NOT that long ago, it was claimed by former manager Owen Coyle that Burnley were a decade behind Bolton Wanderers as he substantiated his decision to leave Turf Moor.

At the time, the sentiment did not feel completely out of place. The Clarets were new to the Premier League scene whereas the Whites had been there for more than a decade.

But Bolton’s sharp decline thereafter, coupled with Burnley’s own progression into a solid and reliable member of the top flight meant Coyle’s words did not age well.

Having hit rock bottom – the product of years of neglectful ownership and a particularly harrowing administration – Wanderers are now building again. And Football Ventures have turned towards East Lancashire for ideas by appointing the former Burnley CEO Neil Hart as their man on the ground at the UniBol.

Hart’s background as the head of the Clarets’ successful community arm made him the ideal candidate to carry though Bolton’s new owners’ pledge to embrace the town and supporters once again. And he believes he can bring to Wanderers a skillset that can get them operating in a similarly efficient manner as his former club.

“I was at Burnley for seven years and headed up Burnley FC in the Community there and rebuilt that into a significant part of the club then took office there in early 2020,” Hart explained.

“Being around that environment – a high-performance, well-operated Premiership football club, and I think this is their sixth successive season now, stands me in good stead.

“I learned an awful lot, feel very confident and capable, and all of it I can bring here and share with the staff to help support and take this club forward.

“How we need to be structured, how we operate, I think we need to run efficiently and pragmatically from a financial point of view and be built on strong financial foundations. That has clearly been lacking at this football club – not since Football Ventures have taken over – but that is fundamental. If we can’t get our financial framework right as a football club then we fall over.

“You look where I came from, and that is a model of how you get that right. You are debt free, trade at a minimum break-even level, more often than not a profit. You invest accordingly and spent money pragmatically, you plan strategically and everyone is clear on how we operate. That type of philosophy is what I will bring to this football club and it is actually very simple, it is not rocket science. You don’t spend more than what is coming through the door and make sure you have a very capable group of people who can bring in as much revenue from the business as possible.

“You can trade from a player point of view. Yes, you do need investment there but there are also plenty of clubs up and down the land which manage that trade very effectively. I could rattle off five or six clubs now – and I think we can do it here. Why not?”

Wanderers announced today that a community fun day will be held on Sunday, July 25, in what will be the first chance fans have to walk into the UniBol since February 29, 2020.

Football Ventures have beat the drum for fan engagement since they bought the club out of administration nearly two years ago but a pandemic has limited what they could successfully achieve. Now, Hart sees the relaxation of government guidelines on Covid-19 as a green light for the club to win back some supporters’ hearts and minds.

“You need communication and physical engagement, and obviously the pandemic has caused issues with that, it hasn’t helped, but I have been saying to the staff this week that we all have a role to play in that,” he said.

“It is all well and good putting something out on the website or on social media but how are we physically going to engage with the town, the stakeholders, the fans, community partners? It is about physically going out to do that.

“What you will find is me, Sharon, Ian and the staff taking a very outward and proactive view on that. Once I get over the next few weeks I’ll be out in the community, businesses, having a lunch and a coffee with people. It’s about rebuilding some of those bridges.

“I think some of the supporters and stakeholders we have already talked to get that, they get that there have been tough times, that Football Ventures came in – led by Sharon – and saved the club. They have put it back on an even keel, though there are still some challenges there.

“It feels like a new start. Ian has been here a year, I’ve just come in, so it really is a fresh start for Bolton Wanderers.

“We have almost pressed the restart button and that is why we get the chance to do the whole re-engagement piece. I am committed to doing that and I will make the time to do it.”