Every month the Football Supporters’ Federation features an affiliate or associate member to highlight good work carried out by fans. If you'd like to appear email firstname.lastname@example.org . This month it's the turn of Leeds United Supporters' Trust (LUST), we spoke to Chairman Gary Cooper....
The FSF: Hello Gary, tell us about LUST.
Gary Cooper: LUST was set up in the late 90s, although I wasn’t involved at the time. However, numbers were relatively low although it felt like there was real potential to push on, and numbers have increased since then. I became chairman in 2009.
At the time we had an owner, Ken Bates, who didn’t want to engage with fans. Since Bates sold up to GFHC there’s been a different outlook. In fact the way the club engaged literally changed within minutes of Bates’ time as chairman ending.
Since then our relationship with the club has really improved, it’s a growing relationship. We’ve been involved with Leeds United Foundation and have sponsored a player from the ladies team.
How many members do you have?
Four and a half years ago when I became Chairman we had 224 shareholders. Since then we’ve rebranded and changed the way we do things and we have 9200 members now.
I believe that strength comes in numbers and it was important to get all fans engaged. Thinking like that we cancelled membership fees, went to free membership, and really increased our member base.
We now actually have better income levels as we looked at merchandise and fundraising and improved that side of things. We still have 800 paying shareholders too.
And what type of fan gets involved?
All manner of people are interested in what we’re doing, a much wider cross-section of fans. You have your “politically active” fans who are interested in things like ownership and football governance.
There’s also fans who just want to turn up and enjoy the game, but who also recognise that having a voice within the club and community is a really important, positive thing.
Tell us a little about your activities and campaigns.
Firstly, in 2012 we started the “Campaign For Change”. This wasn’t just about ownership, it was about influencing how the club and fans worked together, about transparency, which we didn’t get under the previous regime.
The march went from Leeds city square to Elland Road and 1500 fans turned up on a freezing cold March day. It was a very proud moment.
Since then the new owners came in and we knew that at some point we’d get the opportunity to work with the club. It seemed a good time to look at ourselves and ask if we were “fit for purpose”.
Since that review we’ve brought in fans with corporate governance experience and a serving Major from the Royal Artillery. We’d always done work to support the armed forces but he can add expertise to that too.
We’ve also got a fan on board called Steve Clay to support fans in issues relating to policing and stewarding. Steve has 30 years experience as a police officer including 10 years in the Met. He understands both sides and is a passionate Leeds fan.
He’s got a dozen success stories under his belt, helping fans in trouble, and has worked with the FSF and solicitor Melanie Cooke. We’ve also had some fantastic coverage of our work in the Yorkshire Evening Post.
What are you plans for the future?
We’re launching a fans’ share scheme so that supporters can invest in the club and buy shares. The corporate experience we’ve brought on board at LUST has been invaluable in that.
We’ve also got a very wealthy, interested party who supports Leeds United and told us that they will “match fund” any money we can raise as a trust. So every penny we raise, they will invest the same.
We’re also meeting Andy Burnham MP to talk supporter engagement. He spoke at the FSF-SD Supporters Summit on this issue and with the right input, in the right place, we can make a difference.
Basically, we just want to keep growing, developing, and help supporters have a say in how their club is run. I think we’ll succeed in that, and I’m very pleased with what LUST’s achieved. Well done to everyone who’s been involved in its development.
- Read more and join LUST: www.lufctrust.org