Hero of the week: Phil Parkinson, captain of Bolton’s sinking ship

Date published: Friday 16th August 2019 10:55 - Ian Watson

Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny?
This week’s hero is the current manager of Bolton Wanderers, a club which has been struggling to survive in recent years and is currently in administration. A 51-year-old Lancastrian, craggy of features and granite jawed, he has had successful managerial career in the lower leagues with some notable achievements. As a player he turned out for just two clubs, playing for four years at Bury and 11 at Reading where he was twice named player of the year and helped them to promotion. He remains very much a club legend of that era, playing a pivotal role in midfield and turning out 506 times in his career.

When he retired in 2003, he managed Colchester United, Hull City, Charlton Athletic and Bradford City before taking over Bolton in 2016. It’s notable that, with the exception of Hull City, he racked up well over 100 games at each and 274 at Bradford over five years. He’s clearly not one for flitting from club to club and likes to see a job through if at all possible. Which leads us to Bolton.

He’s been the Wanderers manager since 2016, has got them a promotion, which was achieved against the odds to say the least. But the club is a financial basket case. Relegation last season took them into the third tier again, this time burdened with a 12-point deduction and in administration. No-one has been paid in months and playing staff are naturally bleeding away to find paid employment leaving our man with the task of keeping the ship afloat until a protracted sale is finally made good.

That’ll be Phil Parkinson, then.


What have they done to deserve this then?
The man usually known as Parky is simply an excellent lower league manager. That isn’t to damn him with faint praise. Operating down amongst the boondocks with almost no money to spend and running a club on goodwill and fumes is a talent all of its own. Having to bring up youth players, get others in on loans and temporary deals and yet keep team spirit and organisation together can’t be easy. You must surely need a mixture of bloody-minded determination and great man-management, along with some football management chops to even give yourself a chance. When it comes to this very specific skill set, Parky is the go-to man.

As Bradford manager, he took them, quite incredibly, to the 2013 League Cup Final. Indeed, he is the only manager to take an English fourth-tier league club to a major final. That is an incredible achievement in the modern era. He was also in charge for their 4-2 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the 4th Round of the FA Cup in 2015.

Other successes include getting promoted with Colchester United on a budget that would make ‘shoestring’ sound opulent. Did the same trick with Bradford City too. His time at Hull and Charlton was less successful but on taking up the reins at Bolton, even despite the fact that financially they were on the bare bones of their backside and a convoluted sale and takeover has driven everyone crazy, he did get them out of League One two years ago, achieved in spite of the club being under a transfer embargo and a wage cap. That takes a special skill. Even though they were relegated last year and given a 12 point deduction, he is refusing to walk away .

To say his patience has been tested would be something of an underestimate as Bolton head towards the edge of oblivion and sit alongside Bury at the bottom of the division, unable to pay players and with a potential takeover stalled in the courts.

Recent developments this week suggest there may soon be a resolution to all this wrangling, with new buyers set to step in following the lifting of an injunction which had been blocking the sale, but frankly, it would be a surprise to no-one if some other calamity was to occur. We don’t even know if the potential new owners, Football Ventures, are going to prove to be any good. Sometimes it seems as if the desire to buy a football club should in itself be a disqualification from doing so. The administrator has given then preferred status, but fans can be forgiven at least a hefty pinch of cynicism.

Phil is preparing for a game against Tranmere this weekend with just two senior players in the ranks. It must be an absolutely thankless task and only a man with a sense of duty and integrity would be prepared to stick it out.


Media reaction?
There’s much sympathy for Parky and for the Bolton fans. He’s rightly seen as doing the best he can in very tricky circumstances. It is, after all, an old and legendary English football club that is being kicked around like an unloved carrier bag.

Nigel Clough thinks the clubs need better financial support. “It’s very difficult but I think there’s enough money in football at the moment to look after everybody. I would look up for it. When there’s billion-pound TV deals and everything, I think the Football League should have just a little bit more. I think it’s been the lifeblood for many years in providing players for the Premier League and even the international team – you’ve got the likes of Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire. I think there’s an overall responsibility to try and look after those clubs.”

He’s right, of course, but when you’ve got, shall we say, poor quality people, in charge of failing clubs, who seemingly have no idea how to operate the business and instead seem to use it as a plaything with which to aggrandise themselves, then throwing more money into their hat will just lead to more trouble down the road.

What clubs need is better quality owners, fans that are realistic and understand that the most important thing is that the club continues and not a transfer which they can’t afford.


Anyone grumpy about it?
Parky himself for one.

“It’s up to the people behind the scenes to do their bit. No more messing about, get your heads together quickly and sort this mess out because everybody is absolutely sick and tired of it.”

