Saturday, August 19, 2017
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Sport

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by James Oddy
One of the tropes of Wild West films is the idea of the snake oil salesman. He rides into town, and promises to cure all ailments and issues with his tonic. He has no proof, aside from showmanship and bluster. Even the most cynical and worldly of townsfolk eventually succumb to his charms and part with their money, not realising they have been duped until the salesman is long gone.

I couldn’t help but think about that idea as I watched Floyd Mayweather Jr and Connor McGregor go on a worldwide press tour, including a visit to London. They swore at each other and they threatened each other. They threw money at each other and wore suits with foul language sown in the seams. They got bodyguards to threaten each other. It was embarrassing and cringe worthy but it has definitely got people talking. And it has people willing to spend money.

It’ll probably be the highest grossing boxing match of all time.

When you take a step back you really realise how crazy that is. This is a boxer on 49-0 against a boxer who is 0-0. Even if you take McGregor’s MMA record, he is 21-3. He isn’t even perfect as an MMA fighter. The rebuttal may be that that McGregor has fought the best, because people like to believe that Mayweather picked fighters either before or past their prime. Whilst the UFC does indeed force it’s fighters to fight the best more often, Mayweather’s resume is a who’s who of elite level fighters during the late 90s to the late 2000s. Some of them were picked at the right time, but people like Zab Judah, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marcos Maidana, and Miguel Cotto either fought on to a high level or went into the fight with Mayweather in career best form. Of course, Mayweather dealt with all of them with relative ease.

Even at 40, out of the ring since 2015, it is inconceivable he could lose to McGregor. Every person I have spoken to in boxing, from old pros turned trainers, to managers, to fighters, knows this is a supreme mismatch which is borderline dangerous.

All he has to do is avoid an overrated left hand from McGregor. Mayweather made a career of slipping shots and using footwork to stay just out of range of much better boxers than McGregor. This isn’t an MMA contest or a street brawl. This is boxing, and Mayweather know it inside and out.

It’s hard not to see this event with plenty of sadness, because in the heady days of Ali and Frazier and Foreman, it was simply two great boxers going at it. I like MMA as it’s a brilliant sport but I wish McGregor would have fought the guys in his sport, creating a legacy like Ali and Foreman, and Mayweather had pushed himself to take on any of the many great young fighters at welterweight.

The one thing I ask however, is, don’t blame me when the snake oil salesman rides off into the sunset with your money. I warned you!

On July 29, in the main event of UFC 214, light heavyweight great Jon Jones will attempt to reclaim the title he once guarded so ferociously when he takes on the reigning champ and his biggest rival, Daniel Cormier.

In advance of this fight, Jones’ striking coach Mike Winkeljohn says that Jones – who has always been an innovator when it comes to technique – is still adding new weapons to his arsenal.

Winkeljohn, guarantees the former UFC light heavyweight champion will not only show up for his UFC 214 title rematch with Daniel Cormier, but he’s going to win more impressively than the first time.

“Jon’s getting his title back – well, the title he never lost,” Winkeljohn told a US radio station. “Yeah, he’s walking out back being the champ of the world again.”

Throughout UFC history, the light heavyweight division has not only provided the sport with some of the best fights but arguably many of its most iconic fighters.

From Tito Ortiz being the face of the UFC during his title reign to Randy Couture moving down from heavyweight to become a champion and then Chuck Liddell beating them both to become one of the original superstars in mixed martial arts.

In fact, six current UFC Hall of Famers have competed in the light heavyweight division at one point or another during their career.

That said, current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier says no offense to the legends of the past but none of them would have a chance in the Octagon against him or former 205-pound king Jon Jones.

It’s one of the reasons why Cormier says his upcoming fight against Jones at UFC 214 is so special because it’s the two best fighters in history in the division squaring off with a title on the line.

Of course, Cormier has a lot of respect for the fighters who came before him, but he just doesn’t see how any of them could stack up to the talent currently competing at the top of the division.

Cormier will never be Jones’ biggest fan, but he’ll readily admit that the New York native is the greatest of all time. It’s a moniker he hopes to take away when they meet for a second time later this month.

