Rugby Union: Bristol prepare to sell in order to survive

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Struggling Bristol, down on their uppers after years of shambolic mismanagement and an embarrassing haemorrhage of international-class players, are preparing to play their most valuable card in an effort to wipe out the pounds 2.2m debt that threatens to drive them into bankruptcy.

Shareholders have been told that one of the club's prime assets, the Combination Ground in the Filton area of the city, may soon be placed on the open market. The 25-acre site, currently used to house Bristol's thriving mini and junior teams along with a local club side, would be worth several millions as development land and a successful sale would clear the decks for a complete financial restructuring.

Arthur Holmes, both chairman and senior benefactor at the Memorial Ground, said yesterday: "If we sell, we would have cash and be masters of our own house." Although some senior Bristol officials want to retain an interest in the land and enter into some form of joint development, there is significant support for a clean sale.

Bristol are currently bottom of the Allied Dunbar Premiership and are by some distance the most fiscally challenged of all the top-flight sides. They lost pounds 500,000 in the last financial year and those straitened circumstances hastened the departures of three international forwards: Mark Regan, Simon Shaw and Martin Corry, last season's captain.

Two directors, Derek Brown and Gary White, have resigned from the board and shareholders have agreed to remove a clause in the club's constitution preventing any single investor from holding more than a 24 per cent interest. The road is clear for a Sir John Hall-style money man to buy Bristol lock, stock and barrel. Holmes and a fellow director, John Hiles, are now actively seeking the right person.

Five Nations' Championship organisers are to announce a sponsorship deal tomorrow worth pounds 15m over five years. Each of the home unions will receive pounds 3m for the next two years.

England's women have also been given a financial boost. There is pounds 20,000 up front from Swiss Life, with a further pounds 10,000 if they retain the World Cup next April, plus pounds 10,000 from the food company Cibus.

- Chris Hewett

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