BRADFORD BULLS, one of the most famous names in rugby league, have been liquidated.
Following a third administration inside five years, the three-times World Club champions have now gone bust - although a new club is expected to be formed soon and, controversially, will be allowed to stay in the Championship.
Cash-strapped Bradford, with debts of more than £1m, were in administration since November 14 following a winding-up order issued by HM Revenue and Customs over an unpaid £350,000 tax bill
although numerous parties have shown interest in buying the West Yorkshire outfit.
A consortium, led by former New Zealand Rugby League chairman Andrew Chalmers, saw an RFL-approved bid turned down last week.
However, the joint-administrators announced on Friday that negotiations had progressed with another prospective buyer to an “advanced level” and they trusted “talks will come to a positive conclusion very early next week.”
Nevertheless, barely a month before their Championship season was set to start, stunned players and staff were today told the club no longer exists after the last remaining bidder pulled out late last night.
Leon Pryce, the former Great Britain stand-off who has returned to his hometown club from Hull FC for the new season, Tweeted: “Sorry for players staff fans - everyone involved. Bradford Bulls we have been liquidated. For the first time in my life I’m lost for words.”
The RFL made the following statement: “The Administrator of Bradford Bulls (Northern) Limited has confirmed that the club has ceased trading.
“While this is terribly disappointing and sad, it is not an entirely surprising development given the scale of debt incurred by the previous management of the club and the debilitating level of financial commitment already entered into for 2017.
“The RFL is aware of significant interest shown in the club by a number of potential bidders and one bid for the company emerged shortly before Christmas.
“This was rejected by the Administrator and subsequently the further late interest shown to the Administrator by another party was withdrawn yesterday evening.
“Accordingly the RFL, through Rugby League Cares, intends to offer support to all staff and players who have had their employment terminated by the company ceasing to trade.
“The RFL is contacting all staff to advise them of the support it will provide.
“To clarify the next steps for all concerned, the independent RFL Board has met to determine how the future of professional Rugby League in Bradford can move forward in 2017.
“While a number of alternatives were considered the Board were most mindful of the planning already undertaken by all other clubs in the competition structure, the season tickets already purchased and the players and staff who will now be seeking employment in and around the sport in 2017.
“Accordingly the Board has agreed that the wider interests of the sport is best satisfied if it offers a place in the Kingstone Press Championship to any new club in Bradford and that such a club start the 2017 season on minus twelve points.
“Any interested parties should contact the RFL directly. The RFL believes that Rugby League needs Bradford and that Bradford deserves a strong and stable professional club and will work with all interested parties to deliver that outcome.”
That has statement has come as some comfort to staff and players at the club who were fully expecting to be demoted to League 1 if any new club did form.
There has been no “fire-sale” at the club during this administration but it is believed a number of players have organised new deals elsewhere including former Hull KR centre Kris Welham moving back into Super League with Salford Red Devils and ex-Castleford Tigers winger James Clare joining newly-promoted Leigh Centurions.
Central to many of the discussions has been whether the RFL would be prepared to sell back the leasehold of Bradford’s Odsal Stadium - which they bought to help ease the club’s crippling debuts in 2012 - to the new owner.
Bulls, who last won the World Club Challenge in 2006, first went into administration in 2012 and, though they were bought out of it by Omar Khan, suffered the same fate two years later.
Crucially, they were also relegated from Super League in 2014 following a six-point penalty deduction. Marc Green was in charge then but he, too, clearly struggled to deal with their financial issues and has come under fire for the manner in which he managed the club.
After losing the Million Pound Game in 2015, they did not even make the top-four last season, their poor finish seeing them miss out on the lucrative Qualifiers and another chance of earning promotion.
Originally formed in 1907, the Bradford Northern club has come back from the dead once before having ceased to exist in 1963 and being resurrected the following year with help from legendary former player Trevor Foster.
Rotherham Titans chief executive Richard Lamb is one of those who has been in discussions with the administrator in recent weeks.
Bradford Council Leader, Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, said: “We are hugely disappointed that the administrator has been unable to find a buyer for the previous Bradford Bulls company.
“This is a difficult time for Bulls employees, players and fans.
“We know the RFL worked hard to support a positive outcome which would protect the interests of rugby league football in Bradford.
“I’m glad they are now taking steps to quickly re-establish the Bulls in time for the 2017 season.
“Everyone, including the Council, is keen to get behind a new owner who can deliver a secure future for the club.”
Joint-administrator Gary Pettit said: “Several parties engaged in a process to acquire the Bradford Bulls, but that has ultimately proven to be an unsuccessful exercise. Due to non-disclosure agreements, what can be divulged is strictly limited.
“As I have said throughout, the situation is much more complex and complicated than any of the parties, including the RFL and the Administrators, envisaged when this process commenced. There was fundamental uncertainty over a series of topics, including the quality of the management information available.
“Bradford Bulls entered Administration for the third time in five years. This highlights that there is something fundamentally wrong with the business. The problems facing the Bradford Bulls are not unique. Rationally, the days where a sports club operates at a loss and is underwritten by a Patron should be gone.
“The biggest challenge for any purchaser of the Bulls is generating additional revenue to meet the operating costs of the club. That is why Odsal Stadium is important, for any purchaser to justify investment in redeveloping and upgrading the facilities as a stadium. To be clear, the issue has not been the potential for any other development.
“The plight of the Bradford Bulls has been widely publicised. The Administrators have done everything possible to conclude a sale.
“Ultimately however, the Administrators can only represent the Bradford Bulls as it is. The situation is also exceedingly difficult for the RFL as the governing body.
“I am very disappointed to say that the last potential purchaser confirmed last night that it will not be acquiring the Bradford Bulls. This is largely because time does not allow the complex issues to be resolved. The Administrators are under statutory constraints as to how they must proceed.
“Given the inability to secure a sale of the business, the Administrators have been left with no alternative but to make all staff redundant and cease trading. The Administrators will make the appropriate application to the Court hortly.
“The Administrators wish to acknowledge again (and are grateful for) the professionalism displayed by players and staff throughout.
“The Administrators are sadly conscious that the losses here extend beyond the current staff and players who will lose their jobs. Those losses extend to the families of the staff, into the community in Bradford and West Yorkshire, plus the people and businesses facing little prospect of recovering debts owed. The losses also extend to sport in general and specifically to Rugby League.”