Bradford saga: RFL under fire over handling of bidding process

Up in the air: It is still not certain whether rugby league will be continued to be played in Bradford in 2017. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Up in the air: It is still not certain whether rugby league will be continued to be played in Bradford in 2017. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
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A SECOND interested party in starting up a new Bradford club has lambasted the manner in which the Rugby Football League handled the application process.

David Thorne, the former Wasps owner, has revealed he actually pulled out of the bid he was fronting due, in part, to concerns about the sport’s governing body.

Former New Zealand Rugby League chairman Andrew Chalmers and ex-Kiwi coach Graham Lowe have, it is believed, secured the rights instead and, having last night spoken to remaining players and staff from Bradford Bulls’ liquidation, are expected to soon publicly outline plans for a relaunched club.

Having invited offers, the RFL announced on Friday it had finalised a deal with a consortium – they did not disclose who – to create a new club following the demise of the three-time World Club champions, who disappeared with debts of £2.2million earlier this month. The league said they received four offers including one from a consortium led by Richard Lamb, the Rotherham Titans chief executive, who has since, however, labelled the RFL’s actions as “amateurish” and an “absolute shambles”.

He described them as “morally bankrupt” after they failed to tell him his bid had been unsuccessful before news of the deal was leaked on Friday while he claims to still be awaiting reasons why his offer was declined, insisting the RFL had always known its preferred candidate.

Thorne has now spoken out, too, revealing details of his own plans to take over the erstwhile Super League champions and how they broke down.

Talking to The Yorkshire Post, the man who helped turnaround the fortunes of stricken Premiership rugby side Wasps, said: “I’d probably concur with Richard’s comments; I don’t think they’re far off the mark.

“The level of professionalism I was expecting from the RFL was the same as I’d expect from the RFU but there was disparity between that expectation and reality. They are in a difficult situation, though, and it’s not easy for them. The story broke of my interest as our group had agreed to purchase the assets of Bradford Bulls Northern Limited (in administration) from the administrators after the decision was made the club could no longer trade and importantly, after advising the RFL of our intention.

“Although all the staff are made redundant, you can still make an offer to the administrator for, in effect, the intellectual property – the name, the trophies, website – which can give you a competitive edge in the process later on.

“Initially there was no opposition from the RFL who were given the opportunity to veto the process, and Bradford Bulls Capital Limited was formed. A meeting was held with the players and staff on Thursday, January 5 at Odsal Stadium. Again, contrary to media reports, the RFL were aware of this meeting and there was an RFL staff member present for most of that meeting.

“But it became clear after committing to the acquisition, the RFL changed its position. The problem was I don’t think they understood what was really going on.”

Thorne’s consortium pulled out of that transaction.

As part of their wider plans, they wanted to maximise Odsal’s earning potential but, with the RFL owning the lease, that proved a stumbling block, too.

“It needs a stadium that can be used for multiple purposes and a way where you can negotiate income opportunities,” he added.

“The future of Odsal would be going hand in hand with any attempt to save Bradford Bulls but that (selling lease) was not an option to the RFL.

“Now, that is their right and I’m not saying they should be held down over a barrel. We were just asking for a commitment to engage. But we couldn’t even get them to do that.

“They’re talking about 16 or 17 days to get a team onto the field for the start of the Championship season...there comes a point where you have to say no.

“It was always a bit of a battle and I hoped we’d get the opportunity to present to the (independent RFL) Board.

“But there were concerns about the process and we were quite a way out of their parameters. They made an announcement about those criteria just before 3pm on January 5, but I didn’t get an actual email from them until 9.45 that night.

“Later, they said in their press release that there was four bidders but I don’t know why they had to say that. I’d already told them we wouldn’t be bidding and withdrew before their deadline.

“They had something to sell but we didn’t want to buy it.”

Thorne maintains the RFL are being “sincere” in their efforts to rescue Bradford and added: “Graham Lowe is a living legend in rugby league. Should he and Andrew Chalmers be successful in becoming trustees of the Bradford Bulls legacy as speculated, I am sure all will wish them every success.”