In LUST we Trust?: One Supporter’s Perspective

The recent ruling of Ofcom to uphold the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust complaints against Yorkshire Radio and Ken Bates were held up as a victory by the organisation, but to one supporter at least, looking at the finer details of the case poses significant questions. Miss Florentina explains…

You can’t have failed to notice that Margaret Thatcher died last week…but fear not readers, this is not a political article.  Thatcher came to power after the strike epidemic of the 1970s, determined to stop the unions and their stranglehold on the UK economy.  I’ve always disliked the idea of unions – yes, they are designed to represent the interests of a group of workers and negotiate terms and conditions on a collective level so everyone gets a fair deal, and that’s a good thing.  But I’ve always thought of unions as the kind of group where only the strongest, loudest voices get heard.  Perhaps it’s a sweeping generalisation, but shop stewards were never shy and retiring folk – they were opinionated and brash.  They represented themselves and a minority who wanted to speak up.  The ‘silent majority’, however, were not represented.  And this leads me on to the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust.

One Voice: Your Voice?

One Voice: Your Voice?

Last Monday morning, I read Ofcom’s Broadcast Bulletin (I’m quite the media law geek), and noticed Gary Cooper’s case against Yorkshire Radio was in the investigations list.  Now, we all know what Kenneth did was categorically wrong – he shouldn’t have accessed the details of the Supporters’ Trust board, even though the information that was broadcast wasn’t particularly sensitive.  Personally speaking, I interpreted Bates’ ramblings as an attempt to show Mr Cooper, the Chairman of the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust, that he knew more about him that just his ticket purchasing history.  There’s an inference that if Bates knows that, he also knows your address, your phone number, your credit card details and many other pieces of confidential data – to me, it sounded like a thinly veiled threat of potential harassment.  Bearing in mind the result of the Levi v Bates case of June 2012, Bates proved that not only the threat of harassment, but also delivering on that threat, is a weapon in his arsenal that he is prepared to use.  So I’m not pro-Bates by any stretch of the imagination.  However, there were two aspects to the investigation that disturbed me:

Firstly, that after the Yorkshire Radio broadcast in question, Gary Cooper sent what has been referred to as an ‘inflammatory email’ to station.  Yorkshire Radio subsequently decided it would be irresponsible to give Mr Cooper the right to reply ‘considering the language used in the email’.  Ofcom was provided with a copy of the email so we have no reason to dispute that this happened.

Secondly, that Mr Cooper took part in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live seven months after the Yorkshire Radio broadcast and said:

“Ken Bates has always been his own man.  He’s had an awful lot to say about different aspects of the support, about me personally but I really don’t take any of that to heart at all.  Ken’s his own man; he’ll say what he wants and he’ll do what he wants…I respect his right to do that”

Bates at his 'second home'...

Bates at his ‘second home’…

It’s difficult to say that you’re offended by comments that have been made when you’ve openly declared that you don’t take them to heart and that the man doesn’t actually bother you.

These are two very naïve mistakes to make when you’re going up against someone who’s as familiar to legalities as humans are to breathing.  So although the Trust view the Ofcom ruling as a victory, I actually see it as a bit of an embarrassment – like two schoolboys who have got into a playground slanging match.  Is this something we really want to see from a representative of the fans?  Just as the Trust has told us to question the intentions of the club and its senior employees, we as fans should be questioning the people that represent us.

Regulators...

Regulators…

If you read the report in full, you’ll see that Mr Cooper’s complaint was initially rejected by Ofcom, and it took a further submission before it was upheld.  The crucial difference between the two submissions appears to be the inclusion of details of the Levi v Bates court case – a case that proved that Bates was using Yorkshire Radio to pursue his own vendetta.  Obviously, none of us laypeople are aware as to the timings of the Ofcom investigation, but if the Levi case had concluded when the initial submission was made, why was it not included?  It also suggests that this was a ruling that could have, and did, go either way, so wasn’t quite as cut and dried as the Trust suggested.

