New Hibs signing Josh Vela opens up on the hell at Bolton Wanderers

Josh Vela has admitted he’s looking forward to enjoying his football again after escaping the nightmare of Bolton Wanderers, where the players were forced to go on strike because of unpaid wages.

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 10:30 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd July 2019, 11:30 pm
Josh Vela is delighted to have put his Bolton nightmare behind him at Hibs. Pic: SNS
Josh Vela is delighted to have put his Bolton nightmare behind him at Hibs. Pic: SNS

Hibs’ latest signing revealed he is still to be paid the money owed to him by the club which collapsed into administration as it was relegated from the English Championship.

Vela was forced to dip into his savings as he and his team-mates weren’t paid for five months, while there were reports that some non-playing staff at the club were forced to use food bank donations from local businesses.

After 17 years with the Trotters, Vela conceded it was a painful way to sever his ties having played close to 200 games, his debut coming at a time when Wanderers played in the Premiership.

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“It was a nightmare really,” said the 25-year-old midfielder. “The communication with the club and players was poor. We weren’t getting told if we were not getting paid.

“We’d get told we’d be getting paid then we would go into training and you would have meetings and people would say different things. It was a bit of a disaster really.

“We hadn’t been paid in five months. I’ve got a mortgage to pay and have a young baby now, I needed money.

“I had saved money away, but I didn’t really want to use that because that’s for after football – but I’ve had to use that.

“The younger players didn’t have many savings and it was a big struggle for them. The new owners have got to pay the players before they can start bringing in their own players really.”

Vela admitted it was a huge decision to go on strike – the players refusing to train – in protest at the situation, but added: “We had to get the thing moving. People kept on lying to us, saying, ‘We’re going to pay you.’ Then you’d get to pay day and you weren’t paid.

“It was a group decision from the lads, it was a last resort. I wasn’t playing at the time, but it was a big decision from the lads to say they weren’t playing. They needed money to pay the bills, we weren’t on Premier League money.”

With his contract at an end, Vela was able to walk away – but not without some regrets. He said: “I was at the club since I was eight years old and it was a bad way to end my time. I didn’t get the chance to say proper goodbyes. It was difficult.”

Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom revealed he’d been on Vela’s trail for some time and was delighted to have clinched him on an three-year deal as he became, most probably, the Capital club’s final signing of the summer.

But Vela admitted he took a little persuading. He said: “It wasn’t an easy decision at the start because I’ve got a young family and we had to discuss that. But in football terms it was easy to come up here, play games and enjoy my football again.

“I needed a new, fresh challenge. I wanted to get out of the English League and I’ve come up here to test myself. The manager was a big factor.

“A couple of players who have played under him said how good he was. Joe Williams from Barnsley and Chris Doidge (signed by Hibs from Forest Green Rovers having seen his own move to Bolton scuppered by their financial woes) both messaged me to say that he was great.

“I just thought I’d give it a try. It is a big club, the stadium is great and the training ground is brilliant.”

Vela will come across a couple of familiar faces in Scottish football, former Hibs boss Neil Lennon having been manager at Bolton during his years with the club while, as a Manchester United fan, he’s looking forward to facing Steven Gerrard’s Rangers.

He said: “Neil was at Bolton, but I didn’t speak to him (before coming to Hibs). He was a good manager at Bolton and all the financial troubles got worse after he left the club.

“I’m looking forward to coming up against him when we play Celtic. It will be good to play in the big games against them and Rangers and as a Man U fan it will be good to get one over on Steven Gerrard – he was one of my favourite players growing up.”

Vela was at Saturday’s Betfred Cup match against Alloa Athletic and, he insisted, he feels fit enough if called upon for tonight’s match with Arbroath.

He said: “These are competitive cup games and I need to get my head around that, but it is better than playing friendlies. I have been keeping myself ticking over. I’ve been training hard for three or four days and although I haven’t played since March, I am naturally fit and hopefully I can rely on that.”

Asked to describe what sort of player he is, Vela replied: “I am a box-to-box midfielder. I like to nick a few goals and I like a tackle. I don’t mind a good challenge.”