This next fight won’t be enough to satisfy Cormier because he says even with a win over Jones at UFC 214, he plans on facing him one more time to settle the rivalry.

Jones defeated Cormier back in 2015, and now the current light heavyweight champion wants nothing more than to exact revenge with wins in back-to-back fights.

“Him and I have two more fights,” Cormier explained. “We have me beating him in Anaheim and me beating him next time.”

 

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A BRADFORD school’s girls’ cricket team who were crowned Yorkshire champions in their first year together have now launched their own academy to help younger pupils to follow in their footsteps.

The girls’ cricket team at Carlton Bolling, in Bradford, have been on a rollercoaster ride since coming together just three years ago.

In their first tournament the newly formed team won seven out of seven matches against some of the best school sides in Yorkshire to be crowned county champions and they have not looked back.

They have now won three Yorkshire titles, have just been crowned North of England champions and have also been recognised with a string of awards for their achievements.

Last week the team won four out of four matches in a regional competition, beating Nottinghamshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Northumberland sides, to emerge as North of England Champions.  Their next stop will be Lord’s for the National Finals in September.

Now the team of players who achieved this stunning success on the field are looking to pass on what they have learned to new generations of pupils at the school in Undercliffe.

Each week the under 15s team, led by the school’s PE teacher Zaheer Jaffary, host a training session for younger pupils at the school who are trying the sport for the first time.

Around 20 pupils are now learning to play the sport each week.

One of the original team members Zainab Goreja said they had started an academy to ensure that girls’ cricket can continue to grow at the school.

She said: “I definitely hope that the success of the team carries on because this is our legacy.  We have started this academy, we have so many girls who are coming through and so many talents who are here. At the end of the day this is what we have started and when we leave next year we want this team to carry on. I hope the new players do well, carry on this legacy and hopefully it can keep on growing because we are going to change so many social barriers.”

The success of the Carlton Bolling girls’ cricket team has seen them receive many accolades in recent months. In November last year they traveled to Lord’s to receive a national Chance to Shine Special Recognition Award for their work supporting grassroots cricket which they were given by England cricketer Jason Roy.

The team have also won the student sport award category at this year’s Bradford Sports Awards and Mr Jaffary was named Secondary School Teacher of the Year award at the Bradford and District Teaching awards.

Vice-Captain of the team, Zainab Goreja, was recently presented with the 2017 International Rising Star award in London for her contribution to sport; in acknowledgement of her dedication and commitment to women’s cricket, and Captain Jasmin Akter was nominated for a 2017 Yorkshire Women of Achievement Award.

However for Mr Jaffary one of the team’s biggest achievements has been overcoming cultural barriers which saw many families express concerns about their daughters taking part in the sport.

He said: “It is something we have come up against, there has been some reluctance from families for their daughters to stay behind after school to play cricket.  However we hope that our community can see what these girls have achieved together. What they have been able to bring to the team and what being a part of this team has done for them. It is brilliant that our girls’ cricket team are now carrying out coaching themselves at our academy.

“We want their success to inspire the younger pupils to follow their example. The future of the team relies upon the academy the girls have set up for future cricketers. The girls are extremely dedicated in sharing their story with others to help them see all that can be achieved through perseverance and dedication.”

Carlton Bolling College’s Headteacher Adrian Kneeshaw said: “The success of the girls’ cricket team has been inspirational for everyone at the school.  At Carlton Bolling we recognise the important role sport can have in giving our pupils self-confidence and in showing them the rewards of hard work and of dedicating yourself to being the best you can be.  This helps students on the sports field and in the classroom and I hope our cricket academy will inspire many more of our students to take up cricket and give it their all.”

Coun Imran Khan, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Education, Employment and Skills said: “The success of the girls’ cricket team at Carlton Bolling College is a story which we can all take inspiration from.  They have achieved so much in such a short space of time.

“It is a great credit to the players involved that they are now committed to helping younger pupils at the school to follow in their footsteps.

“We know that participating in sport can be very rewarding for young people and have a positive effect on the rest of their education.”

