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Leeds United Supporters Trust - the must read interview

Leeds United Billy Bremner Statue

Gary Cooper has been Leeds United Supporters Trust Chairman since 2009. An often outspoken figure, he has successfully increased membership from 224 to 9,200 in just over 4 years.

I caught up with Cooper on New Year's Eve to find out why the Trust was set up, and what it's aims were and are for the future. I was also interested in getting the inside track on what it was like for him during the days of the Bates regime.

Why and when was the Trust set up ?

'In the late 90’s actually, as part of the 'supporters direct' initiative. The Trust was set up to be a voice for the fans'.

Cooper became Chairman in 2009. At that point the trust had 224 members, but he and a group of like-minded supporters, who met regularly at games and in Billy's Bar at Elland Road, felt the time was right to reinvigorate this group.

Cooper continues: 'Leeds supporters at that point needed an independent voice'

'Since relegation gradually Leeds fans had lost their connection with the club. They were often seen as a problem - certainly not the heartbeat of the club, and the mainstay of its revenues. A lot of us felt demoralised and marginalised'.

How did they set out to build bridges ?

'We made a call to the club - simple, and fair play to them we met with (Shaun) Harvey shortly afterwards, although he did suggest that we establish an RMC (Regional Members Club), but that wasn't what we thought the trust should be about'.

Peaceful protest

Cooper told of his 'complete pride’ as eventually 1,500 fans marched on Elland Road in February 2012 in a peaceful protest against Bates' tenure. Tired of the club's best young talent being sold, and seeing little investment back in the team, many Leeds fans had had enough.

'Leeds fans that day said: 'Bates, your time is up; the fans want change', Cooper said.

The protracted takeover process that ended in the purchase of the club by GFH Capital began not long after that protest.

The sale of Jonny Howson to Norwich

The sale of Leeds Captain and star midfielder polarised many fans against Bates

'He might as well have stabbed him (Howson) through the heart on the pitch at Elland Road in front of the supporters. It was a sale that made no sense at all. We got Peanuts for Howson - how much is he worth now ?', Cooper said.

'It just showed supporters how little Bates thought of them and of the club; that was a turning point. We’d seen Delph get sold just over 12 months before, and not much else come into the squad, but this was the final straw', he stated.

Ordinary bloke

Cooper is candid about his own role in the takeover, describing himself as an 'ordinary bloke' from the East Riding with no Media Training'. 

GFH Capital were of course victorious in prising the club from Bates just over a year ago and Cooper says he 'couldn't be happier'.

'They listen', he said'. 

Cooper singles out David Haigh as someone who has been in contact with the Trust regularly, but also Club Chairman Salah Nooruddin, Salem Patel and he describes new Leeds CEO Paul Hunt as 'a breath of fresh air'.

'Now we’re talking to the City Council, Leeds Ladies Football Club, the Leeds United Foundation. Under the last regime we were totally shut out', he says.

Where is the Trust is going ?

Cooper sees it as a key part of the 're-engagement' of the City, the club and its supporters. And the proposed share scheme is an integral part of that'.

Can Leeds be promoted ?

Cooper speaks with passion about Leeds, and in matters of football he is direct about what he and many Leeds fans expect this season.

'Yes, I really think we can be promoted this season - but we need meaningful investment, and 3 or 4 real quality signings. The fans have done their bit - attendances are up - but the club now needs to deliver too'.

On Brian McDermott

'He leads by example. He’s there at the training ground every day, geeing up the squad. You can see that in players like Pugh, playing out of their skin. McDermott's shown an interest in the club, especially training facilities and the academy - that's always going to motivate players'.

Favourite player ?

'Ross McCormack. He's someone I speak to quite regularly - a player who loves playing for Leeds. He feels the history of the club whenever he pulls the shirt on. He's proud to play for us - he's what I want in all Leeds players'.

New Owners

'With these guys, anything is now possible', Cooper concludes.

images: © Chris Robertshaw, © Chris Robertshaw

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