Real Bedford FC owner claims foul play in renewal of McMullen Park lease

Real Bedford re-branded from Bedford FC. Image: Real Bedford FC
Image: Real Bedford FC

The local football landscape was thrown into uncharted territory last night (Friday), as the owner and chairman of Real Bedford FC published an open letter accusing mayor Tom Wootton of ‘blocking’ the renewal of their lease at McMullen Park.

Allegations Mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative), denies.

There are currently two years left on the lease at the ground – situated next door to Bedford Town Football Club – and leaves Real Bedford unable to work on the ground, leaving them at risk of missing out on promotion to the Southern League.

Not having a recognised home ground would likely see the club fall to the bottom of the football pyramid.

In an open letter published across his personal social media profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and X, formerly Twitter, Peter McCormack alleges the Mayor “instructed the Council not to progress with our lease renewal” in “early September”.

Image: Real Bedford FC

The letter begins by highlighting the history and successes of the club since it was purchased by McCormack two years ago.

This includes the men’s side winning a league and club double and the ladies’ team currently 10 points clear in their league. He also pointed out their £100k investment in local youth football across Bedford Borough

However, McCormack then goes on the say he believes the Mayor’s interference is so Bedford Town FC (BTFC) can have the land, despite lengthy negotiations and Real Bedford signing a lease in July 2023.

He writes, “After lengthy negotiations, the Head of Terms were agreed upon in June 2023, including an increase in the ground rent from £5 per year to £5,000 per year and an additional payment of a profit rent…”

“…After weeks of chasing the Council to sign the lease, we were informed in early September that Mayor Tom Wootton had instructed the Council not to progress with our lease renewal after he had met with Bedford Town Football Club, and we now have been made aware that our facilities are earmarked to be given to Bedford Town FC…”, he claims.

Bedford Town FC has declined to comment on the allegations. Still, club secretary Mitchell Pearson has replied to the open letter on Facebook, saying, “Whatever he [the mayor] decides will be in the interest of the town and sport in general”.

Bedford Town FC secretary Mitchell Pearson has waded into the argument. Image Peter McCormack profile/Facebook
Bedford Town FC secretary Mitchell Pearson has waded into the argument. Image Peter McCormack profile/Facebook

“Viewed as an irritant”

In his letter, which at the time of publication has had 156,000 views on ‘X’ alone, McCormack describes his dealings with Bedford Borough Council and how he and his team have been left feeling like “an irritant” during meetings with councillors and council officers.

He also accuses the council of being “ignorant” of their obligations and needs.

“Without the development of our site, we will not be able to achieve our promotions and risk being relegated,” writes McCormack.

“…despite our detailed engagement with the council over the past 5 months, the council were still ignorant of our specific obligations and needs.

“In some of our dealings with the Council, we have been left with the clear impression that we are viewed as an irritant and that the Council have more pressing concerns. This is despite this issue being of the Mayor’s making.”

Mayor Tom Wootton standing along Bedford's River Great Ouse with the town bridge in the background.
Mayor Tom Wootton

Alternatives offered

McCormack now says this delay is significantly impacting the club’s future, and the future of grassroots football in Bedford Borough.

He writes, “Let me be clear, the cancellation of our lease renewal not only threatens the promotions our players, managers and teams have worked so hard to achieve, but it has also prevented us from accessing funding from the FA for the necessary upgrades we had planned for the ground, including our floodlights and a new stand.

“These costs will now come from the budget allocated to developing youth, men’s and women’s football in Bedford.”

McCormack does say the council have offered them three alternatives but says two are not suitable and not enough information has been given for the third

“We were presented with three alternative sites to move to. Two of these sites were completely inappropriate, given they were essentially disused school fields in the middle of housing estates.

“The third option presented potential, but there were no details on availability and viability for development.”

McCormack has said they’ve pushed the Council for updates on the third option but have not heard back from them.

“You [the Council] agreed to go back and find out further information on the viability of this third option within 6-8 weeks,” he writes.

“We were very clear then that we have pressing needs over the coming years and that a lease extension would be required if the third option could not be shown to be available for our needs within 18 months.

“We offered to enter into this collaboratively and positively, and we did not seek costs from Bedford Borough Council for developing this site if it was a viable option.”

Continued discussions

McCormack is currently in the US visiting sponsors and investors and updating them on the project. “Everyone supports what we are doing, and many of our sponsors have agreed to extensions.

“[This] will only benefit Bedford and our teams, making our goal of professional football in the town more likely,’ he said.

Pressing him for evidence of the alleged blocking of their lease by the Mayor and that the facilities were being handed to BTFC, McCormack said he didn’t have anything in “black and white”.

Speaking to the Bedford Independent, Mayor Tom Wootton, said he has been in discussions with Real Bedford about finding a solution that benefits them and other clubs in the Borough.

“I’m here to support Bedford and all sports across Bedford Borough,” said the mayor, adding that he doesn’t have an agenda that favours one team or sport over another.

“These things take time and we’re working on making sure Real Bedford can have a suitable home that meets their requirements, and look forward to continued discussions with them,” he said.

The Bedford Independent also spoke with Bedford Borough Council about the lease negotiations and processes around McMullen Park and the other options that Real Bedford has been presented with.

They were unable to provide a comment at the time of publication but say they will be happy to provide further details to our reporters in the coming days.