Rugby League: Branson takes over the Broncos

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The Independent Online
One of Britain's best-known businessman has taken over as chairman of rugby league's flagship in the capital, the London Broncos. Dave Hadfield was in Richard Branson's garden to see the deal done.

After several weeks of rumour and negotiation, Richard Branson's Virgin group has taken a majority shareholding in the London Broncos - with a promise to make them the best club in the world.

Branson has increased his stake in the club, which finished second in this year's Super League and plays Cronulla in the quarter-finals of the World Club Championship on Sunday, from 15 to 55 per cent.

Speaking at his London home yesterday, he pledged to put the weight of his diverse business empire behind his new interest. "My plan is to convert a lot more Londoners into rugby league fans," he said.

Branson and his family have been regulars at The Stoop since he took his original stake at the start of this year. "I've enjoyed it enormously, but I still feel that rugby league in this country is under-developed - especially in London."

He does not intend to be a "hands-on" chairman in quite the same sense as his predecessor Barry Maranta. "The way we run our companies is to find very good people to run them on a day-to-day basis," he said. "I'll dive in when I'm called for."

Branson clearly believes that he already has good people in place, because key personnel such as the chief executive, Tony Rea, and the coach, Tony Currie, will remain in place.

Maranta, the founder of the Brisbane Broncos who exported that philosophy to London three years ago, will retain a substantial shareholding but will be free for what he hinted could be another new franchise in Britain - possibly in Wales or Scotland.

His three years have provided a base of playing success for Virgin to build upon, with Branson predicting that London will win both European Super League and the World Club title "within two or three years."

His involvement was also welcomed in a practical way by the Broncos' best known player yesterday. Martin Offiah, who had been dividing his time between the Broncos and rugby union's Bedford, has agreed a new two year, full-time contract.

"I was quite keen on coming back to rugby league anyway, but this made the decision a lot easier," he said of Branson's takeover. "We can now go on to the next level, because when it comes to promoting and marketing anything there is no one better."

On the down side for the Broncos is the news that tomorrow Shaun Edwards is likely to join the Bradford Bulls, the Super League champions.

The 30-year-old scrum-half ended a 13-year association with Wigan in March to be close to his London-based girlfriend and their new-born baby. But he recently split up with his girlfriend and made it known that he would like a move back to a northern club.