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Odsal Stadium targeted as ‘national home’ for rugby league

Bradford Council has spelled out plans to transform Odsal Stadium, the historic venue of Championship rugby league club Bradford Bulls, into a new national home for the sport.

The plans have been outlined as the Council set out a series of “bold and ambitious bids” totalling over £100m (€118.3m/$120.9m) to help ‘Level Up’ the district and deliver a swathe of economic, social and cultural benefits.

The Council is seeking backing from the second round of the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, which is designed to invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK. The £4.8bn fund aims to support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.

In Bradford South, the Council said Odsal could become the new national home for rugby league with a “game changing” state of the art culture and entertainment stadium. It continued: “While respecting its iconic historic status, the existing stadium would be carefully rebuilt to modern standards with a new roof to create a world-class high capacity sports, entertainment and training complex.

“The top-tier stadium could deliver over one £1bn of wider benefits to the Bradford District over 10 years and pave the way for the Bulls to return to the Super League once again. The revamped Odsal venue could support the district to capitalise on its City of Culture status by providing a world class stadium to stage high volume arts and entertainment events.”

Bulls chairman Nigel Wood last month revealed that the club is exploring plans to create a new sports city complex around Odsal Stadium. Odsal is considered one of English rugby league’s most historic stadiums but the venue, along with the Bulls, has fallen on hard times in recent years.

The Bulls returned to Odsal in May last year after agreeing an 18-month occupancy deal to play at the venue. Bradford left Odsal in 2019 to groundshare with the Dewsbury Rams amid plans to develop a new home in the Yorkshire city.

Odsal is owned by Bradford 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.

The Odsal project is one of four bids set out by the Council for Levelling Up funding, with the Government assigning up to £20m to every constituency in the UK. The Council added: “Independent analysis has shown the district to be the UK’s number one Levelling Up opportunity containing significant latent economic potential.”

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.

Image: Northern Wonder/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size