'The mayor needs to resign immediately': Real Bedford stop ground lease negotiations with council over women’s football

Real Bedford have called for Tom Wootton to goReal Bedford have called for Tom Wootton to go
Real Bedford have called for Tom Wootton to go
Real Bedford FC have called for the mayor to resign over what they say is a ban on women’s football.

In an extensive post on their website, they’ve said they have halted ground lease negotiations with the council and have called for Bedford mayor Tom Wootton to go IMMEDIATELY, “specifically with the effective ban he wants to place on women’s football”.

The statement said: “This 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 our current ground within three years. Most disturbingly, the terms include clauses that ban women from playing football at our ground.

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“In January, after two years of lengthy negotiations that had concluded with agreed-upon terms, the new mayor instructed the council not to renew our lease. This instruction came after he met with Bedford Town Football Club representatives and made plans to allocate our facilities to them, a meeting held shortly after his induction as mayor.

“Despite these challenges, we pursued a renewal in good faith, agreeing to virtually all conditions proposed by the council and all extensions they required to the deadline. It seemed we had reached an agreement when mayor Wootton finally consented to grant us a new 15-year lease on April 26. However, the terms we received last Friday were shocking:

• An excessive and uncompetitive rent increase, far surpassing that of our neighbours at Bedford Town.

• A planned additional £10,000 annual rent increase from the third year, signalling a clear intent to displace us without providing alternative grounds.

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• Vague termination clauses that give the council undue power to evict us.

“The most alarming clause states that the council will terminate our lease if our ground is used for anything other than “senior men’s first-team football”, despite the council being fully aware of our ladies’ team playing at the ground.

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

Despite Bedford Today putting all these points to Bedford Borough Council, a spokesman 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.

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“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.”

Real Bedford Ladies chair, Jill Upton, said: "It's outrageous to penalise female football in this way. 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."