When you go up against someone as contentious as Ken Bates, you need to be whiter than white (no pun intended!), and you need to be savvy.  The email and the 5 Live interview were both poor decisions, but you’ll now see Mr Cooper constantly tweeting the Yorkshire Radio Twitter account asking for an apology.

Pot, Kettle...?

Pot, Kettle…?

Realistically, he’s not going to get a response, so what’s the point?  It’s a Twitter account, not a formal channel of communication.  In my eyes, it looks unprofessional, childish and, for someone who complained about Bates’ harassing behaviour, it seems a bit like a ‘pot-kettle-black’ situation.  When you consider it at the same time as the ‘inflammatory email’, it seems as though Mr Cooper needs to smarten up his act.

I’m not saying that his task has been particularly easy.  The Trust was established at a time when fans didn’t have a voice – Bates’ state-run media outlets were seemingly dictating every story that came out of the club and censoring anything that wasn’t approved by the man himself.  His weekly spot on Yorkshire Radio was becoming increasingly vicious; a departure from the slightly more innocent ‘granddad-esque’ inappropriate comments that most families have to put up with every Sunday lunchtime.  Fans were growing more and more frustrated by the day, and something had to change. The Trust was incredibly helpful when it came to the investment situation – they advertised the club in a positive way when it seemed like Shaun Harvey et al weren’t doing anything proactive at all.  I think we should always be appreciative for the part they played.  These were ordinary fans doing extraordinary things.

Gary Cooper was also attacked by the journalist Neil Ashton in a shocking Daily Mail article, which just happened to be published at the same time as an interview with Bates.  Coincidence?  I’m not concerned about Mr Cooper’s bank accounts, loans, family or his ticket purchasing history.  I am only interested in the way in which he conducts himself as the Chairman of the Trust.

However, even in the early days, I was slightly dubious about the Trust’s intentions.  During the summer, TOMA speculation converted everyday supporters of Leeds United into sleep deprived zombies, spending up to 24 hours a day refreshing the pages of WACCOE, desperate for even the most tenuous piece of ‘ITK’ information.  It was a bleak time for us all.  However, the Trust seemed to insinuate (and on more than one occasion, openly declare) that they had been in direct contact with potential buyers.  This irritated me on two levels: firstly, why should a very small subsection of fans be privy to this information whilst the vast majority are kept in the dark?  I have just as much right to know the facts as any other fan, so comments made by the Trust that secrecy was required so as not to jeopardise any future deal felt a little bit like telling a child “I’ll let you know when you’re older…”  Secondly, why would any self-respecting businessman consult with a group of fans prior to a takeover?  This isn’t some cosy coffee club; it’s a multi-million pound business.  Can you imagine the Glazers calling the Manchester United Supporters Club to have a quick chat before their deal went through?  It made me think that the people who were speaking to the Trust must be pranksters, very unprofessional, or that the Trust wasn’t as ‘ITK’ as they led us to believe.

Gary Cooper on a recent parliamentary trip recruits Mp Hillary Benn to the paid up membership ranks.

Gary Cooper on a recent parliamentary trip recruits Mp Hillary Benn to the paid up membership ranks.

We then began to see Trust statements being released.  “The Trust welcomes news that…”, “The Trust responds to…” and “The Trust would like to…”  Speaking as an average fan who joined the Trust as a member rather than a shareholder, I wondered where these opinions were coming from.  Was it just five men having a chat in the pub?  Had they carefully analysed the feedback they had received and released the majority’s opinion?  Was it just the opinions of the paying shareholders?  Either way, I didn’t feel like the statements were representing me, and for an organisation that was fighting for transparency and fairness at the heart of Leeds United, I had no idea as to their own processes.

Some people would argue that I should have been proactively expressing my opinion in order for it to be heard.  I disagree, and this goes back to the union analogy – if the Trust only listens to the members who get in touch with them, passive members are not being represented.  These passive members could very easily become lapsed members, and all of a sudden, the active base of supporters is not looking as robust as we first thought.  Members need to be kept engaged, and I believe the Trust should be consulting fans on a much more frequent basis. At the moment, it seems a bit like an exclusive club.

