Long-awaited salvation was finally secured for stricken Bradford Bulls last night amid threats the club’s administrator would liquidate the famous rugby league club.
Bradford restaurants boss Omar Khan will be officially unveiled as the new club owner during the Super League side’s clash with Hull FC today - but it is understood a deal was only struck after administrators at The P&A Partnership threatened to pull the plug on the financially-crippled side.
Speaking exclusively to the Telegraph & Argus shortly after ownership of the club was transferred last night, Mr Khan spoke of his “excitement and exhaustion” after almost two months of negotiations and revealed his plan to build “the Wembley of the North”.
“I want to create a sports arena. We have been talking about this for a long time but nothing has ever been done. This is our chance to achieve this and I will do this if this is the last thing I do.”
Bulls fan Mr Khan, whose bid has been supported by former Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe - now the club's honorary chairman, said he decided to enter the race to save the crisis-torn club from collapse - competing with Bulls’ sporting rivals Bradford Park Avenue and Bradford City - because it is “part of our heritage and we can’t lose that”.
He pledged to invest in the future of the Super League side, put it back on a “solid foundation” and urged the Bradford community to support his vision.
“I believe we can make the Bulls a truly great club at the heart of our community,” he said.
“But I can’t do that alone and need the support of the people of Bradford - fans, businesses, residents. Together, there is nothing we can’t achieve.
“I want the fans and community to be at the heart of this club. That’s my vision. I’m very passionate about Bradford.”
Bradford South Labour MP Mr Sutcliffe said he and Mr Khan were happy to have saved the club from liquidation and looked forward to working with fans and “everyone who cares about sport in Bradford”.
But a Rugby Football League chief last night warned the “hard work starts now” in Bulls’ battle to stay in the top-flight - with its future in the Super League in doubt.
The governing body’s director of licensing and standards Blake Solly, who has been working closely with all parties since news of the Bulls’ financial crisis broke in the Telegraph & Argus on March 27, said: “The future of Bradford Bulls is so vital to the future of the sport – whatever division they are in.
“That was one of the reasons why Super League Europe put forward a bid to purchase the club from the administrator.
“It’s unthinkable that there could be no professional rugby league team in Bradford and the two really strong bids from Bradford Park Avenue and Omar Khan and Gerry Sutcliffe were testament to that.”
However, he said it was “too early to say” if the club would remain in the top-flight next season.
Asked what it would take to enable the side to stay in Super League, Mr Solly replied: “Once the transfer of the ownership is complete, the hard work of retaining the club’s Super League status will begin in earnest.
“The new owners are going to have to put the hard yards in.”
It is understood the majority of rival Super League clubs – including the big four of Wigan, Warrington, St Helens and Leeds – want to see Bulls remain in the top-flight, but it is unclear what price that would come at.
Now Bulls’ new owners are in position, a mini round of licensing is expected to take place within the next ten days where the RFL will consider bids from the leading Championship clubs and Bradford as to who is best suited to being the 14th Super League club.
Much of whether the Bulls’ application is successful will depend on the new owners’ ability take the club forward and counter suggestions that entering administration has given it a competitive advantage.
To offset that, Bulls could forego some of their central distribution, such as television monies, sponsorship funds and revenue from the play-off matches and Grand Finals, over the next two years.
Supporters’ trust Bullbuilder, which has played a vital role in raising cash during the Quest for Survival campaign and has since raised around £20,000 for a staff Hardship Fund, welcomed the long-awaited change of ownership and said it hoped it could work closely with Mr Khan and Mr Sutcliffe.
Spokesman Michael Farren said: “Safeguarding the future of Bradford Bulls was paramount and hopefully the new owners can now take the club forward to ensure we remain in Super League.”
Bulls’ coach Mick Potter, who has been working on a voluntary basis since being made redundant by administrator Brendan Guilfoyle, greeted news of a change of ownership with cautious optimism and said the new era could yet open the door for him to be reinstated as a paid coach.
The Australian has been linked to the vacant New Zealand Warriors’ job, but Mr Sutcliffe stated earlier this week that he hoped Mr Potter would stay at Odsal .
“It looks positive and I would certainly talk to the proposed new owners to see what their plans were for the club before I worry about myself,” he said.
“Their credentials are good as far as business is concerned and understanding politics.
“At the moment, I’m in the dark to a degree as to what’s going to happen and what job roles are going to be allocated to whom in any new set-up.
“Let’s take one step at a time and see what happens.”
Jont administrator Brendan Guilfoyle said: “This is a great achievement for Bradford Bulls, the players, fans and the city of Bradford.
“My main duty as administrator is to get the best return for creditors - and this was the best deal on the table. Omar Khan has also passed the Rugby Football League’s test as being a ‘fit and proper person’ to run a rugby club as well as being a passionate fan of the Bulls.
“I am really pleased that we were able to retain the playing squad without selling off young stars - which in the end was a crucial decision to achieve the sale.
“There are many people to thank in making this deal possible, not least employees, coaches and the interim chief executive who have all been working without pay. But I’m sure they would join me in saying the fans’ support has been outstanding and they have played a major part in this rescue. And through all this the players have won an extraordinary string of matches."