Editor-in-Chief Ryan Ingham chats with Gary Cooper about his role with Leeds Ladies and how they are settling since leaving the shackles of Leeds United behind.
The Phoenix is a majestic. powerful and fierce creature that is fully independent and you wouldn't want to turn your back on, much like the club it now symbolises in the Leeds Ladies FC.
Under a new name and a new leadership, the phoenix has definitely soared since their re-brand and currently find themselves top of the Fa Women's Premier League North Division One, having won four of their past five opening fixtures.
After such a successful start to the season, We All Love Leeds caught up with club Chairman Gary Cooper and got to know more about the clubs current situation.
Coming back from an impressive 4-2 away win against Morecambe, you must be overjoyed with the teams performance so far this season?
Yes very pleased, we conceded early from two set pieces and made it very hard work for ourselves. Such is the strength of spirit amongst the girls they don't let setbacks prevent them from competing and the flowing passing game we have come to expect from all Leeds Ladies teams came good and actually we dominated with quality possession and four goals, deserved winners.
With 4 wins out of 5 and top of the league, surely you must fancy promotion this season?
Last season we set ourselves the target of finishing second bottom with smiles on our faces and the girls enjoying playing football again. After two hard final seasons as Leeds United Ladies, we achieved so much more than that. So this season and a full year ahead of schedule our target is to win the title and gain promotion, that simple. If we can do that ahead of the 3 year plan we had in place to do it and keep those smiles on faces i will be one very happy and very proud chairman.
You can tell Emma Bentley is a born leader and has shown that since the reformation of the club, in comparison which captain of Lufc is she most like?
I wouldn't want to compare Bentz to any former LUFC captain for a very good reason, she is quite simply unique. It would be like trying to compare Billy Bremner to anyone else, you couldn't do it. When the girls found themselves dumped by LUFC last season, Bentz was the first to commit her faith and her belief in us as a committee and her team mates as a squad and she led from the front by example putting side before self at every twist turn and hurdle. She remained an inspirational constant throughout the first season and has earned the right to be considered unique in my eyes. I dont have the words to do justice to her talent, her passion, her pride and her commitment, it is second to none and i couldn't think more highly of her if i had Jack's beanstalk to climb and shout about her.
Your first season saw the club finish 3rd overall and only 6 points off the top spot, you must have been so proud of your team. How did it feel?
At the turn of the year we were actually right in the fight for the title and deservedly so. Postponed games due to the weather cost us momentum and led to the worst performance of our season for me away to Stockport who beat us in a game from which three points would have put us right in the mix with games in hand. In honesty the girls and the management in my opinion put a little too much pressure on themselves over the Christmas period having far excelled where we hoped we would be and i think that pressure also maybe got to us a bit.
We learned from that, opened the release valve and ended the season with six straight wins including inflicting the only home defeat on Liverpool that they suffered during the whole season effectively handing Guiseley promotion so even though we finished third we had a massive say in the outcome. That was one hell of an achievement, beyond anything we had dreamed and credit has to go to Jak Oldroyd who took charge for the first half of the season before we could get Gaz Lee back to the club in December. The lads represent my dream team having previously worked together at Leeds United Ladies reserves, I was convinced by their enthusiasm, determination and clear qualities. Both very different but equally complimenting of the others styles, both sharing a vision for the future of the club it was an easy decision for the committee and I to look to secure their services at as early a stage as possible. Come the end of the season we honestly felt like champions, the end of season awards night was amazing. Loved every minute of the whole season.
Do you think that your time with Lust has helped you take on a role with Leeds Ladies?
Being chairman of LUST certainly helped me establish an extensive contacts book and that in turn has helped me with Leeds Ladies. That said the roles are completely different and as with LUST i am learning as i go, i still have a lot to learn but when you take on a role that matters to you and people you care about the desire to learn and to succeed is strong. I love the job, the pay is crap but the rewards don't come in money and quite honestly that's just how i like it.
How does it feel to work with Mike Farnan? Since joining have you seen his footballing knowledge help the club?
I've known Mike for some time now and when we discussed the ladies team his offer of help was instant. I am learning a lot from Mike as i go, he helped secure the Macron deal and has been involved in lots of discussions with potential sponsors and commercial deals. His involvement obviously sets a certain standard within the game and shows our ambitions are credible and genuine. He has become a great friend and is passionate about Leeds, working with Mike is a pleasure.
Your kit this year is phenomenal and probably one of the best kits to be work by a Leeds based club, who's keen eye decided on that beauty?
Yeah we love the kit, home and away, and it was a no brainer for us to be white and yellow, it's the way all Leeds kits should be. We looked at different 'retro' styled designs and having established that the peacock badge wasn't owned by LUFC we wanted to have that retro look. Macron had already been brought to the table by Mike Farnan so we looked at what was available and then spoke to the girls about their preferences too. The kit we are wearing stood out to us all including the Leeds ladies Supporters club members so we went with this one. It was an inspired choice i think but a very democratic one such is the nature of the club and the way we do things.
The Phoenix is a poignant symbol for the Ladies who have gone on to prove their independence. Do you think that the club are better off separated from the bureaucracy at Lufc? Giving the Leeds Ladies their own say in its future has proven to be a Midas touch.
We offered LULFC and the Foundation options at the end of last season, options that would have meant no financial outlay to the club and to continue the democratic constitutional structure at the club as Leeds united Ladies, all those options were ultimately ignored and sadly we lost the word 'United', in truth we gained a far more United club. This wasn't the first time historically the girls had been dumped, under Ken Bates tenure they were taken under the wing of Leeds Carnegie, so we wanted to ensure that the girls could never be disbanded or dumped again.
We spoke to the FA and the WRCFA and managed with their help to reconstitute in a cooperative model and continue the historic affiliation protecting the club's successful history and traditions. Would we go back to LUFC? We are Leeds, end of, we don't need the word United, we are United in ways owners of Leeds United will never understand. But we are Leeds and we would love to be formally part of the Leeds United family again. Under the current owner its been made clear to me that won't happen but who knows what the future holds. If you're asking if we as a committee would allow the club to be singularly governed by LUFC again the answer would be no, we would need some seriously strong safeguards in place to protect the rights of every girl growing up in this great city and great county to aspire to play football for the club that bares the name and wears the colours that every boy growing up here aspires too. In these modern times equality is law, morally we have a long way to go but whilst i have breath in my body and as a father of four daughters i'll bloody well fight to ensure that girls born in Leeds and Yorkshire have as much opportunity as their male counterparts at least in the game of football.
What are your predictions for this season?
Glory and bringing silverware back to Leeds or die trying! We have three teams in our structure now, the first and development teams and newly introduced this season our Under 16s as the first of our youth development teams. I predict massive seasons for all of them really i do. Our development squad is much stronger this season and the girls that have joined our under 16s are just brilliant. Who knows, at the time of writing all three teams sit top of their respective leagues, we achieved the almost impossible last season, who is to say we can't top all three leagues at the end of the season, now that would be some bloody achievement wouldn't it?
And finally, If we pricked your finger, would you bleed white, yellow and blue?
You don't have to cut me, i breathe out white yellow and blue and just in case you miss that check out the tattoo on my left arm ;) LEEDS LEEDS LEEDS #MOT
We at WALL would like to thank Gary for taking the time to get involved with the site and take part in this interview. We will be keeping a key eye on the Leeds Ladies this season and you can join in by looking out for more content from our site.
We hope to see the phoenix sore again this season and pick up some silverware for the city of Leeds and most importantly for themselves for the sheer effort they have put in during these past two years.
By Ryan Ingham