Caisley signs off as Bradford face uncertain future

Bulls' controversial chairman steps down tonight after 16 years. Dave Hadfield speaks to the man who transformed ramshackle club into champions
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The Bradford coach Brian Noble has a neat way of putting it. "Being a club chairman isn't a popularity contest," he says. Just as well, perhaps, for Chris Caisley, because few have polarised opinion in the game like the gimlet-eyed lawyer who bows out tonight after 16 years as chairman at Odsal.

The World Club Challenge against Wests Tigers at Huddersfield will be Caisley's last game in charge of the Bulls and he admits to mixed emotions.

"As the day has drawn near, I've looked around at what's been created and what we've come from," he said. "I'm probably going to miss it in some respects, but life moves on."

When Caisley took over, what was then Bradford Northern had just a full-time secretary and a gloomy ground where the entertainment facilities amounted to one portacabin. From that unpromising beginning, he has made them arguably the brand leaders of the Super League era.

"He's not done it without stepping on a few toes," says Noble. "But all the uncomfortable decisions he's made have been in the overall interests of the club."

That is where the outside world often falls out with Caisley, accusing him of a vision limited to what is good for the Bulls.

"I'm a great believer that, if everyone got things right at their own clubs, the 'good of the game' that people go on about all the time would look after itself," he says. It is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher saying that there is no such thing as society and shines an equally bright light into a whole philosophy.

Caisley is famously impatient with clubs who have failed to pick up the ball and run with it as powerfully as the Bulls have. He would have kicked out the London Broncos last season and would get rid of the salary cap, which he believes has merely driven payments underground and ratcheted up inflation.

One theory for his departure is that he has read the writing on the wall and realised that Bradford, without a major benefactor, have gone as far as they can go and are heading for a period of decline.

Compared with the team that won last year's Grand Final, names like Jamie Peacock, Robbie Paul and Leon Pryce will be conspicuous by their absence tonight, having moved on to other clubs, but Caisley denies that he is leaving a team on the slide.

He admits to losing players he would have liked to keep - "the hardest part about the job", he calls it - but insists that the future is bright. "There's a good mix of experience and youth, with a very good batch of young players coming through," he says, and defends Bulls' recruitment. "I think Chris McKenna is a great signing and will be one of the best in Super League this season. Terry Newton will give us a lot of options and take pressure off Paul Deacon and Iestyn Harris. People are talking about Bradford missing the play-offs, but I'd be amazed if we weren't in the shake-up at the end of the season."

Despite still automatically referring to "us" and "we", Caisley does not intend to be there in person to see how it all works out. That, he believes, would not be fair to his successor, whoever that might ultimately turn out to be.

One of Caisley's last acts has been to put together a prospectus to try to attract serious investment and he has a couple of other pieces of unfinished business.

He will continue to help the club in its eternal quest to redevelop Odsal and he will be involved, whether he likes it or not, in the long-running legal wrangle with Leeds over Harris - an affair which he admits has left a bad taste in his mouth but which he insists has not influenced his decision to stand down. After tonight, he cannot see himself being involved with running a rugby club again, although he has had intriguing approaches from a couple of Football League operations.

At Odsal, it will not be the same without Caisley surveying the scene like a man looking for the maggot in the apple.

Noble has not always had an easy relationship with him, but he paraphrases Joni Mitchell by way of farewell: "Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone."