Thursday, 29 March 2012

Hair dye

1. Performance-debilitating drug.

2. Unnecessary distraction. "I'm afraid you've failed your driving test as the pretty lady crossing the road proved to be a right old hair dye and you ended up ploughing into the back of that school bus".

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Questions the RFL and Bradford need to answer

The more you look at it, the more the situation at Odsal looks a complete and utter mess. The willingness of supporters to chip in and raise the funds is understandable and almost admirable. However, there are some serious questions that need satisfactory answers before any significant amount of money is simply handed over to the existing board.

For Bradford:

What is the value of the club? Given that the major asset - the stadium - no longer belongs to the club, what are the assets and what is the value of those assets?

If an individual came in with a million pounds, what percentage of the club would they own and would they get a seat on the board? If a group of individuals did the same through a Trust arrangement with elected representatives, would they be afforded the same shareholding and board rights? If not, why not? How much would an individual - or organised group of individuals - have to be willing to pay into the club in order to examine the books?

Was it not obvious that no longer owning the stadium would impact on the ability if the club to borrow money?

Why was it necessary to sell the ground? What parts of the operation of the stadium still fall into the club's remit? Did anyone consider the number of insolvencies in football stemming from separation of club and ground?

In January 2012, we were told that the sale of the ground would see the club on a secure financial footing. What changed between January and March? What else is lurking around the corner?

How long has the board known about this? Ten days seems an awfully short time to raise half a million quid. Surely the board must have been aware of this being even a potential problem before that. If so, why wait? Is it a calculated move to panic fans into coughing up without organising together or asking difficult questions?

The sale of Odsal was sold to the public as raising money to sort out a one-off difficulty and all would be fine after the deal was done. That was clearly bunk. Why should anyone believe that another one-off injection of capital will be different this time? Why should anyone believe what the board tell them any more? How can anyone believe that the current board are the best custodians of Bradford Bulls given events of the past six months?

For the RFL:

How were the monies owed that prompted the RFL to buy Odsal accrued? What due diligence was done to verify the claims that this one-off deal would secure the future of Bradford Bulls, at least to be able to fulfil their fixtures for the 2012 season?

What happened to Bradford between the awarding of a Super League license - when they will presumably have had to prove at least their medium-term viability - and the purchase of Odsal?

Wakefield, London, Crusaders and now Bradford have all gone through major financial upheaval in the last couple of years. How are the RFL monitoring the financial position of member clubs? What does this say about licensing? What plans are there to examine the system?

When was the 50% of turnover element of the salary cap removed and what was the rationale behind that? Has that rationale been justified?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it'd be a good starting point to get answers to these.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Throwing good money after bad

Oh, Bradford.

Let me make one thing clear - I have no axe to grind against Bradford Bulls. They're a fine club and it's generally a fine place to visit (i.e. when the Odsal microclimate behaves itself). But oh what a mess.

How they ended up in this situation is one for the forensic accountants. What happens next is of greater interest.

Licensing and salary capping were both introduced with the spiel that they would offer stability and protect clubs from financially inviable short-termism - chasing the dream in order to stop up in the top division with inevitable consequences when the bills had to be paid. One of the key tenets of the salary cap was that the amount to be spent on wages was either £1.7m pa or 50% of turnover, whichever was the lower. The 50% rule was quietly - very quietly - dropped a couple of years ago. It's quite a tricky rule to police, especially with the change to a 'live' system after a series of breaches that were punished only the season after - or later - the offence took place and was therefore deemed to be unfair to clubs that played by the rules. It's not a huge leap to suggest that that change in rules could well be a factor in Bradford's current plight. The RFL would do well to study the effects of their rule change, take a step back and see whether there's anything they could have done to prevent this or whether they've been duped.

The Bradford board are currently on a fund-raising drive, the idea that 10,000 season ticket holders contribute £100. The theory is that they were beneficiaries of cheap ticket deals and coughing up another hundred quid still makes the season ticket a competitive deal and that simple maths means that would raise the £1m they apparently require to make all their problems disappear. That's fine in theory, but there are a couple of things I'd want raising before coughing up.

