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Rugby League rallies round wounded Bulls

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George Riley George Riley | 10:38 UK time, Thursday, 29 March 2012

If I were a Bradford Bulls fan or player, I would be frightened and furious. So many questions to be asked, so few answers available.

The response from the rugby league community to Bradford's desperate plea to stay alive has been incredible, with over £100,000 raised in the first 48 hours of the £1m rescue bid.

But how can a club that won every trophy going in 2003-4 be close to losing everything?

Bradford Bulls celebrate their 2003 Grand Final win

Glory days: Robbie Paul (right) and James Lowes celebrate Bradford's 2003 Grand Final win. Picture: Getty

Certainly when Stuart Fielden was sold to Wigan for a Super League record £455,000 in 2006, the Great Britain prop could never have envisaged that six years later he'd be sat in the Bulls office answering phones to fans pledging money to save the club from extinction. Matt Diskin, a Grand Final try-scorer and man of the match for Leeds Rhinos against Bradford in 2004, has been doing the same.

Players past and present are auctioning off priceless items. Prized possessions like Brian McDermott's 2003 Bradford Grand Final winners' medal and shirt are being flogged to raise a few quid. McDermott has asked the future owner that his kids be allowed access to the treasured items to keep the memories alive.

Supporters are doing all they can, with one female fan offering to put on a Motown music concert at Odsal. In raiding the fans' funds, though, the club are dipping back into an increasingly shallow well. It's the last and only option without a wealthy benefactor in the mould of a David Hughes, who is keeping London going, or double-glazing boss Andrew Glover who made Wakefield secure.

It's a dire warning to British rugby league that without these Super League sugar daddies, even more elite clubs could fold. Bulls legend Robbie Hunter-Paul, who told me he was "blindsided" by the news, argues that the backing of a wealthy fan is not a pre-requisite for survival. It is the very fact we are talking about our clubs surviving rather than flourishing that is the real concern.

I'm told some of the Bradford players only found out the harsh reality about the situation via Twitter. They were then briefed before training on Wednesday, after which a group of shell-shocked senior players, including Heath L'Estrange, Matt Diskin and Jamie Langley, met chief executive Ryan Duckett for what I'm told was a frank exchange. Then they had to go out and train.

Hood, who had announced the news in the morning paper, was apparently away from the club visiting the Prime Minister.

So were has the cash gone? In truth there has never been that much despite a decade of dominance in the glory days. Odsal is such an old, big, unique arena that it takes a lot more money to maintain.

The Bulls have also almost routinely spent their entire salary cap and the current hierarchy may also argue it inherited a club that had been mismanaged. The sale of Odsal earlier this year preceded the tightening of their Royal Bank of Scotland overdraft - although the bank argues it has not cut that facility - as Bradford claim - and all of a sudden there was nowhere left to turn.

What happens now? Even if half a million can be raised by next weekend, that money would go straight to keeping the creditors happy and then to pay the players.

It is unrealistic to suggest that all will be well again after this "blip", as director Andrew Bennett labelled it after declaring them "at death's door".

This "blip" relates to a short-term cash-flow shortfall from 14 March to 14 April and the confidence at the club comes from the fans and plans being in place to press on if these choppy waters can be steered in the interim. Clearly, there needs to be huge operational and structural changes to the way the club is run.

If Bradford do survive, this may prove the best thing to happen since their struggles began. Look at Wakefield after their return from the brink. They are in a much stronger position now and there's a bounce-back at a recently-renovated ground. But a penny for their thoughts - and those of Crusaders, who weren't quite so fortunate last year.

The encouraging sign is huge efforts are being made throughout rugby league to help the Bulls. The sad reality is that Odsal has gone from being the place to be in the heady days of Bullmania, to the place to avoid - unless you have a spare £100 in your pocket.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a Rhinos fan even I'm worried about this. The Super League needs clubs like Bradford to survive to help competition and increase the overall play across the board. Hopefully fans from all clubs can help and keep them alive.

  • Comment number 2.

    sorry to hear about what is happening at bradford. has george riley ever been to a rugby league game ?he certainly hasn't been to belle vue oops sorry! the recently renovated ground all i saw a couple of weeks ago was a unused tesco petrol forcourt canopy.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just wher has the money gone?

    With 1 or 2 exceptions the huge amounts spent on "journeymen" players from overseas has just gone there and the Bulls are not unique in that and yet they STILL sign players who cost more in the short term than the long term investment of "developing your own"!

