When even the cheerleaders are refusing to sing and dance, you know the game is up.
That was the sad predicament that befell Bradford Bulls last weekend so yesterday’s confirmation they have plunged into administration came as no real surprise.
Apparently, the pom-pom girls, in the words of acting-chairman Stephen Coulby, “effectively withdrew their labour” for the Wakefield Trinity game given monies were still owed for several months’ work.
Considering the magnitude of their pre-match entertainment when Super League began, when you could blink and miss the cheerleaders given all the other spectacular Bullmania razzmatazz going on, it is a clear sign of how far they have fallen.
Four times Super League champions and thrice conquerors of the world – the last title earned just six years ago – it is hard for their fans to stomach.
But all of this is now irrelevant as the club stand on the brink of extinction, torpedoed by a tax bill of around £300,000.
It is surreal to think that the club received far more than that alone for the sale of Great Britain star Stuart Fielden in 2006 shortly after inspiring that last World Club Challenge triumph.
Then the world’s greatest forward, he commanded a £450,000 fee from Wigan Warriors but even then many thought it was the beginning of the end for the great club.
Certainly, after appearing at five consecutive Grand Finals they have not won a trophy since and public events of the last three months, since then chairman Peter Hood announced the club needed £1m to avoid going bust, have left a sour taste.
None more so than in the mouths of fans who rallied brilliantly to support a pledge scheme which raised £500,000 to stave off that initial threat.
What happened to that money – fans were urged to pledge at least £100 each – is one of the questions which must now be answered.
After his financial review earlier this month, Brendan Guilfoyle, the administrator now in control, admitted the club actually needed another £1.2m to go forward – not £500,000.
Consequently Coulby, who took over in mid-May after a majority of the club’s concerned shareholders forced Hood’s resignation, knows answers are still required as to how Bradford ended in this perilous state.
“I’ve always said it was a tremendous effort what those magnificent fans did,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“Understandably, they want to know where that money went.
“I’m not waiving my responsibility when I say that pledge scheme was before I came back on board five weeks ago.
“I’ve not asked the direct question as to how that money was utilised but I understand them wanting to know that.
“Brendan has given an undertaking that, with the business going into administration, it will be one of the issues he will address.
“He has promised at the end of this there will be a review and it will go back three years, so the questions will be answered.”
It is understood the money was used to settle the club’s overdraft and pay off another tax bill.
Coulby could reveal, however, there will soon be clarity over the compensation deal with Leeds Rhinos over Iestyn Harris’s move to Odsal in 2004 which dragged on for years.
“Some people seem to think it is the reason why we’re in this position today,” he said about the long-running legal battle.
“But when the truth comes out I think that will show it’s not at all.
“We’re bound by a confidentiality agreement put in place when the settlement was drawn up. But I’ve spoken to (Leeds chief executive) Gary Hetherington recently and we feel it will benefit everyone to get it out so these inflated figures aren’t bandied about.
“Various hypotheses have been put forward (why Bradford are in trouble) but it’s never been easy.
“We had the 10 years’ success from ’96 to ’06 but there’s always been problems – just never quite on this scale.”
That is all well and good but it will not improve the mood of fans this morning.
Fielden himself was scathing yesterday of the manner in which the drama had played out.
He had manned the Odsal phones over the Easter period to do his bit for the club which developed him into a force.
In a series of tweets, the 32-year-old – currently injured ahead of Bradford’s game at Wigan on Friday – wrote: “Feel for all the Bradford Bulls, players , fans and staff. The wool was well and truly pulled over their eyes.
“It is clear someone/people knew about this situation all along. 1.2 million debt doesn’t just appear!
“I hope who ever it is has sleepless nights and more.
“The original pledge was given by all the fans, and staff. Even young children gave their pocket money.”
He added: “We can all be angry, sad, disgusted but what will that change.
“I think every single Bulls fan, rugby fan that can should get to the DW Stadium on Friday night and pack the Bulls’ end in the stadium to the rafters to show them they will never give in.
“These people should never forgive or forget the culprit/s (sic).”
Following on from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Crusaders both entering administration last year, these latest events have raised question marks about the sustainability of a 14-club Super League.
Coulby admitted: “It’s a worrying time for the game.
“We are in a difficult time from an economy point of view in this country, never mind the sport of rugby league.
“There are clubs who have got benefactors who are there in times of trouble, but Bradford have never had that and we’re not alone. It is concerning but the game is sustainable. There’s got to be a business plan adhered to going forward, but one that can be worked to.”
Hopefully, prospective owners out there will see that; now the club’s debts have been wiped, there is an opportunity for someone to pick up Bradford Bulls and revitalise it.
Loose forward Jamie Langley, the club’s longest-serving player who featured in their last title success in 2005, said: “This is a difficult and trying time for all the Bulls players.
“We have pressures away from rugby like everyone else and it is worrying for us all.
“Despite the troubles at the club, the players are aware that we continue to represent the Bradford Bulls family and we will continue to give our all for the Bradford shirt regardless of the problems off the field.”