Is there anything more exciting for a rugby league club than to be taken over by a rich person or company that promises the world?
Unfortunately, that world can often backfire and leave a club in a worse position – financially – than before.
Here are six wealthy rugby league owners that have come and gone.
Who could forget when Virgin Airways owner Richard Branson became majority shareholder at the London Broncos in 1997? With the immediate future looking very bright, it appeared as though the capital club were on their way up. Branson’s time at London was, however, far from straight forward. Rumours of a sale to York in August 2001 for a proposed merger club, York Wasps was rebuffed by Branson, but the following year, the British business magnate sold his majority shareholding stake to ardent club supporter David Hughes.
PROBIZ founder Feisal Nahaboo took rugby league by storm when he joined Castleford as a major sponsor in 2010. The Jungle was renamed the PROBIZ Coliseum and Nahaboo’s business was sported across the front of the Tigers’ jerseys. With the backing for a new stadium, it appeared that all things were rosy at Castleford. However, it wasn’t to be and Nahaboo took his custom to nearby rivals Featherstone Rovers where he made the same outlandish promises as he had done at the Tigers. Again, the entrepeneur didn’t last long and by 2014, he had left Rovers too only to disappear from view.
Bradford’s first administration in 2012 shocked the rugby league world to its core. With a proud history of Challenge Cup and Grand Final successes, the Bulls now faced the ignominy of financial despair. The sale of Bradford Bulls Holdings Limited to OK Bulls Limited for an undisclosed sum was completed in September 2012 with Omar Khan – the award-winning owner of Bradford restaurants and catering business under his name – taking control. Khan was forced to admit the club were facing new financial difficulties in July 2013 after the players were not paid on time before the businessman resigned in September on the grounds of ill health.
Dr Marwan Koukash
Marwan Koukash, a Palestine-born racehorse owner, rescued Salford from potential collapse in 2013 and became an outspoken figure within rugby league in the five years he was at the club. Unfortunately, he made a lot of enemies along the way too, coming into the sport in a blaze of glory and leaving with a whimper in 2018. Koukash did, however oversee a rebuilding stage at Salford, rebranding them to the Red Devils instead of City Reds as well as wiping out all the debt owed to him by the club after he departed. Selling his stake to a fans’ consortium, Salford are now on a much more stable footing.
One of the original backers of the Toronto Wolfpack consortium, David Argyle and the Canadian club were making waves as they entered the British Rugby League system in 2017. By 2019, the Wolfpack were in the Championship aiming for another shot at promotion to the Super League, but in June of that year Argyle stood down as the club’s chairman and chief executive after an accusation of racism when Swinton Lions came to the Lamport Stadium. Argyle had run up numerous debt in his time at the club and is set to face legal action against unpaid wages after not paying players since June 2019.
Taking over at Bradford following the club’s liquidation in early 2017, New Zealander millionaire Andrew Chalmers had an extremely difficult task to try and rebuild a tarnished brand – an objective which Omar Khan above had failed to do. Having been relegated the same year from the Championship thanks to a -12 points deduction, the Bulls began to suffer even more so off the field. The sale of Odsal, the mounting of debts to over half a million pounds and the loss of key players underlined Chalmers’ stint at Bradford to be a damning failure. He left in October 2019.