After entering administration four times in the last three years, Championship side Bradford Bulls finally went into liquidation at the beginning of January. Only on the last day was it decided that Andrew Chalmers and Graham Lowe’s bid to take over the club would be finalised.
Pre-season talk normally looks at transfers and big money signings, or the fitness of key players, or predictions of the season ahead. The talk never normally centres on a club closing down due to bankruptcy, and what this means for them and for their future opponents. But this is the situation the RFL had to deal with this year.
Chalmers and Lowe released a statement at the beginning of the week, announcing themselves as the owners of the club, aiming to create a reformed rugby league side. Unfortunately, this decision wasn’t soon enough as they were already forced to pull out of a pre-season friendly with Batley Bulldogs, even after the opposition made huge efforts to prevent that from happening, offering to share the ticket receipts with the players and staff of Bradford Bulls. However, the friendly against Huddersfield Giants is still set to be played, with the majority of players still showing huge support to their club. Sunday’s game is a testimonial match celebrating the career of the former hooker and current assistant coach of the Giants, Luke Robinson, so both parties desperately want the match to go ahead.
Before this takeover was announced, the RFL already decided that the club will remain in the Championship, but will start the 2017 season with a deduction of 12 points. They fairly stated that it wouldn’t be right to promote a team from League 1 with under a month of preparation, and the Bulls did deservedly earn their position in this tier of the league last season.
So this means the Bulls, likely under a new name this season, are still set to travel to Craven Park to play Hull KR in the opening game of the season, which is good news for rugby league, and also for all other sports. Six times Super League (and the former equivalent league) winners, five times Challenge Cup winners and three times World Club winners, Bradford Bulls are arguably one the most well-known and most successful clubs in British rugby league, so seeing them dissolve would have been a great shame. Two of the 12 founding clubs of the Super League have already registered bankruptcy – Paris Saint-Germain in 1997 and Sheffield Eagles in 1999, highlighting that this is not necessarily anything new.
In football terms, this would have been like if Nottingham Forest, who had such success in the ’70s and ’80s and have now been relegated to the Championship, enter administration. The Bulls have a similarly wide support base to that of Forest; both have armies of loyal and dedicated fans who would have been devastated to see their club become just a name in the record books.
Now, much to the delight of these fans, a newly reformed Bradford team will get the opportunity to play competitively again, and the leaders of this takeover pose as a positive outcome for what has been a nightmare few months. Andrew Chalmers has vast experience in the game and the running of clubs, having been the chairman of the New Zealand Rugby League and an integral player in the successful takeover of Salford. Graham Lowe has also had much success in managerial and administrative positions in Australian and English rugby league.
Positives can also be found on the field too. Leon Pryce, who signed for the Bulls this season, is intent on staying, as is Omari Caro who recently signed an extension to stay at Bradford. Indeed, some big names have been lost, including Mellor and O’Brien to Huddersfield and James Clare to Leigh Centurions, but this doesn’t have to be a negative. They will be missed, but this transition should be regarded as a means of rejuvenation for a club that was clearly in a state of decay.
Chalmers and Lowe realise this, and the club and fans probably do too. But this takeover is not a quick fix to success, and the focus has to be on long term improvements and developments. Although it’s going to be difficult, this competitive season is one that did not look certain for Bradford Bulls, so it is one that needs to be appreciated, whatever the outcome.