The whole of the country’s football world is looking on at the Bolton situation with a mixture of horror and dismay, doubtless many feeling ‘there but for the grace of god…’ as lower league clubs continue to operate in a fiscally irresponsible manner, often to try and swim into the Premier League cash-rich ocean. Proof that the pernicious effect of the Premier League’s money-hoovering obsession is not restricted to within its own league. The fact that sulphurous individuals are often pulled into the struggling football club orbit really doesn’t improve matters at all. In these situations, the amount of potential buyers who declare an interest but then can’t produce the money is remarkable.

Bolton have had the ex-Watford owner Laurence Bassini circling around the club saying he wants to buy it. Parky is not impressed.

“Mr Bassini, leave us alone, please leave us alone. Leave this great club alone to get on with building its future back together.”

There is a widespread feeling that ‘something must be done’ but quite what that is remains more elusive. However, the long list of clubs facing financial oblivion suggests that a radical solution is needed. It is ridiculous that everyone at Bolton is working for free, just trying to keep the club going.

It should be that difficult, really. The bottom line is clubs like Bolton and others simply spend more money than they can generate, in pursuit of success, mortgaging their future on a gamble that richer pastures lie ahead. That is what needs to stop.

But big or small these are our football clubs and as we know, football clubs are not normal businesses and they operate in the community in a unique way. So they need protecting from the idiots and the malicious people who all too often seem to end up owning them.


What the people say
There is obviously and rightly much respect for what Phil has achieved in his managerial career, but it is for his stoicism at the helm of Bolton for which he gets most love. In a way, I think he’s almost become a figurehead for all that is decent in an industry which seems overly stuffed with chancers, scammers and bullshit merchants.

We start with a 4_4_haiku:

Nobody would blame him if he had walked during the chaos but he’s a selfless individual…Phil Parkinson is a class act. A true gent and a top bloke. Ian Dennis – 5Live

Still a legend in Reading. Top top guy

In the modern world of money means everything he deserves great plaudits for his dedication to the club.

Love him, big hero from my time as a season ticket holder at (Reading)

Iwelumo and Jamie Cureton both said he helped resurrect their careers.

What a bloke. He’s had it all against him and he keeps turning up. I don’t think he’s the way forward but he has to take credit for what he’s had to play with and put up with over the last 2 years. Top bloke.

Not to mention the incredible pressure he’s been out under by the administrators to get the sale done, knowing that he’s first in line for the sack when (if) it goes through

He’s had his critics (quite justifiably) about team selections, tactics and transfers over the last couple of years, but all pales into insignificance when considering how well he has led the club in the last 6 months, going above and beyond in such a dignified manner.

Best Colchester United team I’ve ever seen was managed by Phil Parkinson. Could walk away from Bolton and get a decent job with ease…that he’s sticking with it is a great credit to him.

A lot of respect due to him for how he’s handled this entire saga.

He is obviously a brilliant and dignified ambassador. Did a great job getting us out of League One in his first season. However, was out of his depth in the Championship and a lot of the time the football is rubbish. Great bloke, good League One manager.

A legend – CUFC

Absolute legend at #bcafc for the way he turned us around. Took us to the League Cup FINAL while in League 2 and then got us up to the top end of League 1. Didn’t like the way he left us but with hindsight it’s understandable as the new chairman was egotistical and useless.

He’s in an impossible situation and somehow keeping the plates spinning. I doubt anyone will celebrate a goalless draw quite like his Bolton side on Saturday, but you can’t blame them. Huge praise for calling out someone known to be dodgy circling the club.

He looks a bit like John Reese from Person of Interest.

His football is indeed not the best watch. Defensively though and tactician wise he took on the best at Bradford yet came out on top. Ask Wenger and Mourino about his game plans against them. Especially Mourino who asked to have a copy of Parkys game plan after their 2-4 defeat.


What does the future hold?
Today it seems more likely that a sale will go through but whether Football Ventures will make a good job of ownership is anyone’s guess. Will everyone get paid what they are due? ‘Forget being successful, just enjoy survival’ wouldn’t be the worst advice. One thing is for sure, Parky should be rewarded handsomely for the work he’s put in. He absolutely didn’t have to do this and that fact he has, speaks very well of his character and his sense of responsibility for this great old club.

If they can come out of administration quickly, the season may not be lost yet, even with their 12-point deduction, however, it seems likely that they’ll have to build from the fourth tier next year and if they do they’ve got absolutely the right man at the helm to drag them out of the mire, that is if he can face doing the job having steered them off the rocks into calmer waters. The good news is that he will not be short of job offers having shown himself to be a man of grit and integrity. At 51, he’s surely still got a couple of decades in game and it’d be nice to see him enjoying a long run of success at a club which can actually trade as a viable entity because as nice as it is to be a hero, it must be bloody exhausting.

Good luck, Parky.

John Nicholson

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