I'll make Bolton Wanderers 'great again', says Laurence Bassini as takeover deal hangs in the balance

Controversial former Watford owner insists he can 'deal' with club's 'very serious mess'


Laurence Bassini has vowed to make Bolton Wanderers “great again” as he seeks to re-enter English professional football, despite an acrimonious stint as owner of Watford FC, after which he was banned from running football clubs and declared bankrupt.

Bolton Wanderers Football Club announced on April 17 that the Stanmore-based businessman had bought out Ken Anderson’s shareholding in Burnden Leisure Limited, the club’s holding company.

But this week, after Mr Bassini spoke to the JC, the deal was reportedly on the brink of collapse, after questions were raised over whether he could fulfil a pledge to pay players’ wages for March.

The club set a deadline for Mr Bassini to complete the deal by Monday but this was delayed for further talks.

The club, which has been relegated from the Championship to the third tier of English football this season, was hit by a 48-hour player strike in April after wages were paid late for the second month in a row.

The penultimate match of the season was postponed amid a second strike on Saturday, although authorities have ordered the club to complete its fixtures against Brentford and Nottingham Forest.

Mr Bassini had earlier promised “significant funds” – believed to be in the region of £20 million – to pay the unpaid wages and to clear debts with creditors.

The takeover of the debt-ridden club still requires ratification by the Football League.

Born Laurence Bazini, the 49-year-old is a former pupil of Queen Elizabeth’s Boys’ School in Barnet, North West London, and claims to have formerly attended Edgware Adath Synagogue.

Previously listing his business as property development, the businessman told the JC he made his money in cosmetics – primarily perfume – and the food industry.

He is believed to have been involved with Bloom’s kosher restaurant in Golders Green, before its closure in 2010.

Mr Bassini took over Watford FC in the 2011/12 season when it was in the Championship, despite having declared bankruptcy once before.

According to the Guardian, he borrowed £4.6 million from brothers Giacomo and Vincent Russo to help finance Watford.

A season beset by erratic behaviour and poor relations with fans and local reporters, Mr Bassini sold Watford to its current owners, the Pozzo family, for £550,000.

He was banned from being involved in a position of authority at any English professional club for three years in March 2013, after being found guilty of dishonesty and deception by a Football League independent disciplinary commission.

Although the commission was satisfied he did not personally profit from loans taken out on behalf of the club, it said he had been “dishonest in his dealings with the league and with his fellow directors”, and “practised secrecy and deception”.

In June 2014, Mr Bassini was declared bankrupt for the second time.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Bassini claimed he had been poorly advised during his tenure as Watford owner, insisting that he was an “honest” businessman. He invited Bolton fans to “come and see me and I’ll speak to them… It’s really important and I will be doing that”.

He set out his vision for Bolton to return to the Premier League “in three years”, saying: “Right now the priority is to stabilise the club”.

He added: “I love football, and for me the challenge is to take something that is in a lot of trouble and turn it around.

“I want to take this club, which is in so much trouble, and make them great again. We’re going to give it our best shot and restructure everything. Let’s see how it’s going to turn out.

“It’s a mess. It’s a very serious mess, and I’ve got to deal with that.”

Mr Bassini angered Watford fans shortly after arriving at the club. In November 2011 he cancelled an appearance at an annual fans’ forum at the last minute, later pulling out of a radio phone-in, according to the Watford Observer.

He was also involved in an episode dubbed ‘Safegate’ in June 2012, admitting to the JC that he had called the police to Watford’s Vicarage Road ground after an employee refused to hand him the keys to the club safe.

However, he contested a report in the local paper that he sent gloating texts to journalists after Watford’s loss to Crystal Palace in the 2013 Championship play-off final, a year after leaving the club.

He told the JC the text had been sent by “a friend”, saying “he really got told off by me for that… He’s very embarrassed by it”.

After leaving Watford, Mr Bassini investigated the feasibility of taking over Portsmouth FC, alongside former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan.

John Fawell, the vice-chair of the Watford FC Supporters’ Trust, labelled Mr Bassini “erratic”, saying he “liked being seen as an eccentric… and relished notoriety”.

But he added that the businessman could sometimes be “affable and charming”.

Mr Fawell told the JC that after the death of his wife, Laura, in February 2012, he was personally contacted by Mr Bassini, who extended his sympathies, and offered to host him in the directors’ box during a home fixture.

He said: “There were shenanigans… and he could be annoying. He wouldn’t listen always. But he also did generous things.”

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