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy

It’s been a weird few years for Kell Brook. Brook’s victory over Shawn Porter in 2014, a then undefeated American who looked as if he may become the man in the welterweight division following Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, should have been his coming out party. He was now a proven elite welterweight and the division may have been his for the taking. It also looked as if he may finally gain a domestic super fight against Amir Khan, and maybe fights against Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman or Danny Garcia.

Instead, he was badly injured in an alternation whilst on holiday in Spain, in which he was stabbed, and then boxed underwhelming names in Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier. Bizier was arguably the nadir, because Bizier had already been beaten by Jo Jo Dan twice and Dan had been blitzed by Brook with ease.

It was clear that Brook needed a big fight and a big name, yet Gennady Golovkin was literally big in comparison, causing a career welterweight in Brook to fight a career middleweight in Golovkin. To the surprise of really nobody, the Kazakh wrecking ball broke Brook’s eye socket, all though Brook did land some eye-catching shots along the way.

Brook is now set to go from the frying pan into the fire when he meets another unbeaten young American in Errol Spence Jr. Spence is another wrecking ball in a sense, having gained 10 knockouts from 21 fights, but he is a career welterweight. He is also a southpaw, and stopped the likes of Chris Algieri and Leonardo Bundu, tough professionals who aren’t often stopped, highlights his pedigree.

Kell Brook vs Shawn PorterThe two are set to meet in Sheffield, Brook’s hometown. It feels like a 50/50 fight, with the more experienced champion in Brook having home advantage, but Spence has the momentum and punching power to cause anyone issues.

The fight actually shows a sea change in the boxing world, as Spence is one of a few young Americans now willing to travel to the UK to win or defend a world title. Terrence Crawford and Timothy Bradley have both made the trip in recent years and 2017 will see Spence and Mayweather prospect Gervonta Davis do it as well.

Whilst it was the norm for ‘world champions’ to almost literally tour the world in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the 90s saw much fewer elite level names willing to travel to the UK to box. But the UK is now arguably the boxing capital of the world in terms of live gates and television converge, so the likes of Davis and Spence are now willing to take the risk of boxing on away soil.

For what it’s worth, I think Brook will win on points, just, in a nick and tuck fight. He may even touch the canvas at some stage. But his nous and experience will see him through. It’ll be controversial, and maybe a return fight will be made.

Whatever happens, with Brook, anything is possible.

 

by James Oddy
by James Oddy
Call me Ishmael. Connor McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather is sports new white whale. The fight surfaces for air every now and then, and grizzled fight writers and fans, like Ahab aboard the Pequod, sight and, despite our better judgment, set a course for it.

The fight interests and disgusts in almost equal measure. Just like the great white whale could be the death of Ahab and his whole crew, the fight could generate obscene amounts of cash yet land a telling blow to the integrity of both MMA and boxing. For MMA, what happens if its figurehead, McGregor, famed for both his jab in the octagon and his gab outside it, was outclassed? For boxing, what if Mayweather generates his fabled 50-0 against a fighter who had never had a professional boxing match before? What does that say about the lack of stars in boxing? About the talent pool?

I say with certainty Mayweather would get his 50-0 against McGregor because to my mind, and the mind of anyone with even a half knowledge of boxing, any other suggestion is absurd.

MMA and boxing are different disciplines. It’s like suggesting a great goalkeeper such as David De Gea could be a great rugby player because he has to catch and kick a ball in both sports. The whole science and methodology is different.

In MMA, you have the feet, hands, knees and elbows to worry about on approach-you have to worry about a take down or Muay Thai style clinch.

In boxing, it may appear ‘easier’ as you only have to deal with two hands. But they are thrown with an amount of speed, precision and power, the likes of which is beyond most people, which is only achieved after a lifetime dedicated to that craft.

I know why people think McGregor has a chance. He knocks people in UFC out for fun and Mayweather boxes people to ‘boring’ points wins.

People tell themselves that McGregor only needs ‘one’ punch. They underestimate the complete artistry Mayweather has over his craft. If Manny Pacquaio, Marcos Maidana, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alverez, Shane Mosley, Juan Mannuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Zab Judah, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, all fine boxers, some all time great boxers, couldn’t land a knock out blow, what makes you think McGregor could do so?

