FORMER Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood and his family have become the major shareholder in the new consortium that has taken over crisis-torn Bradford Bulls.
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In a remarkable turn of events, even given some of the bizarre episodes the West Yorkshire club has endured over the last decade, the news was announced at a Bulls fans forum at Tetley's Stadium, Dewsbury last night.
Dewsbury Rams chairman Mark Sawyer is the only other shareholder in the consortium that has completed a deal to buy the cash-strapped Championship club from Andrew Chalmers.
Canadian Eric Perez, who founded Toronto Wolfpack and recently took over Hemel Stags ahead of relocating them to Ottawa for the 2021 League 1 season, will act as interim chairman.
Bradford, understood to have more than £750,000 of debt, have been in special measures since August (they are now out and free to sign players again) and recently left their traditional Odsal home due to crippling costs.
They have already agreed to play at Dewsbury in 2020 but Wood - who remains as International Rugby League chief executive - has pledged to get ‘Bulls back to Bradford.’
The move will cause obvious consternation, however, and could raise serious questions of historic conflict of interest.
Wood was chief executive of the governing body when the RFL purchased the lease to Odsal back in 2012 and at the helm as they have since given the green light to three different ownerships of the club who all failed in one way or another.
The RFL sanctioned Chalmers’ bid to set up a new club when Bradford went into liquidation at the start of 2017 - they had suffered three administrations between 2012 and 2016 - only to be left in another financial mess now with Wood essentially coming in to take charge.
Sawyer has 24.99 per cent of the shares - the maximum he can hold while still owning Dewsbury - and he read out a statement from Wood’s ‘family’ last night.
It read: “As some people know my family and wife’s family are lifelong Bradford supporters through Northern and the Bulls and we have watched closely and sadly recent events unfold.
“We’ve been asked if we would assist and while it would be much easier and, frankly, much simpler to leave it to others to try to sort things out we have concluded that we can not stand by without doing so.
“As I hope it can be appreciated, my professional duties in the international game means I cannot and will not get involved with the day-to-day running.
“However, I have the full confidence in those that will lead the club going forward many of whom are on the stage this evening (Sawyer and Perez were joined by head coach John Kear and captain Steve Crossley).
“I am prepared to offer whatever advice and help that I can to the group with one clear, simple aim: we must bring the Bulls back to Bradford where they belong.”
Sawyer was already involved after offering Bradford terms to play at his club’s stadium in 2020.
He said: “Once I took a look at things, I thought I could do something with it.
“And there wasn’t many other people showing an interest.
“All Dewsbury fans concerned I might be stepping away from them, that won’t be the case.
“I’m in charge of helping getting Bradford back to Bradford. I’ll negotiate with the council and have experience of doing this. We have a deal here suits both parties.”
Perez said: “I am here on an interim basis to facilitate the transition between the new ownership and the old regime.
“I have been given special dispensation from the RFL to take on the interim chairmanship as Hemel is dormant for the 2020 season, and this in no way undermines the Ottawa club that is slated to enter League One in 2021.”
The RFL added: “The RFL can confirm that following the submission and agreeing of the club’s operating budget for 2020 has been agreed.
“This means the element of special measures that restricts the registration of player contracts has been lifted.
“As part of the sale, the new consortium has appointed Perez as the club’s interim chairman.”