The split base of free members and shareholders is particularly helpful.  Why should I pay another fan £5 to have more of a say?  According to the Trust’s website, you gain the following perks:

  • take part in the Trust’s decision making
  • vote at the Trust’s AGM
  • select the Trust’s Board members
  • stand for election to the Trust Board yourself

The board members have obviously done their research and make a compelling argument for their current status as an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS), which is the reason there is a ‘paid for’ level of membership.  But do we really need our supporters’ group to have a legal status where individual members are liable for £1 if the Trust is sued?  Do we really need a legal status where the Trust can employ staff or even own a part of the club?  I truly believe that Trust has good intentions – they say on their website: “why always be criticising, when we can be running and participating – we think we can bring huge benefits to the club, so give us a chance – to own the club we love (or a part of it)”.  Based on what’s happened so far, I believe they would also be out of their depth.

To use my previous example, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (another IPS) has been trying to regain control of their club since 2005.  They have 175,000 members and even hired a web strategy company to boost their numbers and promote their cause.  Nothing has happened.  So I don’t think the Trust’s aim should be buying into the club – it should be getting into the club.  The most obvious way to do this is by having a fan representative on the Leeds United board.  Someone like Dominic Matteo, who has the full respect of the club’s fanbase, but also has a business background.  As much as I love Leeds, fan ownership of the club is not something I’m interested in.  The last time a fan was in charge of our club, I seem to remember it all went a bit sour?  Leave business to the business people and we’ll concentrate on supporting our club.

We used to have Ray Fell and the Leeds United Supporters Club representing us.  I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that it didn’t work.  LUSC weren’t really supported or even acknowledged by the vast majority of Leeds fans.  The new LUS Trust (I’m sorry, but despite using the acronym for my title, ‘LUST’ really has to stop…) has the numbers, the respect and the right attitude.  It’s what they do with all of that power now that will either make or break them.

Follow Miss Florentina on twitter…or if you’re interested in reading something a little different, if occasionally LUFC related, you might want to try her excellent, all-encompaasing blog.

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19 responses to “In LUST we Trust?: One Supporter’s Perspective

  1. A couple of points in this article seriously lead it away from the basis of the point you’re trying to make:

    “It’s difficult to say that you’re offended by comments that have been made when you’ve openly declared that you don’t take them to heart and that the man doesn’t actually bother you.”

    The complaint isn’t about taking offence at the comments made by Mr Bates. The complaint is twofold. Firstly, that Yorkshire Radio was unfair in its coverage of the issue i.e. there was no adequate opportunity to respond, which is proven correct. Secondly, that there was an unwarranted invasion of privacy. There’s a subtle and distinct difference between taking offence at something and wishing for fair treatment that doesn’t involve disclosing private data about a person in a bid to discredit them.

    Further down the article you state:

    “I’m not concerned about Mr Cooper’s…ticket purchasing history.”

    If that’s the case then you have simply agreed with the basis of the privacy complaint! You then also say:

    “If you read the report in full, you’ll see that Mr Cooper’s complaint was initially rejected by Ofcom, and it took a further submission before it was upheld. The crucial difference between the two submissions appears to be the inclusion of details of the Levi v Bates court case – a case that proved that Bates was using Yorkshire Radio to pursue his own vendetta.”

    I agree that the Levi case had a very large bearing on the outcome, but you’ve almost skimmed past something of massive importance – possibly more so than the Levi case: that Ken Bates was the majority shareholder of YR. Perhaps it’s the case that Gary assumed that Ofcom might have known this from the outset, but that appears not to be the case. However, as soon as it was brought to the attention of Ofcom, they clearly decided that, despite the best efforts of Carter Ruck, the adjudication should be upheld. Contrary to what you say above, I’d argue that once the material facts were known it very much was a cut and dried case.

