I first met Gary when I attended my first Leeds Ladies game back in 2014 when Leeds Ladies played Stockport County. My first impressions were the same as they are now: warm, kind-hearted, friendly and passionate about the women’s game and the club he holds dear to his heart. This week, I managed to get time with the chairman of Leeds Ladies FC to talk about the club and hear his thoughts on the future.
1. Hello Gary, as the chairman of LLFC, can you tell people a little bit about Leeds Ladies and the history for those who might not have heard of them before?
LLFC was formed from the ashes of the disbanded LULFC in July 2014 following the decision made by Mr. Cellino and the LUFC Foundation that they no longer wanted a ladies football team at Leeds United. Myself and other sponsors and stakeholders felt we had to protect the club’s proud history and that the girls deserved the same opportunity as the boys to play in the famous white shirt. After a frantic few days and long long hours with the help of the County FA and the FA, we managed to retain the affiliation (the golden share if you like) and reconstitute as a democratic community club under the Leeds Ladies FC name. The Phoenix rose.
2. Does the history (with the fact we once had Sue Smith and Lucy Ward and former captain Emma Bentley) play a part in attracting new supporters?
Well, that would be up to supporters and how much they know or indeed care about the past. For me, it plays a massive part in who we are and why we exist. This is a club that has competed at the very highest level of women’s football in this country, it’s a club that has shaped the futures of England players, that history and those traditions are at the heart of our ambitions for the future. We currently have former LULFC player Amanda Bell working with our junior squads; that’s poetic symmetry for me. She’s been there and done it and she understands where we need to be going. History is so important.
3. Moving on to this season, how are you feeling about 2017? It started with a win over Mossley Hill in great fashion.
Well it hasn’t exactly gone to plan. But the season is far from over and our aim is to win as many games as we can and see where that takes us. We have a squad of incredibly talented players, from age 13 upwards, we have two junior teams who play like champions, and when it comes to listening and learning they are like sponges absorbing what is being taught to them. Our senior squad is full of talent and potential, but for me we have yet to realise it. When we do we will be a hurricane tearing up everything in front of us... and it’s coming.
4. The confidence amongst the girls will be rising after the return of Helen Wagstaff. How important is she along with several other key figures to the club?
Waggi is quality coupled with masses of experience: you can’t underestimate the value of players like her. But then it’s important to have the right mix and blend of youth, experience, skill, power, pace and a real shared enthusiasm and ambition. When you get the mix right, you become a truly great team.
Waggi is a huge part of that mix and it’s good to have her back, but I bet if you asked her the same question she would tell you how important it is to have a Jodie Hunter, a Harriet Jakeman, a Demi Pringle, a Meg Maxted or a Simona Petkova. Waggi knows they are all equals and she knows they all have a part to play, and I believe that too.
5. The fans and the Phoenix Faithful have been very vocal this season. Do you would agree that being honest is an important part of helping the girls improve and get wins?
The Phoenix Faithful are a massive part of this club. Yes, we love our players and we trust our coaches, but we stand side by side with our fans and they bring the match day experience to life. I love the fans, I am one of them, I love being the loudest fans of any club at this level and levels above us. I love how we have more people through the gates at senior and junior level than several of our rivals put together. I love traveling hundreds of miles here there and everywhere with people who love supporting Leeds Ladies FC as much as I do. FANS MATTER big time to me and every club in the world exists because of them.
6. The juniors have had a wonderful season so far, both high up in their respective u15’s and u16’s tables. Can you tell us your thoughts on them?
The greatest Leeds United teams of all time had great kids coming through their youth systems. Our club is trying to emulate that for several reasons.
First, home grown talent knows what being Leeds means: they understand the passion for the club and they wear that badge with such enormous pride.
Second, local girls are equal (or supposed to be) to local boys: if Leeds United won’t recognise that equality then us Leeds United fans bloody well will. We will keep increasing our youth structure and give girls of all ages the opportunity to play in the famous white shirt if Leeds United won’t!
Third, those juniors are nothing short of an absolute joy to watch and to support. I bloody love the enthusiasm and the desire to succeed. I am so proud of them all and no one, man, woman or beast will take away my determination to give girls the chance.
7. One last question Gary: we face first place in the table Guiseley Vixens in the County Cup this month. Big chance for Leeds to exact revenge. What are your predictions for the game?
Guiseley who? 4-1 Leeds.