CASTLEFORD Tigers’ bosses say the club must build its long-awaited £12m stadium in Glass Houghton to secure its future in the top-flight – after rugby officials warned “failing” teams will be kicked out of the Super League.
Chief executive Richard Wright told the Express it was “vital” the club builds its 13,000-capacity new home near the Xscape leisure complex after the Rugby Football League (RFL) revealed it had the power to revoke a club’s licence on an annual basis during the next three years.
The club has signed an exclusive development agreement with Opus Land (North) Ltd, which will help it redevelop its Wheldon Road ground to sell to a supermarket, as well as provide all the cash needed to build for its proposed new stadium.
Opus is in “advanced discussions” with a major food retail operator interested in buying the site – with a planning application for the scheme expected to be submitted to Wakefield Council next month.
Mr Wright said: “We know the challenges we face and we do have to deliver the stadium. That’s why it’s more important now that the council gets behind us and the fans get behind us and we deliver the consent for the food store because once we get that then the stadium is inevitable.
“The stadium wasn’t dependent on the licence decision because it was a beneficial project no matter what division we were playing in, but the licence does give us stability in terms of the playing squad and staff and the whole structure of the business. You can make long term decisions for the benefit of growing the business to bigger things.
“That’s where the real benefit comes, the players, the recruitment of players, bringing a new coach in and sponsors, getting people to invest in the business. All of these things we can now move forward with.
“It’s a fabulous day for the town. The fans are delirious and so many turned out to hear the announcement, which is typical of the Castleford people and how integrated the club is in the community. They’ll be having a few beers to celebrate I’m sure.”
Hundreds of fans packed into the Tigers’ Bar at the Probiz Coliseum to watch the RFL’s press conference on a television screen – while club officials and players gathered in a nearby office to hear the announcement.
Tigers were awarded a grade C licence, the lowest standard of licence, along with rivals Wakefield Wildcats. The Belle Vue side was hotly-tipped to lose its licence after plunging into administration and facing a planning battle to build its new stadium in Stanley – but was handed a last-minute reprieve after Celtic Crusaders withdrew their bid for a licence.
They are among 14 clubs to win a Super League franchise for 2012-14.
Tigers’ player Ryan McGoldrick said: “Everyone was pretty confident we were going to get the licence but until it’s read out you don’t know what the RFL is going to do.
“We’ve got three years and now it’s up to the club to pull its finger out and build the stadium. The players and playing staff have done their bit on the field. It’s now over to them [the club] to fulfil their promises and build the new stadium, which has been promised for years.
“There are more fans here today than there are for most matches. It shows what it means to the town of Castleford. It’s good to see everyone leaving with smiles on their faces.”
Castleford councillor and Tigers’ fan Mark Burns-Williamson was at the ground to hear the news. He said: “To win a new Super League licence is obviously fantastic news for the club and the new stadium is something fans and residents in the town are very passionate about. The club needs to provide facilities fit for the future.
“The Glass Houghton site is perfect and the club already has planning permission for the scheme. I know the rugby league has said it can now take back licences, and it seems some clubs have to justify themselves to the RFL more than others, but it’s important the club presses on with its plans.”
After the RFL announcement, Mr Wright, team coach Terry Matterson and club associate director Martin Lee spoke to the fans in Tigers’ Bar to thank them for their support.
Mr Lee, who prepared the licence application, said: “For the last 12 months, July 26 has been on my mind. We have worked bloody hard for this. One thing we can take away from this is that we are there [in the Super League] on merit, not by default. Licence applications are emotional because I care deeply about this club. I didn’t want to let down thousands of people, or my family, and I put by heart and soul into it.
“We now have three years to take this club forward. We have taken some rapid steps forward over the last three years and we’re very excited about where we can take the club over the next three years. But we have to deliver this stadium and get everyone behind this club.”
Leader of Wakefield Council councillor Peter Box hailed the news as “fantastic” for rugby league in the district. He said: “The Tigers and Wildcats presence in the top flight is a real asset to the game, the sporting community and the local economy.”
Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper added: “This is a well deserved decision and I know rugby fans across Castleford and West Yorkshire will be celebrating this news.”