Bradford Bulls, not long ago the dominant club in Super League, are "at death's door" and will go out of business unless they can raise £1m. The Bulls said yesterday that unless supporters came up with half of that amount by early next month, the Good Friday derby against Leeds could be the last match at Odsal.
"I don't think the situation could be more critical," said the club's chairman, Peter Hood. "Without the oxygen of cash in our bloodstream, we cannot operate."
The immediate cause of the Bulls' woes is that their overdraft facility at the Royal Bank of Scotland has been drastically reduced. They appeared to have found a sounder footing when the Rugby Football League bought the lease to Odsal in January.
"We are at death's door and can only carry on for two and a half weeks," said the director Andrew Bennett.
The Bulls are asking every spectator to donate £100 to keep them alive.
"The response in the first few hours has been fantastic," said the club's chief executive, Ryan Duckett. "If everyone donated £100, it would go a long way towards meeting our target." Duckett added that current and past players had been among the first to contribute.
The RFL's Blake Solly said: "We would urge everyone who cares about the Bradford Bulls to support the pledge call. The League will continue to provide all the assistance and support it can."
The RFL has the power to impose a points deduction – usually six – on a club going into administration. More drastically, it can revoke a club's Super League licence if it proves incapable of fulfilling its fixtures.
If there is any consolation for Bradford fans with very long memories, it is that they have been here before. The original Bradford Northern club folded in the 1963-64 season, rising under a new company in time for the following campaign. If the worst came to the worst, the same could happen now. The RFL's ownership of Odsal ensures that a reconstituted club would at least have somewhere to play.
It is still an alarming situation for a famous club. Nobody embraced the concept of summer rugby more successfully than Bradford, who invented much of the razzmatazz that now accompanies the game. The Bulls won four Super League titles, along with World Club Championships and Challenge Cups, but financial reality bit with the loss of key players and a ruinous determination to beat Leeds to the signature of Iestyn Harris.
The result has been a team in transition, which has missed the cut for the play-offs for the last three season. The Bulls are currently eighth in Super League.