FOR Bolton Wanderers, the prospect of un-pausing the League One season is as uncomfortable as it is costly.

Following months of grandstanding, chest-beating, self-serving statements from around the division, we might just know by this time next week whether the Whites will be asked to play out a sad relegation to League Two in front of the cameras, on a pitch, rather than in theory, on a calculator.

With no prescribed rules in place for the chaos this pandemic has wrought on football, the EFL has to first get its members to vote how to end the season, before asking the same clubs whether they actually will.

It has taken 11 weeks from when Bolton last kicked a football in anger to reach this stage. And it is fair to say that frustrations have flared regularly during that time.

The club is desperate for direction, having effectively placed their whole football operation on the shelf, suspecting they may not need many of them again.

Staff have also been furloughed, some of whom are concerned what the future might hold.

Though owners Football Ventures have stated they remain “fully committed” to funding the club and hotel, providing some aspect of security for those looking to the future, the possibility that football might start up again presents a whole new set of questions to be answered.

A poll conducted by The Bolton News at the weekend asked 23 local reporters how they felt their respective clubs would respond in the upcoming EFL vote. It found that nine clubs were in favour of continuing the season, 11 were not, and three were undecided.

It has been reported at various stages of the lockdown that League One’s destiny was to be packed away and put into hibernation until September at the earliest but the narrow margins reflected in the poll suggest the matter is not necessarily cut and dry.

The Premier League and Championship are moving towards resumption, having tackled the thorny issue of testing for COVID-19 and – thus far – avoiding any major catastrophes.

Football Ventures said at the start of this month: “Our focus is the safety of our staff and supporters and we would therefore only support a ‘return to play’ if protocols can be put in place, and adhered to, which ensure everyone’s health is not compromised and there is no additional strain placed on the emergency services.”

When the statement was compiled the likelihood of that happening appeared remote.

Yet if the vote were to veer slightly in the direction of a restart in the next few days, the EFL may have to reveal how they plan to stage 107 remaining games, including play-offs.

Bolton, for example, face trips to Southend, Ipswich and Oxford, this in a country which has just flipped its lid over a government advisor driving from London to Durham with his kids.

Wanderers were asked to plan for the eventuality of the season being completed and confirmed to The Bolton News in April that blueprints have been drawn up to play games with fewer than 100 staff in the UniBol.

Using the EFL guidelines released recently, they have mapped out how players could be phased back into training and explored how games played behind closed doors could be relayed back to supporters.

All that preparation has been done in theory. The reality, however, is that a squad of 20-odd professionals, scholars, a manager, and his assistant might not be as easy to ‘reactivate’ as all that.

It is well documented that Wanderers have a large number of players who are out of contract – more, in fact, than any other team in division.

Adam Senior, Matt Alexander, Callum King-Harmes and Sonny Graham have deservedly given professional deals, bringing to total confirmed quota for 2020/21 to 11, if you include George Thomasson, who spent the end of last season playing for Bamber Bridge.

Contracts expire on June 30 and some in the game have debated that players could be asked to play into July – this presumably on the proviso that they have not already agreed to play elsewhere next season.

Ronan Darcy, for example, has been in contract discussion with Bolton for several months. Sources at the club say the talks are continuing – but if the button were to be pushed before a deal was agreed, could he realistically be asked to risk injury by playing again?

Wanderers went into the season with only a handful of senior players, leaning heavily on their scholars and having the integrity of the competition brought into question by the teams around them. That hit a crisis point when they were forced to abandon a game against Doncaster Rovers – a decision which means they still have a five-point deduction hanging over their head.

Could it be that nine months on, the Whites and other clubs are forced into similarly drastic measures if the season is restarted without the resources to complete it?

For Bolton, the situation is further complicated in the dugout. Though the term of Keith Hill and David Flitcroft’s contract was never officially divulged by the club, it is understood it will be up for review at the end of next month.

Before the lockdown, Hill had faced hard questions over his position and indicated he was unhappy with some of the “politics” which had become evident at the club since the turn of the year.

Indeed, the influence of ex-Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon on the club’s ownership and the instalment of Tobias Phoenix as head of football operations were in contrast to the direction the club had been heading.

Hill’s displeasure was hard to miss. Under normal circumstances he may have expected to see out the season and then discuss his future – but the lockdown has put both he and Flitcroft into an unhappy limbo.

Prior to the season being put on hold, Wanderers had actually shown some signs of stability, drawing three consecutive games. For those seeking optimistic stats, the Whites are presently undefeated in 92 days.

Hill had described talk of his departure as “unfair” and said he still viewed Wanderers as a long-term project.

“There seems to be a lot of debates around my future at the football club, which I think is a bit crass,” he said at the end of February.

“My remit shouldn’t have changed. I previously mentioned some time ago that I shouldn’t be seen as the fall guy for what has happened at this club. I wouldn’t want to be thrown under the bus.”

Hill, Flitcroft and the rest of the Bolton first team have had little opportunity to voice their preferences during the lockdown – with a blanket ‘no’ given to media requests for interviews since club captain Jason Lowe last spoke to this newspaper in early April.

Players were given training plans, as they would be in any off-season, but the sense of isolation has been tough for some, with dialogue limited.

Wanderers have opted to sit tight, keep public communication to a minimum and hope for a swift resolution. Sadly, it has taken much longer for the EFL to get this unprecedented process to this stage than any of us thought possible.

Costs involved in taking staff out of furlough, preserving a squad for the remaining 10 games, COVID-19 testing, plus the normal sundries will be tougher to handle with no money coming in for gate receipts.

Wanderers have made no public predictions on what it could cost to start again – but using divisional rivals Doncaster Rovers as a benchmark, they estimate the bill to be around £500,000.

Whereas the outlay may be rationalised for clubs seeking promotion, like Peterborough, or those seeking to stay in the division, like Tranmere, it is harder to substantiate for those like Wanderers who know what their fate will be.

The club has stated that it would bide by the wishes of the EFL – however inconvenient they may prove to be – but the truth is, they would much rather next week’s vote find in favour of ending the season, confirming their relegation.