THE sad sight of rows of empty seats in Saturday’s FA Cup victory against Walsall tempered John McGinlay’s delight in a competition which treated him well.

White Hot nights at Anfield and Goodison felt like a lifetime away for the Scot when he watched from the press box as Phil Parkinson’s side booked themselves a trip to Bristol City in round four with a 5-2 victory.

As dramatic as the second half proved, it paled in comparison to the gripping story which has been gradually unfolding at Wanderers for some time now, one that McGinlay feels is now in its final chapter.

The crowd of 5,506 was a post-war low for a third round game and perhaps an indication of the growing distance between the football club and its supporters.

“I have never known morale to be this low,” McGinlay told The Bolton News.

“You had just over 4,000 home fans – what a statement that was. That’s the worst I think I have ever seen it.

“Normally you can bank on 10,000 core support but you look around at the empty seats and it just breaks your heart. And the thing is, it could get worse.”

Within 48 hours of the final whistle, as fans should have been eagerly anticipating the draw, they were instead digesting news of Christian Doidge’s return to Forest Green Rovers and an unprecedented condemnation by the League Two club’s chairman, Dale Vince, of Wanderers’ behaviour in the deal to sign the striker.

That was followed by more breaking news that a six-figure fee was owed to Norwich City and a winding-up petition from HMRC to the club’s hotel.

Ken Anderson broke his near-month-long silence with a fierce outburst on the official website at 10pm on Monday night – the aftermath of which has left McGinlay in no doubt that the owner/chairman has lost the majority of support among the club’s supporters.

“There’s no way back for him, none whatsoever,” he said. “This is a founder member of the Football League and yet who would trust us after all that?

“There’s sparks between clubs behind the scenes all the time but what we saw with Forest Green on Monday, that’s unheard of,” he said. “A respected chairman putting all that out there. It’s incredible.

“Not paying Forest Green, not paying Norwich… If you are a club and we want your player you’d want every penny up front.

“Local businesses and suppliers have been ripped apart because they are not getting paid, or everything is the last possible second.

“People in this town will always be in love with the club but I think they have fallen out of love with it at the moment.”

Anderson launched a defence of his record of paying staff and players but McGinlay feels uncertainty caused by headline-grabbing situations such as the one which left Doidge, Remi Matthews and Gary O’Neil unable to play against Walsall resonates right throughout the club.

“I just feel so sorry for the people who work there because the majority of them are there because it’s their team. They will do anything for it,” said the former Scotland international striker, who is one of only 13 players in history to have scored more than 100 goals for the club.

“People see what is happening and they are genuinely concerned about whether their pay is going to in their accounts every month. And when it is, there are worried about the next one. When something like that happens, it affects everyone.

“I don’t think people at the top know what sort of disruption gets caused. Remi Matthews’ wife quit her job to come up north, Doidge was planning to be up here long-term, buying a house, this kind of thing is messing with people’s lives.”

Anderson defended his efforts to sell Wanderers, pointing out the complicated and top-heavy wage structure and debt-laded club he bought into in March 2016 alongside Dean Holdsworth.

“I don’t think it’s an excuse,” McGinlay said. “He came into the club knowing what he was getting into.

“I’m sure the plan was to flip it for a profit. From the outside looking in, I think had he known how long this was going to take he probably wouldn’t have got involved.

“I think half the problem is that there is no affiliation there. He won’t be back at the club when he goes. There is no feel for the place.”

Anderson says no bidder has yet produced adequate proof of funds, claiming late last year that two bidders from the US and Asia had failed at the final hurdle. At that stage, reports had the club valued at £30million.

McGinlay has implored the chairman to double his efforts and find a satisfactory exit route.

“He’s got to lower his terms, that’s for sure,” he said.

“I think he’s got to sit down and see what he has put into the club, and left in the club, and then if someone came along with that offer – be realistic.

“There will be people out there willing to do business at that sort of level but if you are talking about £30milllion for this football club, then in my opinion, forget it.”

Fans groups have called for a protest before Wanderers’ home game against West Brom on January 21 – and McGinlay can understand why there has been a sea-change in attitude in recent weeks.

“I can understand it because I’m one of them,” he said. “Some people have been hanging on, hoping things will change, giving the benefit of doubt but since the weekend I really do think people have had enough.

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“Supporters have reached their end of their patience. You can only see this sort of thing a certain number of times, and it feels never-ending.

“There is no pride. And it filters through the town.

“When Bolton Wanderers are doing well, everyone is doing well. There is a buzz about the place. Business people walk about with their chest puffed out.

“And it is not like we’ve been in this position for years. We can all remember Premier League football but the club is sinking like a stone and you wonder how long it will be before we see that again?

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McGinlay has questioned whether the EFL should take a more proactive role in dealing with clubs who cannot fulfil their financial obligations.

“How is this being monitored – what are the league actually doing about it all?” he said.

“Are they hoping that things will change naturally, and that a deal will be done?

“It is getting worse week by week, like a runaway train without any brakes. But all they are offering is advice and guidelines. If clubs cannot afford to pay for their players then surely there is something wrong at the top?

“Everything has been mortgaged. I can’t see any players who are worth money in the squad, so what have we got? It’s a shell of a club right now. And it has all happened so quickly.

“I am just glad that the Supporters’ Trust got the ACV, which gives some protection to the stadium – because I really am concerned about where this is going.”