Ultimately, McGregor should concentrate on the legacy of his own career, which is a wonderful one in it’s own right. He is a ridiculously talented MMA fighter. He could be, if not the Ali of the sport, the Mike Tyson, the love him/hate him figure which consistently puts eyes on the sport.

As for Floyd, if he must come back, then I would rather he fight Keith Thurman, or Gennady Golovkin. To be frank, I’d rather he fight anyone who is an active boxer.

But the problem, as Ahab discovered, is that once you have that white whale in your sights, it’s impossible to forget about it, no matter how disastrous the consequences may prove to be. Call me intrigued.

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by James Oddy

Ronda Rousey’s 48-second loss to Amanda Nunes was spectacular, sad, and shocking. Seeing one of the UFC’s more iconic figures dismantled so quickly was not what anyone expected, even those who felt Rousey was a ‘hype job’. Ultimately, it is one thing to lose, it’s another thing entirely to look completely out of your depth, as Ronda did as she ate shot after unanswered shot from Nunes. It’s very hard to see where Rousey goes from this point.

b6f95b1e6c1f334a86c370fdd44b786fBut whilst Rousey athletically can perhaps be criticised, her cultural impact should be recognised and celebrated. Five years ago, UFC was nowhere near the popularity of today, and what’s more, female MMA was barely noticed by the mainstream media. Now, when athletes like Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Paige VanZant fight, people sit up and take notice. The women’s divisions in UFC all have good fights to be made, and now that Rousey has blazed the trail, expect to see them kick on.

Contrast the attention and prestige of women’s MMA with that of boxing. The likes of new professionals Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams, brilliant athletes, are relegated to fighting foes way below the standard they would face in the amateurs. In the past, great female boxers such as Anne Wolfe have boxed for small purses on the undercard of more heavily promoted male boxers.

Regardless of how her in-octagon legacy is viewed in the future, I hope Rousey is recognised for being the cross over star female combat sports was crying out for.

Speaking of boxing and MMA, the tiresome ‘feud’ between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather Jr rumbles on. Both men are superb showmen and brilliant media manipulators. But the fight is unlikely to ever happen, and seems to be attracting comments from the most odious of fight fans.

MMA and boxing and two distinct disciplines, for a start. In an Octagon, McGregor would defeat Mayweather with ease, and vice versa should they meet under the Queensberry rules in a squared circle. Not to mention the discrepancy in ages, activity (Floyd hasn’t fought since September 2015), monetary demands, venue, who’d promote the fight. It’s a non-starter.

I hope McGregor concentrates on UFC and takes on Nate Diaz in a rubber match. How about a super fight with a returning George St-Pierre? How about defending his new lightweight crown? The possibilities are endless.

As for Floyd, I hope he remains retired. Not because I don’t think he is a beautiful boxer and one of the very best (but not THE best) to ever lace up the gloves. I just want him to enjoy his money and retirement, and concentrate on his burgeoning promotional and managerial ventures.

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National Basketball League Division One championship contenders, Derby Trailblazers, visited the Dragons Den on Saturday evening but took a dent to their title credentials, as the Bradford Dragons took an impressive victory, 103-93.

The two teams last met on the opening day of the league season, with Derby holding off the Dragons to clinch the victory by a single point. That was the first of many wins for the Trailblazers who, prior to last night’s fixture, held a tally of ten wins and only two defeats. Only last weekend, Derby recorded an important victory against league leaders Team Northumbria, leaving Bradford under no illusions regarding the size of the task facing them on Saturday.

With a number of teams queuing up to take the Dragons’ fifth spot in the league table, it was also a must win game for them particularly as they fell to defeat in London last weekend. However, it was Derby that opened the scoring, with their first assault on the basket and it wasn’t long before they had opened-up an eight-point lead. However, slowly but surely the home side clawed their way back into the game and by the time the buzzer signalled the end of the first quarter it was them that held a two-point advantage, 31-29, thanks in part to an incredible shooting performance from Rafi Saipe.

