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Stephen Coulby outlines concerns for Bradford Bulls in advance of EGM
On December 13, 2011, Peter Hood and Stephen Coulby dined together at a restaurant in Leeds.
Concerns about the Bulls’ financial health had begun to mount.
Hood admitted to Coulby, the club’s former vice-chairman, that “times were tough”.
The pair spoke for three hours.
Relations were cordial.
“I suggested to Peter that, for the sake of the club, all stakeholders should be brought together as a matter of urgency,” recalls Coulby.
“Peter felt there was no chance of getting Chris Caisley to attend but I assured him that was not the case.
“Peter agreed that some good may come from such a meeting and promised to get back to me after Christmas.
“We shook hands, wished each other a happy Christmas and said our farewells. But I’ve never heard from him since.”
Five months on, Coulby and several other shareholders, together holding over 50 per cent of the club’s issued shares, forced Hood to convene an extraordinary general meeting, scheduled for May 23.
The meeting would certainly see Hood and fellow director Andrew Bennett voted off the current board, although it is understood they are considering stepping down before then – possibly after Sunday’s match at London Broncos.
Coulby, who served on the board at Odsal for 15 years before standing down in August 2010, says calling the EGM was a “last resort” after Hood sold the Bulls’ 150-year lease of Odsal to the RFL.
He explained: “The last annual general meeting of the company was held on November 7, 2011.
“At that meeting, Peter was specifically asked whether any plans by the directors to permanently move the club away from Odsal would be brought before shareholders prior to any decision being made.
“He responded by saying that any such plans did not need to be put to shareholders if the directors did not wish to do so.
“It was suggested to him that such an important decision ought to be put before shareholders but Peter disagreed. That showed utter contempt to all shareholders in the company.”
Coulby understands that Hood met with Bradford City joint-chairman Julian Rhodes towards the end of last year and asked if the Bulls might potentially move to Valley Parade on a two-year temporary basis.
Coulby believes that within a matter of weeks a second meeting took place at which Hood enquired about a permanent move.
He explained: “I am led to believe that the first meeting saw Peter talk to Julian Rhodes about a temporary, two-year move by the Bulls to Valley Parade from 2012 because a developer was at an advanced stage with plans for Odsal.
“A short time later, though, this somehow changed to a need for a permanent and immediate move to Valley Parade, without reference to the supposed developer.
“Then in January of this year Peter announced the sale to the RFL of the club’s long lease of Odsal, under which the club previously paid no rent.
“We have given up a valuable asset and, what is more, ended up paying a rent to the RFL, whereas we previously paid no rent at all.
“Where is the sense in that? Was Peter already in talks with the RFL at the time of the AGM?
“It was stated at the time that this had been done to ‘fight off predators’ and at the fans’ forum held on February 1, Peter dismissed out of hand suggestions that the move had spared the Bulls from serious financial problems.
“He denied it was a ‘bail-out’ but within a matter of weeks, on March 26, the club finally came clean, stating an immediate need for £1million to stay in business, this of course being in addition to monies received from the sale of the lease.
“Rumours persist that the financial position is much worse than stated and the fact that Peter seems determined to remain in situ only heightens our concerns when, at best, the club appears to be surviving on a day-by-day basis.
“The supporters need to know after their tremendous efforts in raising money that the club is safe, otherwise they may as well have thrown the money they pledged and paid down the nearest drain.
“We are told by the directors that they have a number of options on the table, with a business plan going forward, but such statements are not factually supported.”
Coulby insists he and his fellow shareholders are determined to avoid taking the club into administration.
He says they have held talks with a number of potential investors.
But he adds pointedly: “Any potential investor will need to be assured that the club can move out of its present financial difficulties and that any investment is going to be worthwhile. That is why we need to know exactly what we are dealing with.”
Coulby adds: “The calling of the EGM is not the action of ‘Chris Caisley and a handful of cohorts’ as Peter called us.
“It’s a group of people who want to get to the bottom of what has gone so badly wrong and who want to advance discussions with interested parties before it is too late.
“It is already over four weeks since Peter was first asked to step aside, time that could have been used to the club’s benefit, and rumours of the sale of certain young players are frightening in the extreme. We must avoid losing our best talent if at all possible.
“In the past six years the club has gone from world club champions to relying on bucket collections and the tremendous goodwill of supporters for survival. It now needs a long-term policy to restore former glories.”