Bedford Fixtures Suspended Pending Ruling on Coventry Takeover
October 12, 1999
English Rugby Partnership, the governing body for England's 22 Premiership clubs, announced Wednesday that it had postponed Bedford's October 10 Premiership One match against Newcastle, and suspended future fixtures.
Such a move is fraught with difficulty, with the RFU having announced strict merger rules in the summer in the wake of the London Irish/Scottish/Richmond deal which saw two professional clubs disappear from the fixture list.
"Bedford Rugby have failed to give confirmation that their fixture away at Newcastle this Sunday 10 October
1999 will be honoured pending the necessary approvals of the purchase of Bedford Rugby by Coventry Blues plc."read the official statement.
"Accordingly ERP has no alternative but to call off this fixture and place future fixtures for Bedford Blues on notice until the position has been resolved," said Howard Thomas the acting Chief Executive of
ERP. "English Rugby Partnership have clear regulations on the eligibility of teams to participate in the
Allied Dunbar Premiership" added Thomas. "The RFU have notified us that the proposed transaction requires their approval under RFU Rules and Regulations. In addition ERP and EFDR will need to carry out a full review of the purchase of Bedford Rugby by Coventry Blues plc and understand the full legal position before the eligibility of Coventry Blues plc trading as Bedford Blues can be determined. A decision as to whether the match will be rescheduled will be made during this review," confirmed Thomas.
Bedford has struggled in the top flight, and original investor Frank Warren withdrew from the club last season; this time around Bedford has lost its opening three matches.
It is believed the new team would be known as the "Coventry Blues" and play Coundon Road, currently the home of their Premiership Two team, which would also continue in that competition.
The takeover would be of Bedford's playing staff only.
Meanwhile Bedford coach Paul Turner says the merger/takeover represents the best chance his players have of a long term future; it is understood Coventry chairman Keith Fairbrother stepped in to pay the outstanding wage bill for September.
It has been a turbulent year for clubs in the Allied Dunbar Premiership, none of which is close to making a profit.
If the takeover goes ahead it would follow London Irish's takeover of London Scottish and Richmond. Originally announced as a merger, the "superclub" is effectively London Irish, playing under that name, albeit with modified shirts and a minority stake in the club owned by the professional London Scottish club.
Richmond which has reformed as an amateur club and London Scottish, which always maintained a separate amateur club, are now battling with the RFU to secure entry to the league structure as befits their standard of play, and to avoid having to start all over at the bottom of the league pyramid.
If Bedford folds as a professional unit, its members will also want to reform as an amateur club.
Elsewhere it is believed that the amateur club at Wasps is seeking to reform itself, following the professional club's decision to adopt the name London Wasps. Similar issues will arise should Worcester or Leeds - two well-backed Premiership Two clubs - pursue their interests in acquiring top division Sale Sharks, also struggling to pay its way without a big investor. In January Bristol bought an option on London Scottish, with the intention of buying Presmiership One status if its promotion bid failed; in the end Bristol were promoted,London scottish merged ointo Irish, and Bristol is left with a stake in a defunct professional club which this week is due to go into administration.
So far Coventry has not been seen as a potential predator; one of England's top clubs in the 1960s and 1970s with international stars such as David Duckham in their colours, Coventry had declined long before the the advent of professionalism.
In 1997, Coventry RFC rejected an approach by Premiership football club Coventry City FC which would have seen their Coundon Road ground sold off and the rugby club move to the 23,000 capacity Highfield Road.