leeds united ladies will rise againBack
Leeds United Ladies will be putting a proposal to Massimo Cellino next week that would allow a Ladies’ team bearing the Leeds United name to compete in the Women’s Northern Premier League next season.
That follows last night’s announcement from United’s charitable wing, the Leeds United Foundation, that they had given notice that the team would be withdrawn from the competition, after the club decided the Ladies’ team could no longer use the Leeds United badge and branding.
“It is with regret that the Trustees of the Leeds United Foundation have been forced to take the decision that they can no longer support the provision of the Leeds United Ladies team,” said James McAulay, chairman of the Foundation. “Without the Leeds United name and brand the continuation of the ladies team under the Foundation is regrettably not sustainable. Therefore we have given notice to the FA Women’s Premier League of our intention to withdraw the team from the league.”
This afternoon Gary Cooper, who will stand down as chairman of Leeds United Supporters’ Trust this autumn, told me that he has spoken to the FA, to the West Riding County FA, and to Leeds United in an effort to keep the club going in whatever form it can.
“The Leeds United Ladies team is independently constituted, and is actually run by a management committee and affiliated to the West Riding County FA,” he said. "It would seem that the Foundation, without the branding rights, are not interesting in supporting the Leeds United Ladies any further.
"We’ve tried to get in touch with Paul Bell at Leeds United, who appears to be the Commercial Director, who has been perhaps not responsible, but involved in this decision making process on behalf of Leeds United. He’s not responded to any emails or any calls.
"But Debra Ware, who is Massimo Cellino’s personal assistant, has been incredibly helpful today. I’ve spoken to Debra, I’ve spoken to the FA, and I’ve spoken to the West Riding County FA. The Leeds United Ladies has a newly consituted and formed Supporters’ Club, and that Supporter’s Club is made up of players, players’ parents, fans, sponsors, donators, anyone with a stakehold or interest in Leeds United Ladies.
"That club has been in talks with varying different bodies, groups, companies, and we’re in the process of setting up a structure that would allow us to run the Leeds United Ladies, effectively, completely independently of Leeds United Football Club. No cost, in terms of the running costs of the club, no cost in terms of providing offices for a foundation free of charge, adminstering foundation accounts, wages, whatever that might be. This would be done entirely independently.
“This afternoon we’ve managed to secure some assurances from Leeds United, through Debra Ware, that Mr Cellino will consider the proposal we’re putting forward to do this independently, in the hope that we can retain the name at least – Leeds United Ladies. We understand we won’t be able to use the badge and suchlike but that’s okay, we can live with that.”
The West Riding County FA have also agreed that the Foundation’s request to remove the club from the Women’s Northern Premier League will not be on the agenda at Monday’s meeting of the FA.
“That gives Mr Cellino the opportunity, and myself and the members of the Leeds United Ladies Supporters Club committee the opportunity, to meet with him and discuss our proposal,” said Gary.
The Foundation’s stance comes during a summer in which Gary says they have attempted to seize control of the club, ignoring the club’s constitution and the wishes of its members.
“Leeds United Ladies is a team that attracts a certain amount of attention from the FA, and to allow and facilitate other projects that the Foundation run, it’s been incredibly helpful for them to have Leeds United Ladies within their portfolio,” said Gary.
"The Foundation has financed the Leeds United Ladies for the last couple of seasons or so, so we’ve got to pay credit where credit’s due. However, the Foundation wanted to seize control of the Leeds United Ladies – for whatever reason, it’s up to them to answer that question. They put together a proposal which they presented to me a couple of Fridays ago, which showed a trustee as chairman, which showed Foundation employees in the voting positions on the committee, which took away the independent and democratic rights of Leeds United Ladies members to effectively have any say in the future of their club.
“They ignored the constitution to do this, ignored nominations from members for positions on the committee, didn’t take any notice of the well-meaning advice and offers of help from various stakeholders, and they went their own way with it. Unfortunately, for them, and for the Leeds United Ladies, instead of working together to ensure there was a future, they ignored that opportunity.”
Now Gary believes the withdrawal of the Ladies’ branding rights is a sign of the club’s overall cost-cutting measures reaching the Foundation.
“The Leeds United Foundation is almost fully self-funding, but does in some ways cost Leeds United money. I believe that what we’re seeing in the removal of the naming rights, the branding rights, of Leeds United Ladies with the Foundation, we’re looking at Leeds United looking at the Foundation and saying, ‘How much does this cost us, and is it worth our while?’”
Gary’s urge to help the club carry on without the Foundation’s support stems from the LUST board’s sponsorship of Shelbey Morris last season.
"She was Leeds United Ladies’ number 11 last season, a striker, a pacy player, plays on the wing as well, and is the only player who scored a hat trick in any of the competitive games for Leeds United Ladies last year, so we were very proud to do that and very proud to be involved.
“I took my daughters to games with me and they absolutely fell in love with Leeds United Ladies and we’ve been avid supporters throughout the course of this season. We spoke to the fans, spoke to the players, spoke to the sponsors who were at games, and they were keen to get organised and as a result of that I’ve become involved with the Leeds United Ladies Supporters’ Club.”
The Supporters’ Club became members of Football Supporters’ Europe last season, making Leeds the first British women’s club whose fans are affiliated to the main European football fans’ group, and with the help of South Leeds Independent Leeds also became the only women’s team in the country to take a fans’ coach to away games. That wasn’t enough to prevent them finishing a point below Newcastle at the bottom of the Northern Premier League, but the attitude and commitment shown by the players, staff and supporters has inspired Gary to get involved, and to fight for the future of a Leeds United Ladies team.
“I was nominated by several of the girls for the position of chairman, so several of the members who were allowed to nominate did so,” he said. "But unfortunately the Foundation decided that they didn’t want me as chairman and declared the nominations void. So in that scenario as was, they tried to prevent that from happening.
“In the future – who knows? Clearly I’m involved with the Leeds United Ladies Supporters Club, clearly I’ve got a passion and enthusiasm and, as I stand down from LUST, I’m going to have some time on my hands. So I would very much like to be part of what happens with the future of Leeds United Ladies, and if I get the kind of support from the stakeholders of the Ladies’ team that I’ve had from LUST members then I will be very driven to be able to do that.”
Time is of the essence for Leeds United Ladies, with players uncertain whether they’ll have a club to play for, and trials to find new talent repeatedly organised and postponed this summer. Massimo Cellino’s reaction to the club’s proposal will be crucial.
"It’s got to happen quickly. Obviously the FA need to know what’s going on for next season, the girls themselves are left on tenterhooks at the moment, not knowing where their future lies and what they should be doing to look after their own interests.
"Obviously the ones who have re-signed for us already want to stay at Leeds United, they’ve got Leeds United at heart. We want to be able to be in a position, during the course of the next few days or early next week, to be able to guarantee that for them, in whatever form, shape or structure we can going forward.
“We’ll be looking for support from the local economy, the local businesses, the local council; we’ll be looking for support from Leeds United fans who understand that Leeds United Ladies is a proud, historic and traditional part of the Leeds United family. We don’t want to force anyone to become a Ladies’ fan or interested in women’s football overnight, we just want to recognise that this is part and parcel of the Leeds family. As the hashtag goes, we’re all Leeds aren’t we?”
To keep up with the latest news from Leeds United Ladies, give the Supporters’ Club page on Facebook a like here; or follow them on Twitter here. There you’ll also find details of fundraising events – including a very special golf day with Dom Matteo, Neil Razor Ruddock, Josh Warrington and who knows who else?
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