    Compared to how the local council have supported the Bulls the Keighley Cougars have been considerably overshadowed. The Cougars though have been through the same financial scenario so many times as well.

    Now the RFL are now holding the leases of both the Bulls and Cougars and being paid by the clubs but now the "professional" clubs in BMDC have no place to call their own.

    I just hope one day financial realsim will take over "professional" RL but I somewhow doubt it

    However one saving grace is that compared to soccer the superio game of Rugby League is in a far better financial state

    Compared to the Cougars the assista

  • Comment number 4.

    'The sad reality is that Odsal has gone from being the place to be in the heady days of Bullmania'

    You've got to be kidding George, 'BULLMANIA'

    Is this some cheap version of 'Cougarmania' which pretty much set up the template of how to attract big crowds and brought rugby league into a new era?

    I suppose you probably didn't even follow rugby back then..

  • Comment number 5.

    Has been a sorry story - I wonder how different it might have been had John Prescott, for reasons I've never fully understood, not called and and refused the Sterling Capital/Tesco redevelopment of Odsal.

  • Comment number 6.

    It really is embarrassing that the Bulls are coming out with so many silly excuses when it is pretty obvious how this situation has developed. It's like watching a mate spend mortgaged up to his eye balls, credit cards full, continuously go out and spend thousands he doesn't have. Only to turn around to a friend and ask him to sort out his "blip" because his overdraft was reduced, oh this is while he has 2 Ferraris parked on the drive way. Bulls management are a joke and should resign!

    How about this for a quick fix, why don't you sell one of those Ferraris (Whitehead for one would get a decent price) before begging the public, what a disgrace the bulls management are!

  • Comment number 7.

    Perhaps if Bradford had not spent more than their income this may have been avoided, but selling 10,000 season tickets at £60 only brings in £600,000 which is a million shy of the full salary cap they are operating at, they need to clear about £140,000 a game from other fans to carry on playing this season. Is that likely that they will get about 7,000 extra fans per game?

  • Comment number 8.

    I feel for Ryan Duckett, although I'm not in contact with him now, I played rugby union with him at Otley. A very committed individual who worked his way up at Bradford before achieving the position of chief exec. He has inherited a bag of spanners there as the club continued to chase glory days of late 90's early noughties and my guess is overspent on the salary cap to try and keep up with the top clubs. A cap is a maximum, it doesn't mean you have to spend it all.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry, this is nonsense. Let them go (along with various football clubs in similar situations).

  • Comment number 10.

    There is no way that the "blip" is as short-term as you suggest. If it was, then I'm sure the players and the majority of other creditors would probably be flexible enough to delay being paid until after April 14.

    The fact that such dramatic consequences are being suggested by the Bulls' management means that the "blip" is something that lasts to AT LEAST the end of this season without the additional cash from fans.

    HMRC will undoubtedly be one of the main creditors and are unlikely to be offering any further flexibility, because it's probably the case that the Bulls have stretched them to the limit already.

    You're right that the business needs significant structural & operational changes and it needs them NOW.

    Anyone considering pledging money needs to look at what happened with Wakefield when a similar request was made in the dying days of the old regime. If Ted Richardson had the confidence of the fans and sponsors, then the money he asked for would have been raised. The same applies now with Bradford. Do Bradford fans really trust Hood & co not to let this happen again?

    In any other line of business the Administrators would already have been called in. If Hood & co have any respect for the fans they should do what is right for the CLUB and call in the Administrators NOW.

  • Comment number 11.

    Season tickets were not £60...they STARTED at £60 and most cost more than that, nearer £90-100. Besides, even if they were £60 that still generates the same as 3000 ST's at £200 plus with the added match day revenue.

    But the recent season ticket thing is not the reason they are where they are, it's a culmination of several years poor results and declining gates. Good players leaving and average/poor ones replacing them and as George alludes, an expensive ground to maintain. With both clubs struggling in the City, the time may have come to think about sharing a ground with City. not my preferred option but could be the key to survival.

  • Comment number 12.

    Would i pay £100 to keep my favourite team afloat? Yes, i probably would but i'd want to be reassured that they aren't going to make the same mistakes and be in exactly the same situation further down the line. I'm not sure that's happening.

    I hope they can sort things out as a strong Bulls side would make for an even better Super League.

  • Comment number 13.

    George, my three year old brother could construct a better article than you!

    Bradford will only be missed for the easter weekend derby games!

  • Comment number 14.

