English Championship rugby league club Bradford Bulls has signalled its intention to return to its historic Odsal Stadium home, regardless of whether it succeeds with a bid to return to Super League.
The Bulls are currently vying with fellow Championship teams Featherstone Rovers, Leigh Centurions, London Broncos, Toulouse Olympique and York City Knights to secure the Super League licence left vacant following Toronto Wolfpack’s failure to gain re-admission to the top tier.
In August 2019, the Bulls announced they would leave Odsal Stadium to groundshare with fellow Championship club Dewsbury Rams, amid plans to develop a new home in the Yorkshire city. Odsal is considered one of English rugby league’s most historic stadia, but the facility, along with the Bulls, has fallen on hard times in recent years.
Odsal first opened in 1933 and famously drew a crowd of 102,569 for the 1954 Challenge Cup final replay between Warrington and Halifax. The stadium still attracted large crowds as the Bulls enjoyed great success in the 1990s and 2000s. However, the team went into administration in 2012 and was liquidated in 2017, forcing a rebirth in the lower leagues.
Odsal is owned by Bradford City Council, but the Rugby Football League (RFL) was forced to step in to assume the lease-hold interest in 2012 amid the financial troubles surrounding the Bulls. A key part of the team’s application for the Super League licence is a return to Odsal and acting chief executive Mark Sawyer claims progress is being made.
“Our intention is to return to Odsal whether we’re in Super League or the Championship,” said Sawyer, according to the Yorkshire Post newspaper. “We’re in negotiations with both the local authority, who own the freehold, and the RFL and we’ve agreed terms with a stock car operator.”
Odsal hosted stock car racing up to 1997, and prospective promoter, Steve Rees, said he has struck a verbal agreement with the RFL on its potential return along with speedway under a proposed 12-year contract. Rees told the Telegraph & Argus newspaper: “We plan to move things along rapidly and, if we tick all the boxes, it is our ambition to open the doors on Saturday, April 3, 2021.”
Odsal has been unused as a sporting venue since the Bulls moved out and Rees estimates that total refurbishment to make the stadium “fit for purpose” could cost £500,000 (€561,000/$667,000), including work needed to be carried out by the RFL and others.
Regarding the Bulls’ Super League bid, Sawyer added: “We’re making our application as robust as possible. The one thing we can’t do anything about is what previous regimes did. I’d be disappointed if it counted against us.
“It’s very much a circle at all rugby clubs. It’s fair to say all clubs have been in difficulties at some time or other. I would hope showing what we’ve been able to do in the last 13 months or so would put us in a decent light.”