Political parties talk sports in Bradford: Lib-Dems ‘will not support stadium solely for Bulls’

Last night the deputy leader of the Liberal-Democrats, David Ward, stated that his party would not support revised Odsal Sports Village plans if it meant the bulk of the £15m of tax payers’ money set aside for the scheme being used to refurbish a stadium solely for the Bulls use. The remarks came during a sport related election meeting organised by Bradford City Supporters’ Trust at the Bradford Irish Club.

Councillor Ward, the prospective parliamentary candidate for the new Bradford East seat, was supportive of the sports village concept, but was critical of the differences of policy the Council had in supporting the Bradford Bulls and Bradford City. Unfortunately, the ruling Conservative group declined to attend the meeting and were therefore unable to explain, or defend, their policies. The panel, which also included Minister for Sport, Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe, and Councillor Martin Love, leader of the Green Party in Bradford, were unanimous in believing that the Odsal Sport Village plan could not go ahead in its current guise given the economic situation.

All also believed that the revised plans for the Sports Village should be wider ranging and include the issue of ground sharing and wider use of training facilities for all three of the Bradford Districts professional clubs and the wider community. Martin Love spoke of the fabulous sports facilities he had recently seen on a trip to Belgium. Seemingly, even small towns have superior and centralised facilities that put Bradford’s to shame. Councillor Love thought it was important that everyone involved in sport in the District, be it athletics to professional football, should come out of their respective, often insular, worlds and see how sharing facilities and enthusiasm could benefit all.

Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe built on the debate by suggesting that a wider Bradford Sports’ Trust, or even a Bradford Sporting Club, be formed to push forward cohesive plans for shared facilities in the District. He thought it was ridiculous that Bradford City had been forced to leave the District in order to find suitable training facilities. The relationship between the Bulls and City was debated and it was thought that someone ought to act as facilitator to try and get both clubs to talk about a future ground share – be it at Odsal, Valley Parade or even another venue. As Gerry Sutcliffe said ‘shouldn’t that be the Council’s role?’ Among the audience was a member of the newly formed Bradford Bulls Supporters’ Trust and there is now a commitment, among supporters at least, to build bridges between the two main professional clubs in the city. Gerry Sutcliffe also intimated that once the election is out of the way it is an issue that is worthy of further examination.

David Ward questioned the ruling Conservative executive’s commitment to the city of Bradford. He noted that the majority of them lived in places such as Ilkley and Haworth. Councillor Anne Hawkesworth, who holds the remit for sport, does indeed live in Ilkley. Gerry Sutcliffe expressed his frustration that not once had the ruling Conservative group contacted him regarding the Odsal Sports Village. Unfortunately, once again the lack of a Conservative voice on the panel left questions unanswered and did leave many wondering about their commitment.

A question was asked about safe standing at football grounds. Gerry Sutcliffe said he would support safe standing at new football grounds. Martin Love pointed out the discrepancy between football and other sports and wondered whether, given the improvement in supporters’ behaviour, whether some of the laws could now be reviewed? The Minister for Sport agreed that issues, such as not being able to drink within sight of the pitch before matches from corporate boxes, does seem a nonsense. Though he was mindful of where we have come from, and the reasons why the bans were put in place, he was open minded and wanted to act for the majority and not the minority. A suggestion from the floor that the lower tier of the Bradford End be used as a trial for German style safe standing was well received. However, ultimately it would be the club’s decision, though given the positive response from the panel it could be an area worth pursuing after the election and perhaps the club could attract funding for the experiment?

Wider issues such as supporter ownership, or part ownership, of clubs and the governance of the game, in particular the dominance of the Premier League, were also touched upon. However, it was the specifically Bradford areas of the debate that will be of greatest interest to supporters. There does seem to be a willingness to push some of the issues forward once the election is out of the way. It is perhaps as much our imperative as supporters to keep the channels open as it is the clubs and politicians. Quite clearly if we keep pressing on issues such as a Bradford Sports Trust and safe standing there does appear to be support among our politicians – though once again the absence of the Conservative party is to be regretted.