Asian rescue bid tries to curry favour with Bulls

Restaurants may be Bradford's last hope of avoiding liquidation

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The Independent Online

A chain of Indian restaurants has emerged as a lead player in the fight to save the Bradford Bulls. The club was due to be liquidated yesterday with debts of £1.2m, but the administrator extended the deadline because he is in what he described as "serious discussions" with a consortium of Asian businessmen.

"I'm not pinning all my hopes on this but I don't see too many other options out there," said the administrator, Brendan Guilfoyle. "I believe I've got someone who is very interested in buying the club. What they are concerned about is the level of losses going forward and they are giving it due diligence."

The consortium had a meeting with the administrators that lasted into the early hours of yesterday morning. A further meeting, also involving the Rugby Football League, broke up yesterday afternoon without any announcement of its conclusions. That is likely to come today, after the RFL's board of directors is brought up to date with the situation.

The identities of most members of the consortium remain a mystery, but Akbar's, which runs a number of popular restaurants around Yorkshire and which is a longstanding sponsor of the Bulls, has declared its interest.

"What is being considered is some kind of viable plan to be able to rescue what we consider the heart of Bradford," Akbar's corporate manager, Dill Butt, told a local radio station. "The Bradford Bulls have a long history with the passionate people of Bradford. It would be a shame to let part of the family heirlooms be lost."

One issue over which the consortium is understood to have concerns is the ownership of the club's home ground, Odsal. The RFL bought the stadium earlier this year, giving the Bulls an injection of cash and ensuring that the ground could not be sold in order to pay creditors.

If the Asian bid is the only hat in the ring, there will be great pressure on the administrators to strike a deal. A reported rival bid involving the club's former chairman Chris Caisley does not appear to be on the table.

The Bulls were the most successful club in the early years of Super League, winning four titles between 1997 and 2005. A combination of falling gates and financial miscalculations, however, made them vulnerable. After their bank withdrew their overdraft facility, they went into administration last month.

An appeal to fans earlier in the season yielded £500,000 to keep the club going, but last week Guilfoyle made 16 full-time employees redundant. Those 16, including the head coach, Mick Potter, worked on a voluntary basis on Sunday as the Bulls beat the London Broncos in front of 10,000 supporters. A players' guard of honour applauded Potter and his staff off the pitch in what looked uncomfortably like a farewell gesture.

Bradford have no game this week, because of the Challenge Cup semi-finals, but they are due to face Leeds the following weekend. They have another important date before then, as their players are due to be paid on Friday. The League has sanctioned an advance of funds to the Bulls to enable them to pay those wages, although that can only be a short-term solution.

It seems that only the club's administrator coming to agreement with the city's curry moguls can offer more lasting hope for Bradford's future.