A group of pioneering Leeds fans have today launched an historic initiative to become the largest fan-ownership group in British football.
Project leader of 'Leeds Fans CBS' (Community Benefit Society) Dylan Thwaites used Billy Bremner's famous motto of 'Side Before Self' to describe the stance Leeds fans now need to adopt. As this unique fan ownership initiative is launched over the Easter weekend with the aim of raising £10million, the dream is to have a successful fan ownership stake to rival other similar schemes at clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
The Leeds fans' plan is unique due to its complexity, and while the biggest single amount that a fans' body has raised in UK football is £2.5 million (by FC United of Manchester) that is the very minimum that these Leeds fans need to invest to make an impact on their club.
Thwaites declared amazement at what 15 fans have achieved in just 100 days, this being the time from the initial meeting when a group of like-minded individuals first discussed the idea of ending years of malaise, mis-management and distrust at one of the biggest football clubs in the country.
Now, an estimated 10,000 man-hours later, the executive board of the Leeds Fans CBS and its shadow network of helpers and associates are ready to launch a plan to wrestle Leeds United back from a series of owners that have divided the fan base, and been complicit in keeping the long-suffering Leeds fans at arm's length.
Now Thwaites insists that the Leeds Fans CBS is a group consisting of "people you can rely on. We will be treating fans' money as if it is our own." Crucially he also added that as well as being trustworthy, the executive board of the Leeds Fans CBS was "stronger than the board of Leeds United". He used the 'side before self' motto because nobody had asked for or been given a penny for the thousands of hours of work that have been taken up to get to this point, it was all "for the honour of Leeds United, not to make a quick percentage here or there."
And this is the crux of the plea to Leeds fans. "I live in Wakefield," said Thwaites. "And being a Leeds fan stopped being a rivalry with other teams' fans and started becoming a pity. We feel like victims and that is a worry. We can't wait for a saviour, we need to step up now and we need to have an equal footing with other shareholders."
Fundraising executive Steve Hanson added: "We will be a sustainable and secure voice for the fans. We need to preserve Leeds United in the format it is in now for the current and future generations that haven't seen the success that some of us have. My son has had a season ticket for 10 years and he asks me 'what was it like'?"
Success is a distant memory for Leeds fans, having a club that is quite simply transparent, well-run and in line with fans' beliefs and ambitions is almost as challenging to recall, and this is a unique opportunity for Leeds fans to have a direct link to the board of their club and to have a say with a 'one share one voice' system.
Money can be committed to the fan ownership body from Tuesday (7th April) via the Leeds Fans CBS website and a minimum of £100 will secure one share. Fans can club together to donate £10 each to secure a £100 share between them, which ensures the system is inclusive and fully representative of Leeds United fans of all ages and backgrounds.
Later in April, a 'Leeds Fans United' private limited company will be launched which will eventually bring everything together, hence the name, but that will accept pledges from more wealthy individuals who may wish to donate more money. But their shareholding will be limited to prevent one individual's voice being louder and more influential than another, and any sizeable pledges must be from individuals who have already got a share via the original Leeds Fans CBS pledge starting on Tuesday.
Ultimately Thwaites is insistent that Leeds fans are prepared to take up an opportunity when and if it represents itself. He said "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. We might be lucky. Anything could happen with Leeds United's ownership and we need to be ready."
Thwaites refers to the ongoing legal battles of currently-suspended club president and majority owner Massimo Cellino, with a fresh tax evasion case starting next Tuesday which could see him banned by the Football League for a further 12 months. Also, GFH Capital (the minority shareholders at the club) are under the constraints of a fraud investigation which has implications on their ongoing involvement at the club.
The underlying theme is that Leeds fans want the club to be honourable and wholesome again. Thwaites referred to the summer of 1989 when Leeds spent heavily on players such as Mel Sterland and Vinnie Jones and you sensed momentum was building and "you knew something was happening". Leeds won promotion to the First Division that season, the last time this happened.
A groundswell of inclusivity can project Leeds forward once again, and one of Thwaites' closing comments summed it up: "wouldn't it be great to buy a pint at Elland Road before a game and know that the money was being spent on your football club?"
Side before self.