It’s good to talk: New Leeds United Supporters Trust chairman Paul Keat is keen on dialogue with the club and other fans. Leon Wobschall reports.
NEW Leeds United Supporters Trust chairman Paul Keat is the first to acknowledge that he has considerable shoes to fill after succeeding Gary Cooper.
Cooper was very much the public face of LUST since its formation in October 2009, with his sterling work and that of countless others at the fans’ organisation giving thousands of United fans an independent voice.
A high point last year saw LUST’s membership swell to around 9,400 after starting with just 224 members in 2009, with their numbers rising at a fair old rate of knots.
Numbers have levelled off a little in the past year, but are still above 9,000, with Keat fully intent on carrying on the commendable work of Cooper, who is persuing his next challenge – helping Leeds United Ladies.
Speaking in the summer, Cooper insisted that the future of LUST was in safe hands, and while there remains plenty of work to do in Keat’s in-tray, he is embracing the challenge that lies ahead.
High on the list is working with other organisations representing Leeds United supporters to see where common ground lies, with an ongoing dialogue with the club also seen as essential.
Keat told the YEP: “It will be very difficult to follow Gary. I have actually been working closely with Gary for the past two or three years and I have been a board member for three years and fulfilled the role of secretary and been Gary’s right-hand man for the past year.
“When I joined LUST, membership was just over five hundred and now it’s around 9,100, although figures have reached a plateau for the past year or so.
“Now we want to raise the numbers again and increase the shareholding again and really move things onto the next level. We are the largest trust in the Championship.
“But really, if we want Premier League football on the pitch, we need Premier League support from the fans as unfortunately, it appears the (Leeds United) Supporters’ Club membership is dwindling for whatever reasons and there will be discussions with Ray Fell and the supporters’ club in the future to see where we want to agree things which are mutually beneficial to each other.
“There are so many synergies which bring supporters’ clubs together and there is no reason why we should not all be getting on together and working for the benefit of Leeds United supporters.”
Supporters from various organisations, including LUST, Leeds United Supporters Club, regional members groups and independent organisations will attend a fans’ forum on October 28 to address various issues and see where there is common ground, while also airing their views to club representatives.
Leeds United’s head of ticketing Katie Holmes will attend the get-together, with Keat hopeful that regular interaction with club owner Massimo Cellino is something that can also be established in the months ahead.
Keat added: “Gary has met with Mr Cellino twice and I have met with him once with Gary and the board members.
“He was great and very inclusive, although he has his own mind and way of doing things. We are trying to deal with him as best as we can with that situation.
“It is our responsibility as fans to bring certain things to his attention and to try and make him aware of things.
“He may still do as he wants, but it is our responsibility to make our voices heard.
“Our slogan as a trust is to have one voice and it is something we believe in really strongly; that the Leeds fanbase should be one voice together.
“It is important the management and owners of the club engage with the fans.
“It is not our place to make big demands of Mr Cellino, but he needs to be aware of certain issues.
“Generally speaking, it’s not been a bad experience. But it needs to be a rounded dialogue; there’s ways we can help him as well.”
He added: “It is important that there is an ongoing dialogue with fans. Not just with us, but in conjunction with Leeds’ supporters’ clubs and regional members clubs. That would be great.
“It would be great to meet Mr Cellino at the fans’ forum. But if he says he is busy with other things and the feedback has to go through A N Other, that’s fair enough.
“But really from the 28th onwards, we will be looking at having a closer dialogue with the club in having specific people more responsible for the fans.
“Previously Laura Bland was the supporters liaison officer, but with the movements over the summer, she has left the club.
“We are still not aware who the SLO (Supporters’ Liaison Officer) is and we will know at the meeting and after that, the dialogue will be close.”
Along with the rapid rise in members, albeit with a slight levelling off in the past year, Keat feels achievements have been made in terms of fans issues at matches.
This he believes is thanks in no small part to the establishing of a new online service, designed to support members that need advice and support on any issue affecting them involving policing, stewarding or safety with LUST member and ex-West Yorkshire Police officer Steve Clay, who holds the trust’s portfolio for Policing, Stewarding and Safety. It’s something he hopes to build upon during his time in the chair at LUST with non trust members having also benefitted from his involvement.
He added: “First and foremost, we are nothing as a trust and a board without engagement with the fans.
“We rely entirely on the members and shareholders to create our mandate. We want to go to the members on a more regular basis as things happening at Leeds United is daily news.
“There are several central mandated things like the issue of standing and looking after fans at home and away games from a policing and stewarding perspective and that is a very big thing for us and there are certain ‘wins’ we have had since Steve Clay has been on board.
“We have helped not just members of the trust, but general Leeds fans who have called us to assist them.
“The range of things we have done with Steve has been vast. We have a very good relationship with West Yorkshire Police and are keen on developing that further.”