Leeds turmoil proves Rangers fans have grounds for concern over Ibrox

THEY were here before them and they will be here when they are gone.

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Rangers supporters are concerned Ibrox could be sold to a third party - just like Leeds' Elland Road ground
Rangers supporters are concerned Ibrox could be sold to a third party - just like Leeds' Elland Road ground

The men in suits who call that shots may have changed but it is the supporters with the scarves round their necks who care, and matter, most.

After years of strife and anguish, Rangers fans still find their club embroiled in off-field turmoil, the financial picture unclear as decisions taken at boardroom level have significant consequences for this 142-year-old institution.

A lot has been crammed into the months which blot Rangers' illustrious history but the feelings of despair and hurt have lingered even longer for supporters of Leeds United.

Champions League semi- finalists just a few years ago, they are edging their way back from the brink but are still not operating at the level they were a decade ago.

Rangers are on course to complete their journey from the bottom of Scottish football back to the top within three years, if Ally McCoist's side can win the Championship crown next term.

But Leeds' road to recovery has been long and painful. They have seen a host of stars sold off, a succession of managers sacked and a plethora of supposed saviours come and go as the ownership has changed hands but the problems failed to be solved.

The hardest pill for them to swallow, though, is that Elland Road is no longer a home they can call their own.

Brian McDermott's side may run out there every second week, and train at their Thorp Arch base every day, but neither are owned by the club after being sold off in 2004.

It is a situation Rangers fans fear yet hope will never happen but Leeds United Supporters Trust chairman Gary Cooper knows nothing can be taken for granted by those who make the pilgrimage to watch their team and love their club.

"The problems at Leeds United go as far back as the Peter Ridsdale era - the chairman who tried to live the dream," he told SportTimes.

"He overspent and over-borrowed and we ended up with tens of millions of pounds of debt. It was estimated to be more than £100million when a group of local businessman came into the club.

"It was them that found themselves in a position where they were fire-fighting on a month-to-month basis.

"Unfortunately, Thorp Arch and Elland Road fell victim to that and they were sold. They were sold on long-term leases and we are still paying the rent today.

"Elland Road is our historic home and the place that is most associated with Leeds United. It is the same for any club, like Ibrox is for Rangers.

"The stadium has been lost to a third party, who becomes the controlling influence in anything that occurs.

"Yes we are still playing there but we are in a position where our club is devalued because it no longer owns its stadium or training ground.

"We are no longer in a position to buy them back.

"The training ground is closed for the summer so the new owner, Massimo Cellino, can try and save some money.

"The likelihood of Thorp Arch coming back into our possession now is minimal but the new owner has said he wants to buy back Elland Road. We will see if that happens."

Leeds went from competing in the last four of European football's premier club competition to League One in the space of a few seasons.

Rangers' fall from grace has been just as dramatic. It has been the most harrowing period in the club's long history as fans have been put through an emotional wringer and the Light Blues name dragged through the mud.

Despite the myriad of problems, the fanbase still remains split and opinions widespread on the solutions required.

The BuyRangers and Rangers-First schemes have both been established with the aim of greater supporter influence at Ibrox and Cooper insists that is the only way forward as fans of the Gers and United fight for their clubs' futures.

"Within any club, there are always issues that are contentious for some fans and some issues are overlooked," he said.

"In terms of Elland Road, we are unified at the moment. The Trust is working on a fanshare scheme which we hope Mr Cellino will agree with.

"That will raise a pot of money, which will be available immediately, and annually which would give the club funds to buy back the ground. It would also give all supporters who contribute an interest in the ownership of Elland Road. Owning the stadium is the way forward for Leeds United, and Rangers.

"The way some clubs have been run and the situations they are in isn't right and fans should be singing about this from the rooftops.

"There should be pressure in Parliament, pressure on the FA, wherever we can to make sure supporters reclaim their club and their game.

"All supporters of all clubs should be 100% behind that idea."

Having fallen from their pedestals at the top of Scottish and English football respectively, both Rangers and Leeds are making progress in the right direction, even if controversy is never far away.

They are giants that have fallen and continue to show serious wounds but will return to full health one day.

"We went through administration in 2007 and lost 10 points, which almost saw us relegated to the third tier of English football," Cooper said.

"We didn't exit administration via a CVA but Mr Bates managed to retain control of the club and we started the following season on minus 15 points.

"We weren't put into the bottom division, like happened to Rangers, but that could easily have happened to us.

"The derision from other clubs' fans about 'not being famous any more' and stuff like that continues.

"Situations like that are awful for supporters. You feel like you have been cheated. You are given assurances and promises by owners and boards that don't materialise.

"You see your club not paying local businesses or wages to staff and there is nothing you can do as a fan. Decisions about finances are made at board level and you have no influence. It is devastating for a club, the city and even more so for the fans.

"The only people who benefit from it are those with a financial interest - the ones who have messed up and shouldn't get anything out of it."

Football

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