Talking Rugby League: Can anyone produce a viable plan for Bradford Bulls’ Odsal Stadium?

Last week Bradford Bulls held a fans forum at Odsal in which their owner, Nigel Wood, the former RFL Chief Executive, released some information about an incipient plan to develop the site into the modern stadium that it should be.

The development would be carried out in the form of a partnership between the Bulls, Bradford Metropolitan District Council, the RFL and a funding organisation, which would inevitably be the government in one guise or another.

Apparently there have been meetings behind the scenes and applications for funding are to be made.

And, in any sensible world, they should be very carefully considered by a government that has a stated aim of levelling up the country economically.

It would be difficult to think of a city in the United Kingdom that could make out a greater case for levelling up than Bradford, which urgently needs new employment, new infrastructure, new transport links and, in my view, a major stadium that the city and all its residents could be proud of.

Odsal is quite well located close to the M62.

“There’s a Bradford Council initiative to develop that corridor from Richard Dunn, to here, then down the valley to make a modern facility,” Nigel told the gathering of supporters.

“It’s probably a 2/1 shot it will come off. as not everybody who applies for Levelling Up funding will get it, it must be based on the impact in the local economy and everything the club stands for.

“The hopes and aspirations are to take the club forward, and part of that ability to remain relevant is to address facilities at the club.”

The problem for Nigel is that he was facing a very angry group of supporters who want to know why their team isn’t performing better than it is and who have heard vague talk about the redevelopment of Odsal for probably as long as some of them have been alive.

They are also suspicious of Nigel’s motives, which I think is entirely unjustified.

When Nigel retired from his role at the RFL and at the Rugby League International Federation, he could have sailed off into the sunset and enjoyed a relaxing retirement.

Instead he chose to come on board with the Bulls and try to restore some of the club’s former glory, which must be the hardest job in Rugby League, although it’s one we would all like to see coming to pass.

Unfortunately he has never enjoyed the benefit of good public relations.

And last Thursday night that situation was exacerbated when the forum closed without the fans who were present being able to ask any questions.

Inevitably, most of them weren’t too pleased by that.

We should all recognise, however, that Nigel has some genuine achievements to his name from his time in Rugby League.

The World Cup this year will take place with the benefit of a £25 million investment by the government that he negotiated directly from the former Chancellor George Osborne.

When he managed to get that funding, his aim had initially been to get it for the redevelopment of Odsal into a national Rugby League stadium. Osborne refused to play ball on that, however, but he did throw the offer back to Nigel as funding for a World Cup that would be mainly based in northern England.

And Nigel also negotiated personally the £200 million TV contract that expired in 2021, with the subsequent contract being much smaller than that one.

And he managed to do that without involving an outside organisation like IMG and paying them a commission of some 10 or 15 per cent of the deal. All the money he negotiated came into Rugby League.

He warned against the splitting of Super League away from the RFL and I doubt whether anyone would claim that he was wrong on that one, which wasted a great deal of money before the two sides finally came back together this year.

So my feelings about Nigel are that he is a very able negotiator who is in a very difficult position.

I’m not sure whether there is any chance of success in developing Odsal, but when you think that Bradford will be the City of Culture in 2025, in my view we should be banging the drum for the ideal that sport, and the city’s various sporting clubs and stadia, are part of its cultural offerings.

Despite the dislike that some Bradford supporters clearly have for Nigel, they need to realise that he is their best, and perhaps only hope.

I can’t see too many alternatives.

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