Ventures, headed by Parminder Basran and Sharon Brittan, reportedly halted their discussions on Friday.
Last month Bolton said an “agreement in principle” had been reached for Anderson to sell the club to the consortium, but it is now unknown if a deal will happen.
It has been a season of turmoil both on and off the field for Wanderers with players and staff receiving Februarys wages late.
Their league game against Millwall on 9 March was only cleared to go ahead three days before because of concerns over sufficient stewarding.
Bolton are 23rd in the Championship and eight points adrift of safety with eight games remaining this season.
A winding-up petition is a legal notice put forward to court by a creditor. The creditor can issue the petition if they are owed over £750 and it has not been paid for more than 21 days.