    Onto your objections about the takeover. I’ll address a couple of the points:

    “Firstly, why should a very small subsection of fans be privy to this information whilst the vast majority are kept in the dark? I have just as much right to know the facts as any other fan, so comments made by the Trust that secrecy was required so as not to jeopardise any future deal felt a little bit like telling a child ‘I’ll let you know when you’re older…'”

    To answer in two words: commercial sensitivity. Perhaps it was wrong for LUST to let the cat out of the bag, so as to speak, but as you say above: “I think we should always be appreciative for the part they played. These were ordinary fans doing extraordinary things.” If you want to know the information that the LUST board know there is a mechanism to find out: stand for election. Or if that seems like a step too far, then why not just get in touch with Gary Cooper. You might be surprised at how forthcoming he is.

    “Secondly, why would any self-respecting businessman consult with a group of fans prior to a takeover?”

    This suggests a degree of incredulity on your part. Perhaps businesspeople see things differently to some fans. Again, it’s worth investigating the business and community links that LUST have built up before passing full judgement on them. The Supporters Trust movement as a whole has been acknowledged as ‘the way forward’ by the government in its recent DCMS report into football. Supporters Direct, LUST’s parent body, is government supported and regulated. OK, the supporters trust movement is still growing and it may not be perfect, but by a street it’s the best we’ve got and more importantly, it is improving all the time. Look at the Swansea Supporters Trust. They own 20% of the club and they are on the club’s board. Therefore they are privy to a great deal of high level business activity (which I’m sure they don’t divulge to all their membership) and they will also deal with more than their fair share of self-respecting businessmen.

    Finally, look at Portsmouth, who have been battered from pillar to post in recent years. The Football League would only allow through a community ownership model led by the Supporters Trust.

    I’m slightly confused about your conclusion too. In it you say:

    “Leave business to the business people and we’ll concentrate on supporting our club.”

    Yet above that you’ve complained that you didn’t know enough about the takeover because LUST weren’t sharing enough with “the vast majority”. Which would you prefer?

  2. @Paul
    That’s just one supporters perspective

    I enjoyed it Miss Florentina. Keep it up

  3. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your feedback – I’ll try to respond as best I can…

    Firstly, you’re right – there is a difference between being merely offended by broadcast comments and taking out a complaint with Ofcom. The point I was trying to make was the Ofcom complaint and the comments on 5 Live (and indeed the ‘inflammatory email’) were at odds with each other. Surely it would have been more appropriate to at least acknowledge the Ofcom complaint on 5 Live (and I respect that is something that would need potential legal advice) rather than saying everything’s rosy in the garden?

    I mention that I’m not concerned with Mr Cooper’s ticket purchasing history, but it does not necessarily follow that I agree with the basis of the privacy complaint. It’s something that doesn’t interest me, and I don’t see it as being relevant at all. In terms of previous Ofcom rulings, the information usually needs to be of a much more sensitive nature for it to be deemed a breach of privacy. However, I respect that the point was Bates attempting to discredit Mr Cooper…and as I discussed, the inference to me was that he knew a lot more besides this.

    In terms of the Levi case and the ownership argument, I would have thought that Bates’ controlling interest in Yorkshire Radio would have been a fairly fundamental part of the Trust’s case? That the presenter didn’t feel he could be critical because he was, in effect, working for Bates? So why was this missed from the first submission?

    On the takeover and the perceived secrecy, I am merely stating the opinion of a very average fan and my feelings towards the Trust at the time. It left me feeling very isolated. I know there are mechanics in place to allow such information to be obtained, but can each of the 7000+ members be elected? That’s never going to happen. Whether I put myself forward or not, there will always be a vast majority of the membership who are not privy to ‘sensitive’ pieces of information – there needs to be a way of managing this effectively so it doesn’t feel like we’re being kept in the dark.

    The point I made about self-respecting businessmen not consulting fans was directly in relation to the takeover – I think it’s essential that they listen to the opinions of the fans once the deal has been done, hence my suggestion for a fan representative on the board. However, do you do that whilst the takeover is still being negotiated? You can ask people to sign confidentiality agreements to ensure the commercial sensitivity is respected, but when the liability is limited to £1 per member, does a confidentiality agreement then hold any weight? And if agreements were not in place, what’s to stop any member of the Trust from running to the nearest newspaper and revealing all the secrets of the deal? I think it’s a very risky strategy.

