Bradford Bulls were like a family, says Stuart Fielden
By Keith Moore
Last Updated: 05/01/17 10:56am
Bradford Bulls legend Stuart Fielden spoke to Sky Sports following the news that his former club had been liquidated.
The Bulls entered administration for a third time in four years at the end of 2016, but the club's administrators were hopeful a deal could be reached by Christmas. However it was revealed on Tuesday that administrators had chosen to reject the bid submitted by a consortium on December 29, and the club plunged into liquidation as a result.
Fielden joined the Bulls in 1997 and was part of the squad that won four Super League and two Challenge Cup titles in the late 90s and early 2000s. The 37-year-old left the Bulls in 2006 and had stints with the Warriors and the Giants, but told Sky Sports his favourite memories as a player are rooted in his time with Bradford.
"Looking back I did have some great times at two of the great clubs in Wigan and Huddersfield, but the ten years at Bradford from when I was 16 to when I left in 2006 were the best times in my playing career," Fielden said.
"Just from the massive transition from being a young player to being a slightly older player, and the experiences around that. I am still friends with a lot of those players today, as well as some of the staff."
The Great Britain international said it was the game days at Odsal Stadium that were a highlight, with events leading up to kick-off always ensuring the crowd was in full cry during the fixture.
"It was more like a carnival than an actual match-day experience, and that was because of the unique structure of the ground.
"If you go to most grounds now they are more like football grounds; they're boxed in and there is not a massive amount of room.
"The Bulls had so much room to do everything. You had bouncy castles and rows of stalls. That culminated in such a great atmosphere in the bowl as well because it was a deep bowl when it was full."
Fielden remembers one particular match at his old club, a victory which featured Sky Sports pundit and former Rhinos prop Barrie McDermott on the losing end.
"In 1999 a then-capacity crowd of 24,000 people was reached in our derby against Leeds, and Mick Withers dropped a goal for Bradford to win 19-18. That was just one of the great days that the Odsal Stadium provided, full of fans and such a friendly place to be."
The former forward said from the moment he signed for the club he was made to feel welcome by the players as well as the coaches and backroom staff.
"There was a lady there in that time called Debbie Charlton," said Fielden. "Sadly she passed away a few years ago, but she was kind and took me under her wing.
"A lot of her staff at that time took the younger players in the first team squad under their wing.
"There's always been that atmosphere and family environment at the Bulls, everyone has always looked after each other and that's gone into the environment at the game days at the Bulls."
Following their last Super League title win in 2005, Bradford failed to recruit successfully as some of their seasoned players began to move on, and Fielden believes that was the beginning of the spiral that led to the club being relegated in 2014.
"If I could put it into one year, the start of that demise would be 2005. It was a great year because Bradford won Super League that year, but you had nine world-class players that left. From Jamie Peacock to Leon Pryce, to Lee Radford, Rob Parker and Robbie Paul - the list goes on.
"Not only did they not replace those players with the same quality, but they didn't replace those players with the amount of squad members required.
"To compound the issue, in 2006 I left, Lesley Vainikolo later left, and Sam Burgess and Shontayne Hape left a few years later. The core of players left and weren't replaced.
"If you keep losing players from your talent pool and don't replace them, it will get poorer and poorer until you get relegated."
Fielden said despite being upset about his former club being liquidated, his primary concern lay with those currently involved with the Bulls.
"It's easy for me to talk about the history, but in terms of today it's a massive loss for the staff and players. People have lost their jobs, they've lost incomes and they have families and mortgages, so they are the people you have to feel for the most.
"Secondly you have the Bulls fans, and thirdly the rugby league community, because Super League is certainly poorer without the Bulls and rugby league is poorer without a strong Bulls team."
The former prop says his recent visits to Odsal Stadium as a spectator have allowed him to take stock and look back on those initial years as a professional.
"It's a nostalgic place for me. In the days when I was there as a 17-year-old my mum used to stand in the terraces - she went to every game.
"My family and friends were there so every time I go back it holds fond memories for me."