WANDERERS could face playing behind closed doors until March if there is no improvement in the number of national coronavirus cases.

Boris Johnson announced yesterday that plans to bring fans back into stadia next month had now been postponed indefinitely until the virus could be brought under control.

In the worst-case scenario, restrictions could remain in place until March, which could place into jeopardy the financial security of clubs at every level of the game.

The Premier League claimed yesterday that its clubs lost £700million last season and that professional football is currently haemorrhaging around £100m a month.

The effects will be felt most acutely in the lower leagues, where the lobbying has already begun for government assistance to prevent some clubs from going bust.

Wanderers knew the rise in local cases would most likely delay their attempts to phase some 8,000 season ticket holders back into the University of Bolton Stadium but extensive planning had been done on how numbers would be managed and how social distance measures would be implemented.

The club’s owners, Football Ventures, have yet to express a view on how the latest announcement will impinge upon their own financial planning but concerns yesterday among fans were hard to ignore.

“Today’s announcement by the government delaying the return of supporters to grounds is very concerning for football in general and for each and every club,” said a statement from the Bolton Wanderers Supporters’ Trust. “And especially in the lower leagues where gate receipts are critical to sustainability.

“BWFCST will be looking to engage with the club to discuss all aspects of this latest setback and what can be done.”

More than 8,000 fans purchased season tickets knowing there could be some delay in returning to see their team live – but the prospect of missing almost all Wanderers’ games raises a question about compensation.

The money generated by season tickets have helped avoid immediate issues, as has the healthy uptake of streaming passes, which it is estimated could raise more than £300,000 for Wanderers this season if travelling supporters are not alllowed back in.

Currently, all home games are streamed live via iFolllow, and season ticket holders access them using a free code. Many more fans are also choosing to pay individually for games at £10 a time.

One positive side-effect of games being exclusively streamed is that a large number of iFollow passes are being purchased for away games – with more than 2,200 sold for the recent trip to Colchester United, bringing in more than £14,000 in revenue to the club.


It is difficult to forecast exactly what Wanderers' wage budget will be this season, even though League Two clubs have been capped at £1.5million a year. 

Some of their bigger names - such as Eoin Doyle, Antoni Sarcevic and Ali Crawford - were signed before the cap came into place and so their salary is only counted as the divisional average. In reality, it is likely to be higher.

That means forecasting what sort of shortfall the Whites are facing is also a matter of guesswork at this stage. But the loyalty shown by the fanbase in recent months will have softened the financial blow to some degree.

Elsewhere in the divison, smaller fanbases and turnovers mean the situation may be more desperate.

Several pilot tests were held last weekend and hailed a success by those involved. The position now taken by the government has been described as “contradictory” by Forest Green chairman, Dale Vince, who saw 1,000 visit his club’s game against Bradford City.


“It was the most regulated, safest environment I’ve been in since lockdown began in March,” he said.

“It was incredible and far safer than being in a shop, on a high street, in a pub, or even going to school.

“So if you look behind the headline impression (of rising cases), it is contradictory that you can still have pubs, you can still have schools, and retail, but we can’t very tightly, very well-controlled sports games with fans.”

Below League Two, the National League will hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss their next move, with the likelihood being that the start of their season in all three divisions will be pushed back from the start of October.

As the league falls into the ‘elite sport’ bracket, clubs will not be able to open their gates to supporters under the current restrictions.

It is feared that some team could pull out of the competition as they will be unable to fund existing contracts without gate receipts.

Below the National League, fans will still be allowed to enter grounds, which is good news for local clubs such as Atherton Colls, Atherton LR, Daisy Hill, Bury AFC and Radcliffe.