Odsal was sold to the RFL earlier in the year. This was reported at the time as helping to secure the ground as a result of predatory approachers by dastardly developers. Today, it transpires that the RFL were owed monies by Bradford and the sale of the ground covered that. What happened to create that debt? Is it a structural thing that a one-off deal like that cleared for good or is it a case of ongoing losses and mounting debts that this only wiped out temporarily?

Similar questions need raising over this appeal for funds from the board. What reason could they possibly give that any money coming in from people who bought tickets in good faith not that long ago isn't going to disappear down a black hole? What assurances can be given that Peter Hood's claims that raising a million quid will see this problem off for good are actually true?

Fundamentally, why would you hand money over without any assurances? What strikes me as a better idea is to raise the money, but hold it in an Independent Supporters Trust and inject the money into the club that way with fan representation on the board to allow the people who are coughing up these funds some level of oversight into how it's being spent. A cynic might say that the board's claims that they need half a million in little over a week is designed to ensure that this scenario doesn't happen simply on grounds of lack of time.

Fan ownership is tough, but it can be done. Chesterfield and Exeter City football clubs are good examples, as are AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester and Chester FC. There is no reason why it can't work in rugby league. It doesn't strike me as a good idea to hand money to a guy promising to rebuild your house when he's the one that tore it down in the first place. If the Bradford support can organise quickly and go down the IST route, then at least they can hold the prospective house rebuilder to account.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Top 10: Things more disreputable than Wigan's team selection

Regular readers (welcome, both of you) may have noticed a Top 10 feature every month in venerable organ Forty20 magazine. Well it's written by us and we reserve the right to post interim Top 10s here that don't fit the publishing schedule of aforementioned monthly periodical. So here goes...

Faux-outrage was all the.. err.. rage after Wigan were beaten by Widnes last weekend. Not by the result itself, but the temerity of Wigan to select who they chose for their gameday 17 from their 29-man squad, a squad that was named well in advance of the season and therefore held no surprises. "Waah, waah" went the prevailing narrative, with added notions of bringing the game into disrepute and disrespecting their opponents.
Here are ten things that bring the game into disrepute more than naming a team from a known and published squad:

10. Players signing for rugby union clubs and saying they're going "for the challenge".

9. Fans bleating about referees rather than examining the deficiencies of their team.

8. The band at Headingley.

7. Margin Meter.

6. The Crusaders debacle.

5. Issac Luke's tackling technique.

4. Paying super-annuated Antipodean pensioners a king's ransom to facilitate their end-of-career jaunt round the fleshpots of Europe.

3. Declaring your intention to play international rugby for 'whoever wants me this month'.

2. A governing body that hangs one player out to dry when systematic doping is uncovered at one of it's member clubs.

1. Losing to Widnes.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Winter set to shift to summer

Popular season Winter has told us that it is considering a switch to summer, potentially affecting all levels of rugby league in the UK.

A spokesman for Winter said in a statement that "our client (Winter) is fed up of being associated with darkness, cold and dying pensioners. Having had a taste of slightly more clement prevailing weather conditions over the last few days, our client is contemplating moving to the middle of the year when it's a bit nicer".

Having switched the entire game to a summer season, this leaves the RFL in something of a quandary, but their meteorological department told us that "we'll be keeping a very close eye on developments. If Winter does move and adopts the same policies as the incumbent season for those months it intends to occupy, then we have no issue. But if there's a major seasonal reshuffle, then we have to take a look at it".

Winter, through an interpreter, said that "having weighed up my options, this time of year seems very much the right time for Winter to move into spring or maybe even summer. We'll just have to see what comes of negotiations". After putting to Winter the difficulties the RFL may face as a consequence, it retorted "look, you people have been making me warmer for years and then whining on about travel chaos when I'm just doing my job. It's about time I had a nice break in the Seychelles or somewhere while you decide whether you even want me around any more", before adding "and what the hell is rugby league anyway?"

A decision on any proposed move from Winter is expected by March 21.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Justin Murphy Memorial Staircase

Wigan v Catalans Dragons is the big game this week in Super League, and it's a time where we all take a moment and pay tribute to the Justin Murphy Memorial Staircase:

And he played on!