WANDERERS can not only reach the Championship but also be competitive, in the view of chief executive Neil Hart.

Exactly 100 days into the job, Hart believes the business has been strengthened by some key staffing additions and that its wounds are now healing after the years of financial neglect by previous ownership and a particularly savage spell in administration.

No longer the club in crisis, Bolton have taken back control of their own narrative and are looking to challenge for a top six spot under Ian Evatt this season.

Buoyed by the surge of goodwill from supporters and a solid start on the pitch, Hart is confident the club is in a good position to make another step back towards the Premier League under Football Ventures.

Speaking to The Bolton News, he assured there would be a financial and football structure in place which could cope with a return to the second tier.

“It is all about what you throw at it once you get into the Championship,” Hart said.

“We talk about ‘working smartly’ here all the time, can we be smarter? Can we go about things a different way?

“I am of the mindset that this club can get up to the Championship and invest in a pragmatic way and be sustainable as a business.

“Now that is not easy but the board and I believe it is doable.

“If Bolton were to get promoted this season, we would be ready to go into the Championship and be competitive. We are working on a number of things to make sure the business can cope with that additional expenditure.

“That work is already underway and will continue for the rest of the season. What will be, will be in the league, but Bolton Wanderers will be ready.”

Staffing levels at Wanderers declined significantly in the nine years since the club fell out of the Premier League, with 274 staff on the payroll in 2014, compared to 162 in the latest set of accounts, not including the Bolton Whites Hotel.

Redressing those balances has not been a simple task for Football Ventures since they took over in late summer 2019, and the rebuilding effort was understandably hampered by a global pandemic which stopped football in its tracks the following year.

The staff turnover has remained high in the last 12 months but Hart is now confident that with the business able to operate functionally and supporters back inside the stadium on a matchday, the structure is now relatively robust.

“There have been changes but one of the first things I said when I came in was that I wanted to bring that stability, and it is starting to get there,” he said. “The appointments we have made will add to that further.

“Steve Phillips coming in as chief finance officer and Mike Pink joining is from Crystal Palace as chief commercial officer are two very good additions to the senior management team here.

“We have beefing up the front line, getting lots of new staff in the marketing and design side, boosting the content. And Pete Oliver joining us as well in the communications side.

“We wanted good people who knew football because it is different to any other business. It is unique and has different challenges, so we needed people who ‘got that’. And also they need to understand Bolton as well, what this club means to the town and community.

“It is work in progress because we are not where we need to be on staffing and structure. We are still looking through that and layers to add before we get that right.”

There are a lot of new faces populating the corridors of the University of Bolton Stadium – not to mention those connected to the Crown Court, which will be renting rooms until March.

Hart’s own verdict is that new staff will enjoy working at Bolton Wanderers, thanks to the influence and ethos of Sharon Brittan and the club’s owners.

“We have made quite a lot of changes in a short space of time, but I think it is a mindset thing and having the right people on board who can hit the ground running,” he said. “That is critical whenever we are bringing anyone into the club.

“It is an obvious one but successful organisations are ones that have stability in their boardroom and in the senior executive positions and I feel like we will get that now.

“Everyone is committed, they know the journey ahead, and they have a sense of how we are going to do it.

“They understand the core values and the fact we are going to do it a little bit differently. That very much comes from Sharon on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, and the way she wants things to be done.

“It is very refreshing, actually. We are all – including myself – benefitting from working in it.

“They are different and that is what appealed to me coming here. They have an approach where what we do is built on trust. And we don’t just say that – it’s easy to say you have got values, you respect people – but we live and breathe it every day.

“From myself, the boardroom, staff, Ian, the players, we are all in this together. And that is very, very unique in football.

“I’d go as far to say that Sharon is the best chair that I have worked for, and with, because of her approach.”

Hart arrived at the club via a spell as chief executive at Burnley and was immediately faced with the challenge of bringing the UniBol back to life after more than 12 months without supporters.

Seeing it busy again – as it will no doubt be again this weekend for the visit of Wigan Athletic – has been the most rewarding part of his short time at the club.

“It has been but it has been enjoyable,” he said of his first 100 days. “In many ways it feels like I have been here longer, and I think that is with the pace we are getting things done,” he said.

“I think the biggest job has been getting fans back in – 15, 16, 20,000 supporters, so delivering those days successfully and safely has been the biggest achievement, collectively, and the preparation to make that happen was incredible.

“That is probably the most satisfying thing as well when you come in on a matchday and see all those fans in the stadium and how amazing they have been in buying tickets, season tickets, their engagement. That is the most successful thing I have seen over the last few months.”

Last season’s promotion from League Two, coupled with the timing of supporters’ return to stadia, ensured excellent season ticket sales in the summer.

It has also had a positive effect on the club’s commercial success, with plenty of work done over the last two years to re-engage with local businesses with whom relationships had faded in the darker days.

“I think it was good timing in terms of an opportunity,” he said of his own arrival in early July. “The promotion back into League One, winning momentum, and while we have some very good partners on board there is also an excellent opportunity to drive the commercial base of the club from a retail and sponsorship point of view. That is an exciting opportunity.

“I think this club has been healed to a great level but now we need to back that up by being a successful business, and successful on the pitch.

“We want this business to be sustainable and ensure the club is in a really positive position, financially, and we are certainly going down that road.”