Bradford Bulls: Rugby league's rock and roll club must be restored

Bradford Bulls
Bradford Bulls won three Super League Grand Finals, five Challenge Cup trophies and three Club World Championships

Bradford Bulls were Super League's iconic club.

When the sport switched to a summer season in 1996, the old Bradford Northern reinvented themselves.

As the rebranded Bulls they came kicking and charging into the new era and anything seemed possible.

Odsal Stadium, an inhospitable giant hole in the ground in the winter months, became rugby league's summer hot-spot.

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Did this moment seal Bradford Bulls' fate?

Crowds doubled and tripled as the fabulously successful Bulls blasted their way to silverware success to a back drop of memorable matchday entertainment.

There was live music, fire-eaters, light shows and fireworks. It was rugby league rock and roll, on and off the field.

Multiple Challenge Cups, Championships and World Club titles were won and Odsal's capacity was frequently tested by a booming, bouncing fanbase.

The club was colourful, noisy and wonderfully good fun.

Bradford Bulls fans
24,020 fans watched Bradford beat rivals Leeds Rhinos 19-18 at Odsal in 1999, the club's record attendance in the Super League era

But those good times weren't to last.

The 2006 World Club Challenge was their last major success.

Suddenly the Grand Finals at Old Trafford, the showdowns against the best of the Australian clubs and a powerful presence at rugby league's top table ended.

A temporary slip in playing standards, part of the cycle of sport, was magnified by colossal mismanagement. It was the start of the plunge down the Super League table, into a string of administrations, relegation to the Championship and now liquidation.

The first of the crises became public knowledge in 2012 when Peter Hood, the then chairman, revealed a £1m black hole and the club went into administration in June of that year.

Coach Mick Potter was made redundant but carried on unpaid until the end of the campaign.

Fans rallied around to raise the £1m, but saw every penny disappear in a desperate but futile attempt to steady the ship.

Instead, a new consortium fronted by local businessman Omar Khan took over the club in August 2012, the first in a series of ownerships by different groups that have come and gone as the club continued to slip towards its current state.

With six points deducted for another financial calamity in 2014, the club was relegated.

A year later, defeat by Wakefield in the Million Pound game prevented an immediate return to Super League. And more financial woes followed.

Bradford Bulls hooker Adam O'Brien
Bradford Bulls lost 24-16 in the inaugural Million Pound Game in 2015

Now the club is at the lowest it has been in the modern era. With the old club liquidated, there is even a chance that the name of the Bradford Bulls may cease to exist.

That's unlikely to happen, though. More probable is that a new club will be formed, maybe even rebranded, and launched again in the Championship this year with a 12-point deduction.

The Rugby Football League reports plenty of interest in breathing life back into the currently defunct club, but that would be on the buyer's terms. No debts need be honoured.

That will leave a bad taste in the mouth of those owed money by this most recent business collapse. And many will be disappointed that a succession of owners have not been held to account for their mishandling of the club.

The RFL's role in being part of the process of approving some of those owners must also be questioned. To get it wrong once is forgivable, but three or four owners have come and gone after satisfying the scrutiny of the RFL and all have failed the Bulls' fans.

For the sake of the reputation of the governing body, the next owners must deliver something other than failure. This time it will be the RFL alone who decide who the new custodians of the club will be, so they will be accountable for their authenticity.

Nor does it feel entirely comfortable that a new club should be placed straight back into the Championship. Even with a 12-point deduction they still have a chance of immediate promotion in the game's new Super 8s set-up.

There are several clubs in League One, who, having lived by the financial rules, possibly wouldn't mind being elevated into the higher league, even at this late stage of the pre-season.

Putting Bradford right back where the last club failed has a scent of flippancy around it; a disregard for those who have lost heavily investing in the previous failed venture.

But all that said, rugby league does need a buoyant Bulls to come bouncing back.

Brian Noble
Toronto Wolfpack are coached by Brian Noble, who won three Super League Grand Finals as Bradford coach

The game as a whole has gone a little grey over the last few years for all sorts or reasons - a sense of lowered playing standards, international failure, big stars exiting for the brighter lights of the NRL.

If someone could take Bradford back to those Friday nights of glitz and glamour and gladiatorial rugby league, it would reinject some of the sense of excitement that we had in the first 10 years of Super League.

Some of the biggest and most memorable games watched by the largest crowds in the summer seasons have involved Bradford Bulls.

The sport is getting something very new this year with the coming of the Toronto Wolfpack. But a little bit of the exciting old being restored would be very welcome too.

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