Throughout the second quarter, both teams matched one another shot-for-shot, with neither team being able to take a firm grip on the game. With the scores tied at 52-52, evergreen Jason Swaine, who celebrated his forty-second birthday earlier in the week, stepped up to the free throw line, sinking both shots to send the hosts back to the locker rooms ahead, 54-52.

The game followed a similar pattern throughout the penultimate quarter and with a little over four minutes of the period remaining it was Derby’s turn to take the lead, 67-69, from the free throw line. Jermayne Laing, who had brought his own fan club to the game, in the form of twenty-five children from Cliffe Hill Community Primary School, levelled the game with a two-point drop shot. The visitors immediately regained the lead, but Bradford wouldn’t let them pull away. With the game again tied at 77 apiece, Saipe bagged a three-point shot, to restore home advantage and Laing then dunked right at the death of the quarter, although the referees adjudged this to be after the buzzer sounded.

The final quarter started, therefore, with the hosts ahead by three points (80-77) and it looked as though the game was going to go right to the wire. However, with less than a minute played the gap had been opened right up to eleven points (88-77) as the game started to slip away from the visiting Trailblazers.

image1With 3:38 remaining on the clock, Derby called a timeout, with the Dragons leading by fourteen points 95-81, but there was nothing that they could do to stop Bradford from registering an important victory. As the final buzzer sounded, Bradford celebrated the win, 103-93.

Saipe registered 21 points, as did American power forward, Ricky Fetske, whilst both Rihards Sulcs and Jermayne Laing bagged 18 points each.

Dragons coach, Chris Mellor said, “It was a tight game throughout and I thought both teams played some good basketball. The run we got in the fourth quarter to open up a double figure lead was the difference really, where we managed to get some stops and convert at the other end. I was happy with the way we moved the ball and rebounded down the stretch.”

The Dragons travel to Lancashire Spinners next weekend in the first of a string of away fixtures. The action doesn’t return to the Dragons Den until February 18th when the visitors will be league leaders Team Northumbria.

In other news, Dragons under 16’s beat Durham Wildcats on Saturday by a convincing scoreline, 85-23 to further reinforce their position at the top of their table. Then on Sunday the under 18’s faced Sheffield Junior Sharks II, narrowly losing out 66-89 to their South Yorkshire rivals. Also on Sunday, the under 14’s travelled to Manchester Giants Green, travelling home with the points following a 51-68 victory.

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy
The biggest, most lucrative fight of this generation will surely come on 29th April 2017 at Wembley stadium. IBF heavyweight belt holder Antony Joshua (18-0. 18 KOs) will meet Wladimir Klitschko 64-4, 53 Kos) with the vacant WBA and IBO belts also on the line. Effectively, the fight is to crown the new (almost) undisputed king of the boxing’s premier division.

Watford’s Joshua is a crossover star. The Olympic gold medallists has created a huge buzz on both sides of the Atlantic due to a potent mix of talent, charisma and intelligent promotion. However, it was clear that he was in need of a step up in opposition- Eric Molina, Joshua’s last opponent, provided little test or excitement as he spent most of the fight attempting simply to survive.

That test will come via the form of Klitschko, the cerebral and vastly experienced Ukrainian who ruled the division for the best part of a decade alongside his now retired brother Vitali. That reign came to an abrupt end however, in November 2015, as the self-proclaimed ‘Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury sensationally upset Wlad in Dusseldorf.

With Tyson Fury’s enforced absence away from the squared circle, this is a meeting of two of the top three heavyweights in the world. It’s a 50/50 fight and that is something which all boxing fans wish to see.

anthony-joshuaJoshua is young, exciting and explosive, but valid questions surrounding his stamina, boxing IQ and chin remain. He has never gone the full 12 rounds, can look lost if his opponents don’t wilt to that jackhammer right hand early on and rumours within boxing suggest he has been knocked out in sparring sessions. Yet the simple fact is, if he lands, he will hurt Wlad.

Despite such an illustrious career, questions also swirl around Klitschko. The man nicknamed ‘Dr Steelhammer’ will have been out of action for well over a year and will be over 40 years of age when stepping in with the 27-year-old Joshua. He looked old and gun shy against Fury. But it’s worth pointing out that he looked very good against Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev in both his previous defences preceding the Fury fight. He is physically imposing, vastly experienced, never out of shape and carries serious power himself. If he lands, just like Joshua, he will do damage.

