Leeds United: Supporter investment fans group set to start taking donations

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Leeds Fans LLP, the group working towards supporter-investment at Leeds United, will start taking donations from fans next Tuesday after launching its plan to buy a stake in the club.

At a meeting in Leeds today, the organisation unveiled a community benefit scheme (CBS) as the first phase of its bid to raise £10m and acquire a shareholding in United.

Leeds Fans LLP wants to buy a minority stake at Elland Road and secure representation on the club’s board.

Its CBS, which formally opens next week, will allow supporters to invest between £100 and £10,000, one of three investment schemes drawn up by Leeds Fans LLP.

Later this month the group will launch Leeds Fans United PLC, a company allowing for larger donations in excess of £10,000.

A newly-created foundation - to be established at a future date - will then give “companies and philanthropists” the chance to “invest in future generations of Leeds supporters.”

Speaking today, Dylan Thwaites, the entrepreneur fronting Leeds Fans LLP, said the project was the “biggest fan fundraise in UK football history.”

The group has set £2.5m as the minimum sum required to give it a viable chance of securing shares in Leeds. Thwaites, however, said no timescale had been placed on reaching that figure.

Leeds are majority-owned by Eleonora Sport Ltd, the firm used by Massimo Cellino to complete his takeover of United last April.

Gulf Finance House, the Bahraini bank which sold the club to Cellino, continues to control a minority stake. Leeds Fans LLP is aiming to purchase GFH’s shares.

The group believes the involvement of supporters at boardroom level would increase stability at a club who have been plagued by on and off-field problems in the past decade.

Thwaites, who has spent time engaging with supporters groups at Barcelona, Rangers, Heart of Midlothian and Wrexham in past three months, said evidence at other clubs suggested that fan investment would see season-ticket sales and other commercial income “shoot up”.

Steve Hanson, one of the men behind Leeds Fans LLP, said: “We’ve got a real chance to secure the future of the club for the fans.

“The reason we think we’ve got a chance of succeeding is because we’ve got the power of Leeds fans behind us. We’re challenging them by saying this is the biggest fundraising initiative ever undertaken (in the UK).

“We’re talking about sustainable investment. We’ve lit the fuse and the big explosion is us hitting £10m.”

As many as 10 supporters can be named on a stake purchased in Leeds Fans LLP, meaning 10 people could contribute £10 each towards a single investment of £100.

Leeds Fans LLP says a maximum of 10 per cent of total donations will be used towards administrative, legal and financial costs. It says fans who invest money will be guaranteed a return of at least 90 per cent of their donations if the scheme fails.

Brendan Meehan, a member of the group’s executive team, said: “We aren’t just going to keep spending money if a deal isn’t possible.

“The target is to get a stake within 10 per cent (of costs) or give the money back. But we should be able to do a deal within that 10 per cent.”

Thwaites has already met with United chairman Andrew Umbers, though Leeds Fans LLP has had no direct contact with Cellino or GFH.

Thwaites said it would be “tinpot” to approach either party with “no money and no fans on board.”

Asked when he hoped to clear the initial target of £2.5m, Thwaites said: “We’ve deliberately not put a timescale on that. It’ll depend on circumstances.

“It’s easier to raise money where there’s specific urgency. Wrexham raised £250,000 in 24 hours because there was specific urgency.

“But it’s no good everybody waiting for an urgent event to happen. We need to step up now and be on a footing with the majority shareholder to say ‘we want to work together as a team’ and push things forward.

“This is our club and we want it back. We’ve got to act like that and do something about it.”

United’s support have endured almost 12 seasons outside the Premier League, a period in which the club were declared insolvent, relegated to League One and put through three takeovers.

Cellino became majority shareholder in April last year but the Italian is in the middle of a Football League ban, imposed on him over a conviction for tax evasion. He is barred from exerting influence on Leeds until May 4.

The 58-year-old is presently in Miami but is due to return to Leeds last this month.

Donations to the CBS scheme can be made from Tuesday at: www.leedsfanscbs.com