    Johnoco the figures you quote would still only bring in £600,000 matchday revenue would have to be more than £100,000 to play to full salary cap on top of the season tickets even if we pick an average price of £80 per ticket that is still only £800,000 so still a long way short of £1.65m that is the salary cap. Cut your clothe to what you can afford hence Salford nowhere near the cap.

  • Comment number 15.

    George, I hope your Mum didn't see you on telly yesterday dressed as you were!!

  • Comment number 16.

    I's suspect that Bradford had a secured loan from RBS against Odsal and an overdraft. Sell the ground, and the secured loan has to be repaid, but the overdraft remains( as RBS have said).....not rocket are effectively being asked to repay this loan, oh, and the tax man as usual.

    Yes, we do need the Bulls in Super league, they've doing a great job in recent years propping up the other clubs.....

  • Comment number 17.

    There's no excuse, big city, good corporate facilities, big fanbase, fiendly local media. Very poor effort from the owners. This club had players like Deacon, Fielden, Vainakolo, Hape, Peacock, Henry and Robbie Paul. Many of the new era of players have been just average at best in comparison. Jason Crookes looks v good though, really hope they don't lose him on the back of all this.

  • Comment number 18.

    It is a very sad state of affairs and I can't say it is just the current regime's fault. I suspect they massively overspent on players salaries during the glory days and ever since have been playing catch up and the scrimping and saving methods have led to failing performances on the pitches and less people coming through the gates.

    How a team that can have sold Fielden for 440,000 received fees for 2 Burgess's and Andy Lynch plus sell the ground and still be in such dire straights im not sure but regardless of opinions of the current board realistically if people stand back and watch the club will end up in administration and be much worse off.

    Any rugby league supporter with any interest in Bradford Bulls that wants to help save the club I would encourage to come to the Bulls vs Rhinos game on April 6th. Even if this is just to say you were at the last ever 'Bulls' game it would be an amazing occasion and would replicate previous meetings between the two sides such as the 24,000 that attended the 1999 Odsal clash. The atmosphere would be incredible and the potential media coverage and revenue coming through the gate maybe just enough to save this once great club.

    Players like Crookes, Whitehead, Bateman, Burgess, Addy, have futures in rugby league regardless of the result of the next few weeks. Whether their future will be at Bradford Bulls only time will tell. #savethebulls

  • Comment number 19.

    As a member of the Supporters Trust at Wakefield and having been close to the situation as it unfolded at Wakefield I would make this comment:

    I would be sad to see the demise of the Bradford club - they are a big name in the SL era and their loss would be devastating to RL in general - but I would urge people NOT to put their money straight into the club without demanding something in return. In practise, you cannot ask for a detailed response in return for £100, but if the money pledged were to be presented via a Supporters Trust, a genuinely democratic organisation with all the protection of the co-operative society behind them, then at least those investors would have access to the goings on within the club and, where necessary, even have a say in the big decisions of the club - including who runs it!

    The current board have presided over the club as it has fallen from grace - much as the old board at Wakefield had. I would never doubt that the intentions of both bodies was to promote and protect their own clubs, but sometimes it is difficult to see that others may, just may, be able to do a better job with the club - and it does very much seem that Wakefield is now a club with a bright future - all the brighter for going through what we did.

    Had the club not gone into administration, our intentions - as a Supporters Trust - was to try and secure a place on the BoD by collecting proxy's for existing and new shares in the club. In the absence of a 'Glover' type individual - particularly if the club wishes to avoid administration (which may actually flush out investors if it happens), then I see no sensible alternative to this.

    In simple terms - to throw good money after bad does not appear to be sensible. What guarantees are there that the Bradford BoD will not end up in this situation again in the future?

    So I would advocate helping the Bulls, but make sure there are controls in place at the same time. For some 'senior' supporters, it's time to stand up and be counted!

  • Comment number 20.

    When the last round of franchises were allocated Bradford must already have been in the mire. Wakefield were the favourites to go due to their appalling financial history, and Crusaders actually did go to the wall.

    Add to this other SL grounds failing to reach the standards asked, and other non SL clubs reaching the standards but not being admitted, and you can envisage what a mess Rugby League is in as a sport and a business in this country. It sold itself out many years ago to Sky, and now is paying the price for their short term greed.

    I was part of an officiating team at Odsal for the recent Varsity Games, and have to say the facilities are poor, the stadium is a dump, signage even has the wrong name of the stadium on it. The corporate stand is in the wrong place, and holds next to no people, looking like someone put it there because it was going spare.

    Keep your hands in your pockets fans or the begging bowl will be round again next tax quarter.

  • Comment number 21.

