After waiting more than twenty years to reach the heights of ‘Budge’ Rogers and company, Bedford had a mission under Chairman Frank Warren - simply to become the best club in Britain within the next five years.
After relaunching the Blues with a management structure dubbed the 'dream team' in August 1996, it was perhaps unreasonable to expect promotion ten months later. But after finishing fourth last season, and narrowly missing Out on first division rugby in their play-off match against Bristol, the Blues enter the new season arguably as co-favourites with Coventry to win the second division title.
With former England and Lions Manager Geoff Cooke appointed as Director of Rugby, the mercurial Welsh fly-half Paul Turner acquired from Sale as captain and coach and Bob Burrows, former Head of ITV Sport, as Chief Executive, Bedford comprehensively embraced the new professional era just in time for the 1996/97 kick-off Perhaps the most influential addition to the 'dream team' was boxing promoter Frank Warren who injected substantial backing in a joint-venture deal between his company Sports Network Europe and the club.
On the field Bedford could boast no fewer than eight players of international status as Cooke and Turner persuaded the stars to arrive at Goldington Road. Great Britain rugby league internationals Martin Offiah and Steve McCurrie successfully switched codes to union; Springbok number eight and 1995 World Cup winner Rudolf Straeuli and Western Samoan flanker Junior Paramore happily settled; Canadian 'Stormin' Norm Hadley also boosted the pack; veteran England prop Jeff Probyn, now 41, added invaluable experience, while Turner's Welsh counterpart, full-back Mike Rayer broke the club record for individual points in a season amassing 361 (9T, 101C 38P) with his accurate boot and crucial tries. With the likes of young stars Scot Murray, Roy Winters and Ben Whetstone improving all the time, the Blues created a fine balance between experience and youth.
By February 1997, with the club vying for promotion, Warren was appointed Chairman, taking over from Ian Bullerwell. He and partner Chris Roberts whole-heartedly pledged their support in a five-year deal and have now acquired a 90% shareholding agreed by the old members' club. Cooke will also take a more hands-on role this season as Chief Executive.
And the abiding memory last term? Bedford's barnstorming 34-28 victory over Newcastle at Goldington Road, described by many reporters as the game of the season and enhancing the Blues' reputation as a growing force. This season consistency will be the key but with further big signings on the cards, Messrs Warren and Cooke are in enviable shape.