The fall-out from the Bradford Bulls crisis has triggered a backlash against the city council.
The authority has been accused of “backroom dealing” over a £200,000 loan it made to the cash-strapped club in 2012. MPs and councillors lined up to demand answers about the loan, which is thought to have been guaranteed by the club’s former owner, businessman Omar Khan.
Many people fear the loan may never be repaid. And now, Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway is convening a meeting to try to save the Bulls, who have gone into administration following a long-running battle for control between Mr Khan and club directors.
But amid all the turmoil, the Bulls' home match against London Broncos on Sunday will go ahead.
Mr Galloway is calling on Bradford Council leader David Green to reveal details of the loan. "He needs to assure the club and the people of Bradford that the money loaned to the Bulls has a copper-bottomed guarantee to it," he said.
Some Bradford councillors are furious. Councillor Jeanette Sunderland (Lib Dem, Idle and Thackley) said: “It is not a good use of public money.”
She echoed comments by Coun David Robinson (Ind, Wyke) that the loan was unseemly in the face of council cutbacks. He said: “It is disgusting. We are closing old people’s homes and making other cuts and yet we can make a loan like this.”
Coun Green said there would be no further comment over and above a statement issued last week that the loan was secured. Mr Khan, however, is preparing to hold a press conference to clarify his position.
On Tuesday, London businessman Richard Lamb said he still wanted to buy the Bulls after the club was docked six points by the Rugby Football League for entering administration.
He had earlier been turned down by administrators in favour of an offer by Bradford Bulls 2014 Ltd, led by a team of club directors.
Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe – who supported Mr Khan’s purchase of the club - said: “It is vital that the club's future is determined.”
He said administrators should do all they could to help Mr Lamb take on the club.
Mr Galloway said Tuesday had been “a devastating day”. “Losing points was a punishment,” he said. “But the uncertainty about the very existence of the club is the real punishment - for the whole city. The Bulls are absolutely integral to Bradford.”
On the loan, he said council taxpayers were likely to lose out. “I can’t see how this money can be repaid,” he said.
Mr Galloway was spending yesterday contacting MPs, councillors and other parties in a bid to arrange a meeting.
Mr Khan said he had taken advice and could not comment at this stage. “But very shortly I will do with a press conference,” he said.
Coun Robinson asked for information about the loan in January when he wrote to chief executive Tony Reeves, but has had no reply.
“We want answers," he said., "There is a lot of disquiet. These are very muddy waters and I won’t let it go. I will be keeping an eye on this.”
At the council's budget meeting last week, Coun Sunderland called for details about the loan. "I am concerned because the decision was made behind closed doors. It harks back to the 1960s.
"Coun Green needs to report to the public on this."
In response to questions at last week's meeting, a council statement said: "The council made a commercial loan to Bradford Bulls that was secured. The council is taking appropriate steps in the circumstances with regard to repayment, as we would with any other commercial transaction.
"We continue to work with Bradford Bulls and the Rugby Football League in seeking to ensure a sustainable future of the club, while protecting taxpayers' interests."
Bulls chief executive Robbie Hunter-Paul said yesterday: "The person who comes in now and takes over will really have to prove themselves.
"Thankfully, we have a lot of people in the business who have dealt with this kind of thing for donkeys' years.
"I have always had the club at heart. I am part of the fabric of the club and want what's best for it. I could have walked away many times in recent months but I am still here."