A director of Wakefield Trinity, one of rugby league’s most iconic clubs, has told The Independent that its shareholders could consider selling their Super League license if they fail in their five-year fight for a stadium.
The club, who are holding their own in mid-table despite a hand-to-mouth existence and skeleton staff, have repeatedly failed to comply with Super League regulations that stipulate 2,500 covered seats. They are increasingly desperate for the local Wakefield Council to enforce the £9m investment in a new stadium which was part of a complex planning agreement agreed in 2012.
Trinity director Chris Brereton said that the planning agreement – the documentation of which has been seen by The Independent – stipulated that developers could only attain permission to build on a lucrative site by making a tangible community benefit in return; in this case, by contributing £9m towards a new stadium for the club. That has never happened, leaving the side at worn-out Belle Vue.
Brereton, who with Trinity chairman Michael Carter has rescued the club from a desperate financial state in the past four years, said that the sale of the club’s license could be considered by the six shareholders if no help was forthcoming in replacing the side’s worn-out Belle Vue, which is now unfit for purpose.
“If the club wanted to sell its place in the Super League we could do that,” Brereton said. “There is the mechanism. We would be loath to do it but there may come a time when enough is enough. We can no longer play in a stadium of this state. If something serious were to happen at a game, those of running the club could find ourselves liable and in jail.”
The RFL has told Super League clubs it would be receptive to the idea of struggling members relocating to other cities. There have been mergers in the sport in the past, including Gateshead Thunder and Hull Sharks in 1999. Sheffield and Hudderfield merged in the same year.
Options open to Trinity include a ground-share at nearby Dewsbury from next year, though Brereton said the new stadium is the only way to make the venerable old club commercially viable.
“It’s very difficult day-to-day and the extra revenues that a new stadium could bring us would change the picture,” Brereton said. “In business, you can’t operate on one trading day in 14 as we do now.”
Trinity chairman Michael Carter has said that he has received no approach to buy the club’s franchise. Brereton said that Wakefield council had failed to keep developers to an agreement to build a new 12,000-capacity stadium – to which the club, a stadium trust and the local authority will also commit a total of £2m.
The council said that the planning permission tied to the stadium development had been in the hands of the government department which granted the approval. “We are very keen to get a community stadium built,” said council acting chief executive Andrew Wallhead. “The rugby league club is historically, culturally and economically important. It’s essential to us.”