KARL Pratt is loving life as the Bulls’ lottery manager, but his journey back to Odsal has not been plain sailing. Ross Heppenstall meets the man who won every trophy on offer in the red, amber and black.
RUN that past me again, Karl.
You were working in Ikea at Birstall, fitting solar panels?
And you met a contact of Marc Green before being offered a job as lottery manager at the Bulls?
And you accepted straight away?
“Oh, yes. You don’t say no to Bradford Bulls. I ran here!”
Karl Pratt is sat in an office overlooking the Odsal turf he once graced and describes his decision to return to the club as a “no brainer”.
He credits the Bulls with helping him to achieve his boyhood dreams and wants to repay them.
Pratt explains: “One of the main reasons for coming back was that, having been forced to retire because of injury at 25, I felt I still had a lot to give to the club.
“Bradford gave me everything. As a kid I had dreams, ambitions and goals – and it was only when I came here that I was able to achieve them.
“As a 10-year-old, you watch Great Britain play Australia with your parents at three o’clock in the morning.
“To turn around to them and say ‘I’m going to do that’ – and then actually do it and become a world champion – was amazing. But I couldn’t have done it without this club.”
After thirty minutes in the company of this complex and interesting individual, it is apparent he has enough stories about his life to fill a book.
Pratt was raised on the Belle Isle estate in south Leeds, a tough district which bred stars such as Garry Schofield, Jason Robinson and Jimmy Lowes.
“We haven’t got a right lot, but what we’ve got we fight for. That’s just how it is,” says Pratt.
He was a ball-boy at Headingley but signed for Featherstone Rovers from Hunslet Parkside before being snapped up by the Rhinos in November 1998.
“Karl is the hottest young property in the British game, with a flair for try-scoring,” said Rhinos coach Graham Murray at the time.
Pratt made his Leeds debut against Wigan in March 1999 and, after 33 tries in 74 appearances, he was signed by Bradford ahead of the 2003 campaign.
A talented utility player, Pratt played in both the Challenge Cup and Grand Final winning teams of that year and the World Club Challenge against Penrith in February 2004.
But in December 2005 he was forced to retire after a constant battle with injuries.
“I dislocated both my shoulders and have no sockets left so I have restricted movement,” Pratt, now 34, explains.
“I had seven operations in three years.”
Pratt, by his own admission, struggled to reconcile the fact that his career was over.
“I went off the rails, big time, and I won’t hide that,” he admits.
“I was drinking heavily, a lot of Jack Daniels, and I went through a stage of gambling to substitute the feeling that had been taken from me.”
Pratt’s story is apt in a week when all 14 Super League clubs join forces with State of Mind to raise awareness of mental health issues within sport.
“I was depressed for about six months,” he adds.
“I started playing rugby league at six-years-old and I felt like I’d had my arms and legs chopped off.
“I could never replace that feeling and it is only just being replaced now a decade later with me being back at Bradford.
“I’ve always been a proactive person but two years after retiring I was more in reaction mode.
“I thought to myself ‘Have a word, Karl, there are people worse off than yourself’.”
He coached at amateur level in rugby league and union and gradually rebuilt his life.
Having done “bits and bobs” for work since 2006, Pratt feels his skills are best served working for the club he loves.
“Anyone can get a job and work in a warehouse and that’s no disrespect to people who are doing that,” says Pratt, a father-of-four whose partner is due to give birth shortly.
“But I felt I was selling myself short. Is running the lottery at Bradford better? Just a bit!
“Even as a player I was never that good. I was alright, I played at a decent level, but it was my heart and enthusiasm levels which helped me achieve.
“Alf Davies has showed me the way to go with the lottery and if I can stamp my bit of enthusiasm on things then I can’t see how it can fail.
“The positivity coming out of this place right now is incredible.”
Although Pratt still lives in south Leeds, he says: “Once you’ve been at Bradford, there is always a part of you that stays here.
“I don’t know what it is. I could sit here all day trying to explain what is it but I couldn’t do it.
“I’ll always be forever indebted to this club and the people of Bradford.
“I feel strongly about that and always will. If I can add two per cent that makes a difference here, then great.”
Last Sunday, Pratt shaved his head at Bradford Dudley Hill’s Summer Fun Day to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
It followed the death of Under-14s player Haydan Harrison’s grandfather to brain cancer.
Pratt said: “Dudley Hill are one of our local clubs and we need to do right by them.
“I’m trying to get all the amateur clubs back involved with the lottery and have said ‘If you can give us £20 a week, the club will look after you with tickets and get players down’.
“Without the community there is no club – that’s been proven.
“It’s a collective effort and it has to be – not just my lottery team, not just the club but the whole city of Bradford.”
Amen to that.