By Gary Cooper
Since 2009 I have been lucky enough to serve as Chairman of the Leeds United Supporters Trust, a position I will stand down from in September at this year’s AGM having served under three owners and become the longest serving LUST chairman so far. It has been one hell of a journey and taught me many things about myself, my club, the delicacies and intricacies of football governance and what being a supporter means in a much broader sense than I had ever previously realised.
Since the age of four when my mother told me Billy Bremner was the greatest ever footballer and Leeds United was the best football team in the world my heart has belonged to Leeds. As a young teenager I began the transition from fan to supporter travelling home and away to support my club with lads who shared my passion and sense of excitement and I revelled in the idea of ‘Marching on Together’ in every sense of the word. Leeds stood with Leeds and Leeds had Leeds backs, fiercely loyal and always together. Being a Leeds United supporter was all about that loyalty, that bond and that passion for me, well it had to be as there wasn’t much to shout about on the pitch during the early to mid 1980’s if we’re being honest.
The early 1990’s brought some success on the pitch and some responsibility off it as the first two of my daughters came into the world and sucked up huge swathes of my heart and my time and for a few years Leeds United had to take a back seat, never far from my heart but often from my wallet as birthdays and Christmas' and mortgages and car loan payments and all the burdens of family life got first dibs on my pay packet each week. I still felt that same bond, the same loyalty and affinity with those fans who I met now less often following my club whenever my wallet would allow it. It was all about us, it was all about Marching on Together.
As the kids grew up and even though more came along slowly but surely the money at the end of the month was sufficient for me to invest more in pursuit of my love for Leeds United and in the early late 1990’s I became a regular again at all home games at least, I had come home and once more Elland Road was my church every weekend. I felt I belonged, I felt the bond I had become so familiar and comfortable with during my teenage years and I felt like a proper supporter again.
Then came the 2000’s and the troubled years, we lived the dream under Ridsdale but couldn’t afford to pay for it, we lived the realism under the Yorkshire Consortium but couldn’t afford anything, then we lived the nightmare under Ken Bates when not only could we not afford anything, not pay for anything (see the 2007 administration as proof) but we sold all our best players, dropped to our lowest ever league position, got knocked out of the FA Cup by an team of amateur postmen and ended up being called ‘Morons’ buy our owner (or someone who had previously managed to be chairman despite not ever knowing who owned our club (Honest Your Honour) and had bought the club from these same people he didn’t know). During this time I began to feel less like a supporter and more like a bloody mug being treat like a cash machine and milked like a cow.
I and several others wanted to try to change the way our club engaged with its supporters and in October of 2009 I was co-opted to the board of LUST as chairman. My mission was simple, to ensure Leeds United Supporters voice would be heard whether the clubs owner wanted to hear it or not.
The rocky road began, being ‘Leeds’ changed for me forever and in the five years that followed my eyes and ears would be opened to all kinds of things I had never thought could be possible.
What has happened between 2009 and 2014 I promised LUST members I would tell and having been prevented from doing so as chairman of LUST (we live in a litigation society) as Gary Cooper with little or bugger all to lose I will keep that promise and am working with a small team already to make that happen.
So what does ‘Being Leeds’ mean to me today? I still get the goose bumps driving to Leeds, I still meet up with the same friends although we all have less hair and what we do have is grey, I still go through the same match day rituals and I still lose a fiver a game backing us to win 4-1 each time. But I do see things differently, I still see the fierce loyalty but it’s tinged with a degree of ignorance I had in buckets in my pre LUST days. I still share the dream although having had years of LUFC night terrors I fear the sleep needed to dream. I still hope against hope that LUFC means as much to the custodians of our name (owners) as it does to us each time a new one comes along and I still hope they understand the very unique thing that is ‘Being Leeds’ in every sense, I still always feel just a bit let down at times.
What hasn’t changed is that which is engrained in my heart, LUFC always Leeds always loyal and always daring to dream.