    Such a shame that the actions of a few can ruin something which is so close to the heart of thousands. My response as a Bulls fan is that of disgust and fury that our board could even contemplate driving the club so far down. Super League has no relegation process and as of late we have been turning out terrible performances. Why not make the decision to cut the high wages are bring through English youth instead of making a poor attempt at keeping up to the head of the table? It is quite simple if you do not have the money, do not spend it! Blind pride from having some success in early 2000's and poor decision making during the Harris saga are the two major factors to the downfall of my club, but the consequence of their actions will be felt by those who do not deserve it.

  • Comment number 22.

    roddersrugbyref: Watch you don't cut yourself on that axe you are grinding. Yeah, RL should have turned down the SKY deal because then, as now, it is awash with money.

    Odsal may be old and looking it's age but it is one of the greatest grounds around. You can stick to the shiny new stadia if you like.

  • Comment number 23.

    Stadiums NEED to be multi-purpose and used year round, it would certainly help the running costs of Odsal. Kicking Speedway out was criminal for the city of Bradford and the cashflow of Bradford Bulls who could have had a tennant, not only for league speedway, but international, perhaps even GP Speedway.

  • Comment number 24.

    My sympathies to all Bradford fans and I for one would be gutted if the Bulls were not competing in SL. The efforts from fans to raise money are commendable but should be conditional on two points:

    1. The current Board stands down - the management knew this problem has been brewing for years and has done nothing to fix it; what a sham
    2. Any fan handing over a single penny to keep the club alive should in turn be entitled to a share of the club (as per Barca model) - including a say in who runs the club
    3. Seriously consider a short-term groundshare with Bradford City

    As a big club with a great history, Bradford were always a certainty to be awarded a franchise. With the threat of relegation lifted, the lack of governance and long term planning is totally unacceptable.

    A final suggestion. Can the RFL award a franchise to any club bidding for SL status 2-3 years in advance to allow time plan properly, get investment in, develop feeder clubs and so on. This sort of approach was taken with NZ Warriors and look at how well they have competed plus the boost to NZRL.

  • Comment number 25.

    1 name. Iestin Harris. The court battle with Leeds will prove to be Bradfords downfall.

  • Comment number 26.

    New vision needed, spend the money you earn...and no more...and invest in local players - there are many in the local leagues.What I don't understand is how quickly this came on...surely they have accountants and a board who knows that what its doing.......erm...

  • Comment number 27.


    Where is Odsal a great stadium?
    Half the terracing is unfit for use, no cover and no comfort.
    The main stand is okay, but stops the rest of the awful stadium being used.
    The corporate stand is isolated, in the wrong place and looks like someone has stacked a load of Portakabins together and clad them.
    Let me tell you the changing facilities are a disgrace for a professional sports venue. Dark, damp and dank, with no comfort at all. The pitch is a good surface, but that hardly constitutes anything decisive.

    Look at the efforts of the likes of Leigh, Featherstone and Halifax, compare them to the likes of Odsal, Wakefield and Castleford, and its a no brainer as to where the better grounds are.

    As for Sky, its one thing to bargain hard and get a good deal, but to change the season of play, rejig all the teams identities, run a faulty and failing franchise system is too far.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hood was away visiting "Dave" let's hope he didn't spend 250k on a dinner.

  • Comment number 29.

    The information being given to Bulls fans in return for £100 is so limited it beggars belief

    How long will £500k last, what is the true financial picture, what do the forecasts look like going forward

    Also dont seem to be getting much in return. Fans would be better off raising a fighting fund to buy the assets (not all the liabilities) back off an Administrator and at least have a share in the club for their donation.

    Would suspect that the league would allow anewco to buy the rights to be the Bulls from an Administrator and continue to fulfill their fixtures. Precedent already set with London and what choice do they have - an unused empty Odsal !

    Good luck to the Bulls and their fans

  • Comment number 30.

    Feel sorry for Bulls fans, however this is just the latest in a series of badly run sports teams - won't be the last. Have been through this while following Halifax before and during Super League, the RFL should concentrate on strengthening the traditional areas before trying to expand. Congratulations to Fax on last night's win!

  • Comment number 31.

    Rugby League - professional game run by amateurs.

  • Comment number 32.

    You seem to be getting some grief this week George!

    Anyway, is alarming how many sports teams in any sports can't survive without a, both rugbys, cricket...the list goes on. Maybe sport isdriven to make spending more money than you have.

    I hope Bradford do survive and like the idea of a supporters owened club.


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