Somebody once told me that if the demise of Bradford Bulls had happened to a major American sporting franchise, it would have been made into a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster by now.
It’s almost inconceivable to imagine that in little over a decade, one club could go from being world champions to finding themselves in the bottom tier of the professional game. You probably can’t draw too many parallels with other sports, but I’ll try anyway: imagine Manchester City or the like falling like a stone in that period of time.
Of course, the problems at the Bulls had started a little bit earlier than that, but this isn’t a column to sift through the wreckage of a disastrous few years for one of the game’s biggest names. In fact, it’s a more positive look at how – and whisper it quietly – things are starting to turn around at Odsal at long last.
You can look at the League 1 table for proof alone of that; the Bulls are the only side still unbeaten in not only the third-tier, but the whole professional game – and that’s after an opening quartet of games against Keighley, York, Oldham and Hunslet. Hardly free hits for John Kear and his men.
But scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll find so much more that is good about the Bulls – and the people of Bradford will have been waiting years to hear someone say that. False dawn after false dawn, plus shambolic administration after shambolic administration, slowly reduced one of British rugby league’s biggest brands to its knees, and left a strong fanbase on life support.
A crowd of over 4,000 on Good Friday against Oldham would have hardly been anything to cheer about six or seven years ago. But Yorkshire folk can be easily persuaded to part with their brass if they see a good thing – and if Bradford keep winning, those crowds will keep on rising. Fickle? Perhaps. But by summertime, Bradford could be pulling crowds bigger than a fair few Super League sides.
It goes without saying that hopes were raised immeasurably when John Kear stepped through the door – probably three or four years too late – for the start of this season: and so far, the modern-day godfather of rugby coaching has shown his wisdom and his knowledge to guide the Bulls to that aforementioned unbeaten start to 2018. They also have a Challenge Cup tie at Warrington to look forward to.
But, perhaps most encouragingly of all, Kear’s squad has a large contingent of Bradford-born players in it – players who will inevitably give their all for the cause. Elliot Minchella has proven to be a real coup; how Sheffield would love him back. Ross Peltier is Bradford through and through. Ethan Ryan, Brandon Pickersgill, Ross Oakes and Liam Kirk are the latest products of the Bulls production line – which is stronger than some top-flight sides’.
Then there’s the off-field situation – which is where the greatest hope lies for Bulls fans. 2017 was somewhat of an annus horribilis for Andrew Chalmers – who took on a new-co with minimal funding and a 12-point deduction. He found himself and his new club in a protracted legal battle, which has now been settled.
But that is now hopefully all behind the Bulls. I’m always keen to watch how clubs act, and what they produce, when it comes to social media; I’ve long been a believer that some sides outside of Super League show some of the bigger clubs up. One thing that caught my eye was a feature on the Bulls’ YouTube channel (link), where a young supporter is given access to speak to players after the game. It’s not much, and it’s hardly groundbreaking, but it provides a subconscious link between the club and its supporters – and that was the kind of stuff that made Bullmania the force it was in the late-1990s.
Rugby league needs a strong Bradford – and Super League would undoubtedly be a stronger competition with a thriving Bradford. It’ll be a long road back to there – but it appears like the Bulls have finally taken the first steps on that journey.