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Fan ban for disagreeing with Bates

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

The hierarchy at Leeds United has refused to lift its membership ban on Leeds United Supporters’ Trust’s (LUST) chair and board members despite the Football Supporters’ Federation’s attempts to mediate. The club placed a “stop” on LUST board members’ individual ticketing accounts around four weeks ago – this is, in effect, an away match ban. Why? The club don’t like what LUST says.

The FSF believes it is unequivocally wrong to ban supporters for expressing their point of view. LUST’s board has not done anything untoward or illegal and its members have not misbehaved inside the ground. The FSF has spoken at length to LUST chair Gary Cooper on this issue and his tone is one of sorrow over the whole situation, rather than anger. Fans deserve better.

On Tuesday 27th March FSF director of policy Steve Powell spoke to Leeds United chief executive Shaun Harvey. LUST is an FSF affiliate and we had hoped to act as a liaison point between Leeds United and LUST. Unfortunately, despite an amicable discussion, it was clear the club would not back down – they will ban fans they simply disagree with.

In an email to Gary Cooper the Leeds United chief executive said: “In simple terms we are exercising our right only to sell tickets to those who we wish to do so.”

Many Leeds United fans feel that the club has not shown sufficient ambition in the transfer market and are frustrated at seeing their best players sold off. As an entirely legitimate and democratic organisation LUST communicated these views via the local media and their own website with January 2012’s Future Vision document. They have merely reflected the views of the fans they represent.

It seems club chairman Ken Bates took particular umbrage at the trust’s Future Vision. Now cuddly Ken isn’t really one for criticism – dissenting voices on anything from ticket prices to the tea being a bit cold seems to be taken as disloyalty on a treacherous scale. Bates has even banned respected Guardian journo (and former FSF Writer of the Year) David Conn from Elland Road.

There’s clearly a gulf in how the FSF, LUST, and football fans view the world as opposed to the hierarchy at Elland Road. Shaun Harvey told the FSF, “players play, managers manage, and supporters support”. Under Leeds United’s own peculiar set of rules fans are to be seen and not heard – and they certainly should not publish a Future Vision statement, even if its core sentiments are shared by thousands of fellow fans.

No communication

“I had no communication from the club at all before they cancelled my membership – no phone calls, no emails, no letters. We only found out because one board member tried to buy a ticket for Hull and Middlesbrough away but couldn’t. I then tried to purchase tickets and realised mine was blocked too,” says Gary.

“I contacted the ticket office via email and got an automated reply saying they’d reply in five days and I thought this isn’t good enough. So I contacted the chief exec Shaun Harvey to ask if my membership had been blocked. I was told that due to criticism of the chairman and, to a lesser extent, himself, we [the LUST board] have all had our membership suspended.”

Gary argues that all good trusts canvass their members’ views and communicate those opinions – it’s their raison d’être. He also points out that the trust brought together a wide range of groups, including those from Leeds United’s officially recognised regional members’ clubs, and the club evidently didn’t like that.

“Mr Bates has his own members’ clubs which are officially recognised by Leeds United,” says Gary. “Every members’ club has its accounts audited once per year and contribute a share of any profits to Leeds United. They get member benefits like ex-players coming to speak at their events, Peter Lorimer reminiscing about the glory days of the 70s and so on.”

But if supporters’ groups stray from the subject of on-pitch nostalgia they’d better watch out or their membership might be “stopped”. Nevertheless Gary remains hopeful that the situation will be reviewed at the end of the season although it looks likely LUST will complain to the Football League and, should that fail to overturn the ban, the Independent Football Ombudsman (IFO).

Gary adds: “I think they realise they have made a monumental PR cock up though. LUST went from having 4,000 members to over 5,000 members almost overnight. Those fans have joined because they’re very much against the action the club has taken against myself and my fellow board members. I’m keen to take the complaint to the Football League and IFO because if Bates and Harvey think it’s OK to do it to us they can do it to anyone.”

While the LUST board might be banned from buying tickets through official channels one thing is for sure – fans stick together.

“We have members on our board who’ve been home and away for years. I’m not naming names but you could say the LUST membership has rallied and made sure that people haven’t missed any games that they didn’t want to miss. That’s Leeds United fans for you,” says Gary.

Thanks to Matthew Wilkinson for the image (CC license).

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