The sad demise of Bradford

Photo by Bradford Bulls

20 August 2019 - Written by Callum Walker

Once a giant of Rugby League, the faded glory of Bradford Bulls has been underlined further by their necessary move from the iconic Odsal stadium to Dewsbury, subject to the Rugby Football League’s approval (RFL).

Three times Grand Final winners, the Bulls eventually became a team no longer competing for silverware in the late noughties, and, as such suffered financial concerns - a £1m shortfall was announced and administration followed in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and ultimately liquidation in 2017.

Bradford players lifting the 2005 Super League Trophey 

 

While the Bulls brand was revived with a new club, they were relegated to League One in their opening campaign and then bounced back to the second tier under John Kear. The West Yorkshire club currently sit just outside the Championship play-offs, but again there has been talk of problems behind the scenes.

Those problems came to a head recently when the Bulls announced their move from Odsal. Chairman Andrew Chalmers blamed the cost of rates, rent and maintenance for the decision in a statement – the rent which, ironically, is paid to the RFL who have owned the leasehold for the stadium since 2012.

Taking the nostalgia away from the 85-year-old stadium, it is a sensible move. Whilst the dilapidated old girl harbours incredible memories – a record crowd of 102,000 in 1954 for a Challenge Cup final replay tie and a huge 24,000 when the Bulls hosted nearest rivals Leeds in a Super League game in 1999 come to mind – Bradford simply cannot keep up with their Championship rivals with an ever-degrading stadium and increasing costs.

There were signs of the old Odsal magic in the Challenge Cup this season, when a spirited Bulls defeated out-of-form Super League side Leeds in front of 10,258, but that kind of crowd has rarely been seen for years.

A 6,000-strong crowd against Featherstone for Bradford’s opener has been their highest attendance in 2019, and, though this is a superb spectator count for the second tier, it is not enough when taking into account expenditure lost on Odsal, according to Chalmers.

“An extremely favourable deal” has been signed with Dewsbury owner Mark Sawyer to play at Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium for the next two years, giving Bradford the chance to concentrate on on-field matters and the Bulls’ so called “20:20 vision of Super League”.

Identifying other development sites for potential new stadium builds has also been undertaken whilst Chalmers has spoken of his commitment to providing subsidised coach travel from Odsal to Dewsbury on match days.

The capacity of the Tetley’s Stadium stands at 5,100 – which can be extended to 8,000 if necessary – and is ideal for Bradford given that they have breached that crowd barrier just three times in 2019.

And, though there has been considerable uproar about moving a Bradford side out of the city, it is essential for the future of the club. If this is the most cost-effective way of ensuring a Bradford club continues to survive, then surely effort should be thrown behind it to make sure it works.

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