Kyle Hulme reports on the potential of Leeds United’s fan ownership…
As I began to write about an ambitious new initiative designed to give fans a stake in Leeds United, news of the suspension of Steve Thompson, Neil Redfearn’s assistant, began to fill my Twitter feed. It upset me; not because I had to delete the words I had already written, but because it served as a reminder that even when you think you’ve turned a corner, sometimes the madness can follow you too.
Thompson was widely acknowledged to have been a key factor of Leeds’ recent upturn in form which saw fans stop shouting about relegation and start whispering of the playoffs. His influence on the club can’t be overstated – from broader impacts such as simply easing the pressure on Redfearn to more specialised focuses like all-but resurrecting the career of Luke Murphy. Yet all of that seemingly matters for nothing as today he’s been suspended until the end of the season and the option to retain him won’t be exercised. It’s a move that has seen Neil Redfearn question his future at the club, and one of several moves that only serve to unite the fanbase against their current owners – which may be the only silver lining to come out of this decision.
In terms of mobilising supporters against the current regime, the timing couldn’t be better. Earlier today, Leeds Fans LLP detailed plans of a Community Benefit Society (CBS) which will start taking donations next week, with the aim of purchasing a stake in Leeds United and giving supporters a say on how their club is ran. Supporters will be able to invest anywhere between £100 and £10,000, meaning that seemingly fans from any background will be able to invest. This is the first of a three-pronged strategy from Leeds Fans LLP; the second will see the creation of an organisation where fans can invest even larger amounts, whilst third will see a Foundation set up, into which companies and philanthropists can invest in future generations of Leed supporters. All three will work in tandem to try and achieve the aim of raising £10m to buy a stake in the club.
This is a remarkable opportunity for Leeds fans to stand up to a regime which they feel does not represent their interests as supporters. The reception of the project has been almost wholly positive, and the latest drama at Elland Road would be sure to make even the most sceptical of Leeds fans reconsider their stance on the way their club is run. The ownership of Leeds United has seen thousands of column inches dedicated to it – from Bates to Cellino, via GFH – but for once fans have a chance to have a real impact on the future of our club. Whilst it may be ambitious, it comes off the back of months of hard work by the Executive Team, fronted by Dylan Thwaites. Thwaites has worked with similar groups from Wrexham to Barcelona to ensureLeeds Fans LLP doesn’t come into this underprepared, stating the aim of making this the “biggest fan fundraise in the UK” whilst also declaring it may be the last chance to return the club to its glory days.
It’s not just fans who feel change at boardroom level is necessary either. Scorer of Leeds’ 1972 FA Cup winning goal Allan Clarke is an official ambassador for the group, whilst cult hero Lucas Radebe and the Kaiser Chiefs’ Simon Rix have both tweeted their support for the cause. Hollywood actor Russell Crowe, who has flirted with the idea of investment into Leeds quite openly over the last couple of weeks, has also been giving advice to the group, after his involvement with the South Sydney Rabbitohs has seen them become a force in Rugby League. With supporters like these, and an almost unanimous condemnation of recent events by fans, it seems certain that Leeds Fans LLP will achieve their minimum goal of raising £2.5m to purchase the shares currently owned by GFH. From there on, it’s hard to say what will happen, but one thing is sure for Leeds – this is the first step on the long road of taking back our club.
Shortly after Thompson was suspended, news broke of Redfearn being under pressure not to play leading goalscorer Mirko Antenucci as he would trigger a one year contract extension and a£1m bonus should he score 12 goals this season. You can’t make it up. The lines between Harchester United and Leeds United continue to be blurred…