Real Bedford owner calls for Mayor’s resignation over women’s football ‘ban’

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

The Real Bedford Football Club lease saga took another turn this morning (Monday) after club owner Peter McCormack pulled out of negotiations with Bedford Borough Council, and called for Mayor Tom Wootton to resign.

In an open letter posted on social media, Mr McCormack described how he had received the lease which he says is not only threatening to the club’s future but discriminatory in its condition for use of the ground.

In the letter, Mr McCormack said the lease was an ‘effective ban on women’s football’, with what he called ‘the most alarming clause’ stating the ground should not be used for anything other than ‘senior men’s first-team football’.

‘This is a direct attack on our women’s team which has just won a league and cup double and are contenders for a historic treble.’

Jill Upton, Chair of Real Bedford Ladies also added her thoughts in the letter.

‘It’s outrageous to penalise female football in this way,’ she wrote. ‘To reach a reasonable standard in the Women’s pyramid, teams have to rely on men’s clubs sharing their grounds.

‘It is politics of the 1960s to prevent women playing at a ground on the basis of their gender.”

When contacted by the Bedford Independent, a spokesperson for Bedford Borough Council said that this was a “drafting error”, which has now been rectified.

But this was an outcome that the Real Bedford boss predicted.

‘We know what the response will be,’ said McCormack in his letter. ‘They will claim the misogynistic clause was an error and apologise, it is not an error.’

End to negotiations

Mr McCormack continues his letter, going into detail for the reasons behind his decision to immediately cease all negotiations, and calls for the resignation of Mayor Tom Wootton (Conservative).

‘Today, I informed the council and Mayor Tom Wootton that we are ceasing all negotiations with them regarding our ground lease. The decision follows the receipt of new lease terms last Friday that are not only unreasonable but discriminatory.

‘The proposed terms include a significant, arbitrary increase in rent and oppressive rules that could force us out of the current ground within three years.

Read: Real Bedford secures 15-year lease extension at McMullen Park

A spokesperson for Bedford Borough Council said: “The Council confirms that we have given a new 15-year lease at McMullen Park to Real Bedford with a break clause at three years.

“This decision was made in accordance with our procedure for lease renewals. There was a drafting error which was rectified within half an hour of the initial issue being raised to include all football. A new terms of reference is ready to send. 

“We know the importance of sports across our Borough – from benefits in health, fitness, and wellbeing. Approving this new lease we hope gives the club a great opportunity to grow and develop.”

The Real Bedford Ladies squad and management with the Eastern Region Women's League title
Real Bedford Ladies with the league title. Image: Peter McCormack/’X’

Email from Mayor

In an email to Mr McCormack from the Mayor of Bedford and seen by the Bedford Independent, the Mayor says he has spoken with ‘the [Bedfordshire FA] this morning and has ‘instructed the officers of the borough council to amend the lease further’.

This, writes the mayor ‘will ensure that ladies (sic) first team football is not excluded’. He adds that, ‘We hope that this overcomes your concerns.’

Mr McCormack doubled down on his call for the mayor to resign and told the Bedford Independent he believes the mayor and council are now backtracking.

“Now they have been called out, they are backtracking,” he told us. “You can see in the email that they have offered to change the clause, not that it was an error.”

Mr McCormack says that despite the changes that have been made he is still not prepared to reopen negotiations directly with the council and reiterated the closing paragraphs of his letter.

“We refuse to engage in any more closed-door dealings and insist on transparency and fairness in how this issue is resolved. As such, we will now engage with The FA and our lawyers.

“We acknowledge the efforts of council CEO Laura Church and the planning department, who worked hard to resolve this in difficult circumstances. We also thank Alan Young from Beds FA for his support over the months on this issue”.

We have contacted Bedfordshire FA for comment.

You can read Peter McCormack’s letter in full here.