Musings From The Padded Cell

Guest Column – Bully, Bully?

A bonus issue this week with a different shaped ball but no less passion when held. Martin “Molly” Molyneux recounts his lifelong obsession with Bradford Northern – latterly Bradford Bulls – in the midst of one of the darker patches in the club’s history.

Another tale of Murdoch money, a sport detached at the top from its core grassroots and greed, skulduggery plus good old blind incompetence. Read on…

Life was never the same for Molly without a bit of “up and under”.

“I was taken to my first game of Rugby League in 1967 (aged 3). This was a Joe Phillips Memorial Game in probably late August and always against local rivals Keighley.

Up until the mid-noughties I was a season ticket holder and rarely missed a game home or away going with Dad and Grandad. On their passing it was with my brother and pals from Denholme as well as Andy Taylor and Natalie Farr.

My disgruntlement at the razzmatazz of Super League and the utter reliance on Sky and Murdoch money led to me eventually stopping going altogether, along with many others I could name.

During this time I have continued to care deeply about Northern/Bulls always keeping my eye out for the result; it was a massive part of my life and one that should never be forgotten.

But, as the club lurched from crisis to crisis under various regimes including Hood/Khan & local MP Gerry Sutcliffe, nothing has quite got the old juices flowing again until the recent regime of Marc Green.

Several HMRC Winding-Up threats were explained to an ever-disillusioned public as mistakes or administrative errors; sorry Mr Green but HMRC does not simply make mistakes like this.

Late last year, my old club was in administration again for a third time but, unlike previously, it ended up in a liquidation this time.

Bid and counter-bid was proposed, talked up favourably by the Administrator and repeated slavishly by the local Telegraph & Argus before being ultimately rejected.

However, safety was at hand via The Rugby Football League (RFL) who have a vested interest as holders of the lease to Odsal, a once proud venue but now an aged and decrepit millstone around the club’s neck.

The RFL Invited new bids to run professional rugby league in Bradford with early January the cut off and retired most probably to the local working men’s club to consider all bids.

Rumoured consortiums were headed by a well-known cast including Richard Lamb, David Thorne, Andrew Chalmers and Graham Lowe plus a whisper of Salford linked Mandy Koukash.

After much speculation it was announced by RFL that the Chalmers/Lowe bid provided an exciting and stable future.

Since this news hit the stands there have been claims by Lamb that his wife heard on the radio before he was contacted by The RFL who, bizarrely, offered to meet him for a beer!

It would also appear that those players who remained loyal had still not received any hard evidence of the new owners as late as last Sunday evening with the new season only weeks away.

Another of the bidders, David Thorne who is an ex-owner of Wasps RFC, voiced his concern in the Yorkshire Post over the whole process, seemingly encouraged over discussions with the RFL re a transfer of the lease only for this to be withdrawn.

His consortium had even met with the players and staff only to later withdraw due to constant card shuffling by the governing body.

I have a nagging feeling that this was a fait accompli and that the Chalmers/Lowe consortium was always the preferred bidder. There are simply too many links with the hierarchy to dispel the various stories and rumours on the forums.

I hope that they have made the correct decision and that the club can slowly start to move forward as well as protect the marvellous work done by the academy. If the youngsters continue their rich development they can ultimately bid for a starting jersey in the first team.

A vast arena the size of Odsal needs constant use though. Fifteen games of rugby a summer is not enough and, even though I am a traditionalist, a 3G pitch would be a benefit, enabling other revenue streams. I believe both Thorne and Lamb’s bids centred on this multi-use aspect.

There have also been disturbing mutterings re the new team of previous business dealings back in NZ hitting the buffers with large sums owing to creditors casting doubt – not for the first time – on the RFL’s due diligence process.

Both individuals too have had previous business dealings with RFL Head Honcho Nigel Wood so one would assume that, with a vested interest, he would have abstained from any discussions?

RL Fans Forums and Twitter Feeds are awash with claims and counter claim which hardly leaves the sport’s governing body in a good light – and not for the first time.

My personal feeling is that the RFL continue to show a lack of clear thinking in major decisions; they are amateurs in charge of a professional body and put to shame by the highly professional Rugby Football Union (RFU).

I fear that this sad tale has not yet reached a conclusion. The new Bradford team will start the campaign on minus twelve points in the Conference with a threadbare squad in a stadium with at best a few thousand watching. It is a far cry from the glory days of twenty thousand plus.

And what realistic hope of generating the funds to sustain a rise back up the table? For me, the game died in 1995 when they threw in their lot with Murdoch and moved lock stock and barrel to summer.

Whilst a small number of elite clubs grew stronger – or have better accountants – clubs are struggling along on meagre gates and increasing travel costs to places like Toulouse, Gloucester and soon even Toronto.

The RFL have chased – with little success – an expansionists dream (remember Cardiff Blues, Kent Invicta and others).

Many amateur leagues have gone to summer yet some remain in winter but most are struggling to put out teams through decreasing numbers of players and volunteers.

There’s no Sky Money in the Pennine League but where will the players of tomorrow come from?”

Editorial Footnote – timely to see the RFU rolling out a huge investment in artificial pitches. A case of the haves and have nots?

Anybody else who fancies a go at a guest piece here – as long as the content is printable – just let me know.

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