    And in relation to my conclusion, having an interest in the takeover (as surely any fan would?) is very different to actually getting involved with it. I personally believe that a fan representative on the Leeds United board would allow our voices to be heard and our interests represented, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with fans owning part of the club. It just doesn’t feel right. The Swansea situation is very valid point – but it has been referred to by Supporters Direct as ‘responsible fan representation’. Would the Trust be a ‘responsible’ choice when, at present, there are no formal democratic processes in place to ensure the statements made are representative of the membership, other than emailing them? And when the Chairman is sending inflammatory emails and childish tweets? I would suggest not.

    Really appreciate your feedback though – my intention was not to criticise individuals, but to provoke a wider debate on what we, as fans, want from this organisation.

  4. I’m a member of LUST, but I do agree with a lot of the above, particularly the response to the incident with Bates, I think it made the Trust look as childish as Ken Bates. Everyone knew Ken Bates was a clown already, there was nothing LUST could do to further tarnish his reputation, all it really did was drag LUST down to the same level – they ended up looking just as petty.

    I think the Union analogy is perfectly apt, I deal with them on an almost daily basis and it’s true that there’s sometimes a silent majority not represented by the leaders. While some of the Union people are really good, he who shouts loudest often gets disproportional representation and I end up fighting the Union because a handful of people have objected to something the vast majority of their members couldn’t care less about, and, more importantly, haven’t been asked about.

    LUST regularly use the 9,000 member statistic in press releases to underline their own authority, but if these people aren’t being asked, you don’t represent 9,000 fans – you represent whoever’s being asked. People’s views change over time, you can’t just write whatever you please in the name of 9,000 people because they signed up with you a year or two years ago (probably in protest to Bates’ ownership). You have to keep asking them if they agree, over and over again, every time something at the club happens and LUST want to release a statement on their behalf because they might not agree with anything LUST are writing any more, but they’re still being factored into this 9.000 figure without consultation.

    Trouble with unpaid membership is that once someone has signed up, you can claim to represent them forever more – no one is going to bother unregistering when it makes no difference to them whatsoever, only those who are paying for membership will reconsider their membership each year. Perhaps a yearly opt (remain) in email to all members would give a truer reflection of active membership? If they can’t be bothered to reply to an email/letter, they’re clearly not too concerned about anything.

    Just to make clear, this isn’t an anti-LUST rant. I’ve noticed over the last few months that valid criticism of LUST (like the article above) gets jumped on by members who refuse to accept any criticism of the organisation, I’ve even seen Gary on WACCOE belittling people who dare to question the organisation. Again, this looks petty. Criticism should be taken for what it is, LUST should be sensible enough to read what people are saying, consider it (especially when it’s their own members saying it) and see where they can improve. Otherwise it’ll end up a lot like Ken Bates’ Leeds United, with Gary playing the role of Bates and the 9,000 members representing Harvey and Ben Fry,

    Scary, right? It’s a slippery slope… MOT

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to respond – and yes, the yearly opt in would be a great reflection of how the member base is changing. Bates annoyed a hell of a lot of people, and the Trust is a reaction to that…but if I was in charge, I would prefer to have a smaller number of truly engaged supporters rather than thousands and thousands of email addresses which really mean nothing.

      I’m glad that Gary has reacted in a positive way to the article and not taken offence – as I mentioned in the article, he’s had to put up with so much nonsense over the last year that I wouldn’t want my constructive criticism to be misconstrued as a personal attack.

    • Agreed, and glad the TSB and TSS put their opinions in the pot.

      Just goes to show that not everything (or everyone) is what they seem. So glad GFH have found a gag for Bates, in the name of diplomacy (and common sense) maybe LUST need to learn to drop it, move on and work with the club rather than wasting time and effort on somebody that means nothing to anyone.

