IAN HERBERT: Wigan facing ruin, Bolton sinking fast, Bury bust and Burnley at a crossroads as Sean Dyche’s request for squad investment falls upon deaf ears… How football has wilted in the county of the Red Rose
- Wigan entered administration this week in another blow for Lancastrian football
- Championship club won the FA Cup in 2013 but now find themselves in trouble
- Success is sustained for as long as local owners are interested then rot sets in
- Bolton have fallen from the Premier League to League Two in just a few years
- Burnley face unsettling times with Sean Dyche asking the board for investment
The evidence of the old Premier League days is everywhere at Wigan Athletic, killing the place by a thousand cuts with reminders of how far you can fall in football and how fast.
Each time the players push through the green swing doors to their dressing room, they see the giant mural of their 2013 FA Cup triumph on the wall.
But there is a pattern of decline where the clubs within the old Lancashire county boundaries are concerned.
Wigan’s FA Cup triumph of 2013 seems a distant dream after the Latics entered administration
Dave Whelan parades the FA Cup after their 2013 triumph during happier times for Wigan
Reminders of the club’s glory years can be found everywhere at Wigan’s DW Stadium
Success delivered by a local owner with a passion for the place – for Whelan and Wigan, read Jack Walker at Blackburn and Eddie Davies for Bolton – is hard to sustain when those individuals decide enough is enough.
The uncomfortable truth is that the former mill towns simply don’t attract credible takeover candidates in the way that those in the Greater London conurbation do.
Blackburn wound up with Venky’s, who saw fit to sack Sam Allardyce, dispense with the wise counsel of chief executive John Williams and… well, take your pick of the public embarrassments which followed. Paying out £7.5m on players who never kicked a ball probably topped the lot.
Bolton wound up with the reviled Ken Anderson. So your heart sank when, after Whelan was worn down having spent around £100m fighting Wigan’s battles, the phrase ‘unnamed Hong Kong group’ started circulating.
Former Premier League champions Blackburn ended up in the hands of an Indian poultry firm
Disgruntled fans even released a live chicken onto the pitch at Ewood Park back in 2012
Attendances were not even breaking 8,000 at the time. A mere 4,709 saw a giant-killing over Bournemouth in the Cup.
Worse has befallen others within the old Red Rose county boundaries. Blackpool’s civil war. Basket case Oldham. Bury, now bust.
Burnley have sailed serenely on – sticking resolutely to Sean Dyche when relegated in 2015 and spending so abstemiously that a marginal profit in each transfer market has become an article of faith.
But they, too, now stand at a crossroads. Dyche, not unreasonably, feels that his eight years of accomplishment at the club entitles him to significant squad investment from the board this summer and views the act of standing still as heading backwards amid the relentlessly shifting dynamics of the Premier League.
After a thoroughly miserable 2019-20 season, Bolton have been relegated to League Two
Ken Anderson took over Bolton amid financial strife but their decline only worsened
Anderson became a hate figure among Bolton fans as they dropped down the divisions
Burnley, whose entire spend this season has been £17.4m, play Sheffield United, whose comparable outlay has been £62m, this weekend.
Make no mistake about the private indignation the fixture brings for Dyche, as he watches Sander Berge (£19.3m) and Oli McBernie (£17m), who’ve arrived at Bramall Lane in the last year, run out at Turf Moor.
There is no sense of what transfer funds will be available to him this summer and how he might plan for another campaign in which far more moneyed clubs than Burnley – Leeds and West Bromwich Albion – will see the ground shift again.
Swirling around in the background – and the reason why no commitments have been made – is the suggestion that Burnley will be sold to a Middle East buyer this summer and that how the future looks will be dependent on whoever that buyer might be.
Bury have already gone bust – the League One club were expelled from the league last year
Distraught Bury fans outside their Gigg Lane ground after the Shakers went bust last August
‘Middle East’ does not equate to ‘Gulf state’ if rumours are to be believed. But ‘Middle East’ of any description is actually deeply unwelcome.
Security means the club remaining in current hands, or at the very least still majority-owned by those individuals – Mike Garlick, Barry Kilby, Clive Holt, John Banaszkiewicz and others – who know the club top to bottom.
The model in many respects are Crystal Palace, defeated by Dyche’s side last weekend and now three places below them, whose chairman Steve Parish has settled on the manager, a relatively prosaic football method and found American investors, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, to help him develop the club in return for a large stake. The Palace core has not been lost.
Dyche’s imprint on Burnley is now absolute, in the way that Shankly’s was at Liverpool; Busby’s and Ferguson’s at Manchester United.
Sean Dyche has called for squad investment at Burnley but the board don’t want to listen
Dyche has established Burnley as a Premier League club but his time there could be at an end
Dyche with Burnley chairman Mike Garlick – there have been rumours of new owners
The walls of the club’s Gawthorpe Hall training facility, which he had a major role in creating, are adorned with murals of his motivational messages which have driven Burnley on.
Dismantling all that would leave the club’s world looking immeasurably poorer. It’s why anything less than a huge personal and financial commitment to him looks like folly.
The backlash against the board were Dyche to leave would, incidentally, be loud and long from fans, who have previously supported the cautious fiscal approach.
Dyche’s public expressions of frustration should give cause for that board seek him out, sit him down, rebuild a relationship, adhere to his plans and express contrition that it had actually come to this.
Time is of the essence. The football landscape of the old Lancashire demonstrates that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
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