Bolton Wanderers had continued to exceed expectations by staying in the Championship for a third successive time and recording a second successive top ten finish in 2024/25. There’s plenty to be excited about with the club’s finances looking in ruder health and with just one year remaining on the monthly director’s loan repayments.
The summer of 2025 was set to see fairly major overhaul, with our star goalkeeper leaving the club for MLS along with both first-choice centre-backs among 15 further players leaving on free transfers. We also sold Bali Mumba, who signed on a free last summer but was useless to QPR for £475,000.
The rebuild began with confirming the return of Watford striker Ryan Cassidy, who’s scored 72 in 129 on loan with us in the last three seasons, and Aston Villa winger Louie Barry, who we hope can rediscover his strong form early last season. We also pulled off a couple of coups by tapping into Chelsea’s surplus of youngsters by signing attacker Jude Soonsup-Bell and Luke Badley-Morgan by offering £0 for both of them! And the latter will form half of a stronger defensive partnership as he’s joined by Everton loanee Sebastian Kristensen.
We also bagged ourselves a new goalkeeper in Roco Rees, who’s our only cash signing of the summer at £18,500 from Brighton and could prove to be an improvement on Brzozowski. And the new arrivals were completed by winger Michael Riches on loan from Spurs.
With those signings in, here’s how the first-team looks for the new season. The squad contains eight teenagers, only three players older than 23, five older than 22, and Alfie McCalmont is our oldest player at 25. It also contains nine Trotters Talents who’ve come through the Bolton youth academy in captain Nigel Turner, goalkeeper Luke Hutchinson, right-backs Joshua McNally and Nnaemeka Nzekwesi, left-back Nana Martin, centre-back Jack Salter, midfielder Trevor Weller, and attackers Ebube Onoja and Matias Makinen.
I also boosted the backroom staff with the additions of Freddy Ljungberg as my assistant, Bolton legend Kevin Nolan and Phil Neville as coaches, Patrick Kluivert as a scout and Barry Robson as a youth coach. And on finances, we began the season with £7.2 million in the bank, compared to being £1.2 million in debt back in May 2024. So things are looking positive at Bolton!
And Bolton begin the 2025/26 campaign with 50/1 odds to win the league and a media prediction of finishing in 22nd position in the Championship. We still have by far the lowest salary in the league at £3 million per annum, with the nearest to that being promoted Rochdale’s £4.2 million and Rotherham’s £6.01 million. Bournemouth have the biggest wage budget at an outrageous £46.26 million.
Goal-shy Championship resumption
The first game of the new season was a Lancashire derby at home to Blackpool, but there wasn’t much in the way of excitement. Blackpool had the best of it but holding midfielder Lars Dendoncker stepped up to hit a rocket and his first goal in 41 matches to seal a 1-0 opening day win. Cassidy was injured for that game and missed the second too as we faced his parent club. And it looked like they could with him at the club as they wasted 23 shots and we seized advantage with a brilliant goal worked by Ivor Mulders, who’s moved to left-back, teeing up captain fantastic Turner to score the winner on his 160th league appearance for the club aged just 19. Two games, two 1-0 wins, love it!
Our defensive strength continued with a 0-0 draw at home to Reading, which was an absolute borefest, then another 0-0 at Rotherham, which was even worse than the Reading game! But that streak ended with a narrow 1-0 loss at big-spending Bournemouth, who ridiculously won and missed two penalties and Rees played an 8.0.
That was immediately followed by another transfer embargo being placed on the club as Zoran Tosic – the Serbian international who once played for Man United, how random! – was looking to complete a £28.5 million takeover. However, the takeover bid collapsed the next day!
Cassidy had made a slow start to the season but put that right with an amazing four-goal haul in a 5-2 thrashing of QPR, in which Soonsup-Bell scored his first goal for the club and Mumba had an absolute nightmare on his return with a 5.8.
We then did extremely to hold second-placed Forest at home and fifth-placed Sheffield United away to consecutive 0-0 draws. That took us to 10 games played with five draws, four of which have been 0-0, only conceding six and only scoring nine (of which two and five were in one match!). The draws continued against Bristol Rovers and Preston before losing 2-1 at a struggling but very strong Burnley side, which took us to six games without a win. But hat streak ended with a 2-1 win over fifth-placed Swansea thanks to Kristensen heading home his first goal for the club and Cassidy’s 10th of the season.
Mini cup run
The Carabao Cup continued the edgy theme of our league performances, sneaking past Blackpool 1-0 (again), beating Tranmere 1-0, then knocking out Ipswich on penalties. And that teed up the most attractive game of the save thus far as we visited the Etihad to face English champions Man City in the fourth round.
City obviously put their reserves out but still had a ridiculous team that included the likes of Myron Boadu, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Renato Sanches and a few wonderkids, so we went to my mega-defensive formation, which succeeded in keeping City’s pressure at bay until a very dodgy penalty award in the 68th minute – aftrer a previous dodgy penalty was denied by VAR. I was very proud of the boys’ efforts to hold City to a 1-0 defeat despite not even having a shot! And even the media agreed that the referee had shown bias to the hosts.
Goal shy Bolton
The tough league run continued with difficult trips to second-placed Birmingham which, for some reason, was selected for TV and we lost 2-0, which was our first defeat by more than one goal all season, then at relegated Stoke, in which our defence again performed wonders to hold them to a 1-1 draw.
Two more interviews with Premier League clubs Norwich and Southampton were rejected in the build-up to a big game against local rivals Rochdale, who’d been promoted to the second tier for the first time in their history last season. We played terribly but managed to nick yet another draw as Makinen came off the bench to equalise.
A win eventually arrived as Cassidy’s brilliant finish from a McNally cross edged us past Charlton. And, just like London buses, a second followed as Cassidy repeated the feat at playoff candidates Cardiff, this time turning home from a long ball by Salter, who I’ve decided to thrust into the first-team to get him experience and it appears to be working for him.
We lost at home to leaders Middlesbrough but Cassidy was at it again in sealing a third 1-0 win in four games at bottom club Brentford an was seconds away from making it four in five only for a very dodgy refereeing performance to cost us against Sheffield Wednesday, who scored after 96 minutes when four minutes of injury time were announced and after we had Johnny Bailey sent off for making a clean tackle.
Cassidy made it five goals in six games and Weller stepped up to end the striker’s dominance of our goal tally in a 4-2 loss at Bristol City, in which it was 2-2 inside 20 minutes.
More takeover talk
With Christmas approaching, two more parties came forward looking to complete a takeover for the club. One of them said they planned to change the manager, which was a bit of a concern, but this was about the fifth time we’d been put under an embargo, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
However, on Christmas Day we were handed the gift that every Bolton fan wants as one of them actually managed to complete the takeover! A consortium led by local investor Rick Harris – who, thankfully wasn’t the man promising to axe me – purchased the club and promised to “make a difference for the fans,” whatever that means. The main benefit of the takeover was that the club’s debts were wiped out, which saves us about £4 million on the remaining repayments. Harris also threw £5.25 million into the club, which boosted our bank balance to £9.1 million, and handed us a £5.8 million transfer kitty. Bolton Wanderers are debt free for the first time in about 10 years!
The new board arrives in town with Bolton sitting in 12th place in the SkyBet Championship, well above our media prediction of 22nd. We’re 13 points clear of relegation and 10 off the playoffs but we’ve only scored and conceded 22 – which gives us the worst attack in the league! – and Cassidy has scored 13 of those.
Join us next time to see how the Rick Harris regime at the helm of debt-free Bolton Wanderers begins!