If forced to pick, I’d go for the vitality of Joshua to triumph, via a surprisingly wide points win. I believe his power aligned with Wlad’s inactivity will allow him to force the pace and be in the ascendency for most of the fight.

Hopefully then we could see Joshua meet undefeated WBC champion, Deontay Wilder. Wilder is a brash American knock out artist and a meeting for all the straps in the heavyweight division in a transatlantic showdown would smash all kinds of box office records. And then, perhaps we will see the return of Tyson Fury. Make no mistake about it… we are in for a wild few years in the heavyweight division. Enjoy!

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by James Oddy
by James Oddy

Conor McGregor’s victory over lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez on the November 12th UFC 205 card was significant for a number of reasons. For a start, it caused McGregor to become the first UFC fighter in history to hold titles in two weight divisions simultaneously, as he was already holding the featherweight belt.

The fact he did so in such a destructive, definitive way, knocking out Alavrez out with his vaunted left hand, also led to McGregor proving once again that he is more than just a charismatic talker. The Irishman can fight, and his skill set is second only to perhaps Demetrious Johnson in the MMA world.

It was also a huge financial success for the UFC as a whole. The event allegedly drew almost $18 million in gate receipts alone, along with around about 1.9 million PPV buys, an astronomical amount. Add to all that, it was also the first ever UFC event to be held in New York, after the controversial MMA ban was overturned earlier in 2016. The latter is as much symbolical as anything else – for much of the 20th century NYC was THE home of boxing. Increasingly however, small time promoters within boxing are being priced out due to the extremely high insurance rates now required to promote combat sports.

cdwvhalwoaavrofThis event built upon UFC 202, when McGregor beat Nate Diaz at welterweight. That fight seemed to have the all-important ‘casual fan’ talking, and the interested in the charismatic McGregor only built for his showdown with Alverez. McGregor, and Ronda Rousey (despite inactivity), are the cross over stars which have helped propel MMA/UFC into the mainstream, and it doesn’t look likely to be going away anytime soon.

Contrast UFC 205 with the recent Sergey Kovalev/Andre Ward boxing match. The latter was two elite, undefeated pound for pound boxers battling it out, yet its crossover appeal was not huge. McGregor is a one off, and Kovalev and Ward are more introverted characters, but neither man has the global reach and presence of the Irishman. That isn’t either man’s fault, but boxing as a whole has been damaged severely with the plethora of governing bodies, warring promoters, blatant score card robberies, and fighters pulling out last minute.

In contrast, the UFC model ensures the best fight the best for the most part and cards are made up of competitive fights, rather than in boxing case, which are mostly made up with one sided ‘keep busy’ fights. I love boxing, and Kovalev/Ward was a wonderful contest. And, it must be added, boxing has been supposedly on its way out for years, and always found a way to survive. On an amateur level at least, boxing remains by far the more popular combat sport.

But it is impossible to see how the juggernaut UFC has become can be stopped. McGregor alone can have blockbuster contests against Diaz In a rubber match, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Rafael Dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley and Robbie Lawler. Add in the return of Rousey, and the records are likely to keep on breaking.

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Bradford Bulls have announced that the club has been put into administration. The five-times Challenge Cup winners club chairman, Marc Green has a released a statement on their website.

“I have been talking to a number of serious investors and purely the pressure from HMRC has forced the club to be put into this position to save its future,” explained Chairman Marc Green.

“There is a dispute between ourselves and HMRC which we have been working hard to resolve since the winding up petition was issued and despite two adjournments from the courts to resolve this matter we have been unable to do so. We were concerned over the ability to secure a third adjournment and therefore this action became unavoidable to protect the club.

“I will be working closely with the Administrators over the coming weeks and it is my intention to regain this club from them within the shortest practicable time frame.”

He further stated: “Regardless of whether I remain at the helm of this great club, I will ensure all memberships already purchased for next season will remain valid, as will the offer under which they were purchased. I believe the future of Bradford Bulls is still strong.”

 

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