  5. Such a pointless article, Cooperhas a right not be threatened. Instead of union bashing (enjoying your paid holidays and other hard won terms and conditions?) you might want to reflect on the behavior of wealthy individuals running Leeds – offshore accounts, tax avoidance, screwing schools and St Johns Ambulance to accept only 10% of what they were owed under ‘administration’ ….. The Square Ball is right, if you don’t agree join up and stand for election or just talk to its members. But don’t attack them for standing up to Bates.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for commenting.

      Certainly wasn’t union bashing – I acknowledged the positive aspects of collective bargaining in the article, and I’m pretty sure that I would indeed enjoy my paid holiday if I was actually able to take it!

      In terms of me threatening or attacking the Trust, I don’t think I did either of those things, and if Gary believes I did, I would say that certainly wasn’t my intention. What I hope I have done is tried to start a debate on the future of what has become a very well respected organisation in a fairly short period of time. Gary has said that feedback is appreciated, and that can come in a variety of forms. Yes, attending meetings and standing for election are two such ways of contributing but not EVERYONE can do that. So the challenge for the Trust moving forward is how to keep thousands and thousands of members engaged. And that, for me at least, is interesting, challenging and very exciting.

  6. Can’t get my head round this totally useless blog. Too deep, too complicated and completely loses track! The main issue is that LUST have done a really good job in highlighting the problems at Leeds and asking relevant questions on behalf of a large section of fans who wanted answers and Gary Cooper has conducted himself properly at all times as far as I am aware. This is nit picking at it’s worse and not worthy or being taken seriously at all. I just see it as attention seeking rubbish. Sorry, but that is my view!!!

    • Hi,

      Totally respect your point of view, but what you see as ‘nit picking’, I see as ‘fine tuning’. I’ve acknowledged the amazing efforts of the Trust thus far – who would have thought that an independent supporters’ group would be able to recruit thousands upon thousands of members within such a short period of time? It’s incredible. However, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s a challenge, and requires a great deal of effort to keep up momentum. Giving feedback is one such way of keeping the Trust on track. I’m sorry you view that as useless, but thanks for getting involved.

  7. What is the point being made here, far too intellectual to pull my string. If you,ve nowt worth saying then don’t say it. Cut to the chase in future.

    • If the piece is too complicated how can you deem it has nothing worthy to say? If you want simplistic drivel, there’s always the official site…

    • Bit confused by your comment, but thanks for getting involved anyway! 500 word limit next time I think…

  8. Agree with the last few comments. As I see it LUST have been the only ones to get off their backsides and act while many sit sniping from the sidelines.
    On one hand you’re accusing LUST of not really being in the know, then you’re demanding answers from them. If you want answers, or know better how they should run things, why not go to a LUST meeting or contact the guys directly online rather than fill social media with more inflammatory accusations.
    LUST are the wrong target. Ask yourselves why they – and the Leeds Fans United Initiative – have been totally ignored by GFHC. The fact that Bates, Harvey, Williams & co are still at the club speaks volumes.

    • Hello,

      I wouldn’t necessarily say I accused the Trust of not really being in the know – my comment was based on my perception of the situation at the time. I also wouldn’t say that I demand answers. What I was trying to do was question the way they communicate with members. I’ll be the first to admit that’s a very difficult challenge. It’s difficult to keep members engaged when there’s thousands of them, and it’s difficult to represent them all. I work in the market research industry so I regularly have to represent the views of thousands of people in my analysis – I know it’s tricky.

      You say I should go to a meeting or contact the guys directly – sometimes it’s better just to have a debate in the open, where everyone can chuck their two pennies in. Social media was designed for these kind of discussions! Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  9. I should mention that this site is heavily pro-LUST, as a glance at previous comment pieces would confirm. That is not to say that when enough people express concerns about certain elements of behaviour/policy they shouldn’t be debated in a reasoned manner. LUST advocate this themselves and as I expected, and to his credit, Gary Cooper has been in touch to speak to arrange a chat with the author of the piece in due course.

    The Trust should always have our support for their aims are like ours: a better Leeds United, but they aren’t without fault as they readily admit and any thoughts that may inform and can improve them as a group are quite rightly welcomed.

  10. Pingback: Hitting The Big Time | It's Me, Florentina...·

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