SD Europe joined forces with Uefa recently to stage the second pan-European workshop for SLO coordinators working at national associations and leagues.
Main image credit: Uefa / GEPA pictures & Philipp Brem
The event took place in Vienna on 29/30 November with the support of the Austrian Bundesliga and was attended by representatives of football governing bodies from across the continent as well as other key stakeholders such as the Council of Europe.
Supporter liaison officers (SLOs) act as a bridge between clubs and fans and also build and maintain good working relationships with all the main football stakeholders as well as non-football stakeholders such as the police. The introduction of the role under Article 35 of the Uefa Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations back in 2012 was a landmark in club-supporter relations.
SD Europe has been facilitating the implementation of Article 35 since 2010, providing a full range of services to national football bodies in the areas of training, development, monitoring and compliance as well as promoting the role from the bottom up through its European network of members and partners. In this capacity, SD Europe played a key role in putting the workshop agenda together and ensuring a balance in the topics covered based on its experience of developing the SLO role at club at national level.
Aleš Zavrl, Uefa’s head of club licensing, underlined the importance that European football’s governing body places in dialogue with fans, saying:
“Supporters are important football stakeholders, and listening to fans’ interests – as emphasised by the UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin – is vital for the good of the game in Europe. Open communication and dialogue with supporter groups can help to identify and tackle some of the common issues faced in European club football.”
The workshop kicked off with a keynote presentation by Mats Enquist, CEO of the Swedish Football League. Mats explained how the introduction of SLOs in 2012 has been a prime factor in the positive developments witnessed by the Swedish game in recent years, which have seen a 20% reduction in spectator-related disorder and a 146% increase in attendances. “Until 2012 Swedish football had an almost entirely inside-out perspective, we had no insights at all from the outside in and supporter relations were poor,” said Enquist. “A survey we conducted revealed that 92% of spectators come to games because of the atmosphere, and so we decided to place the focus on the people who create that atmosphere – the fans. Club SLOs have been vital in increasing our understanding of the supporter point of view and improving the relations between the football authorities and supporters.”
SD Europe team member and lead Djurgårdens IF SLO Lena Gustafson-Wiberg followed up by explaining how the SLO role is interpreted at her club. She outlined her activities at home and away matches before, during and after the game, making special reference to her working relationship with the club safety officer and the benefits not only for him but also for all the other club staff.
The next workshop session focused on different ways for national associations and leagues to organise their SLO training, with examples provided by Arne Stratmann of the German Football League and SD Europe consultant Loukas Anastasiadis, who looked at the various options for small and medium-sized football governing bodies, whose clubs often do not have the financial resources to employ full or part-time SLOs.
Building on the previous session, Alex Schwärzler, SLO coordinator at the Austrian Bundesliga, talked about the measures it has taken to help clubs develop the SLO role, given the fact that the vast majority of clubs work with volunteer SLOs. SLOs have joined with fans in debating key policy issues such as the league reform and ticket prices at fan congresses supported by the Bundesliga, thus raising the profile of SLOs among supporters, who had previously been sceptical. In the same session, KAA Gent SLO Dirk Vos explained how the role has been successfully established at his club using a team of volunteers, which he felt need not be a disadvantage.
“Reliability can’t be paid for,” he said. “The skills and expertise of the SLOs are more important than their employment status, and no one knows supporters better than a supporter.”
Delegates then heard how the Hellenic Football Federation has been monitoring the clubs for compliance with the SLO licensing requirement. SLO coordinator George Dimitriou said the point of the exercise was not simply to sanction clubs but to help them implement the role. Though fines were imposed for noncompliance, the money was ring-fenced for investment in SLO training events and resources. This strategy, he added, had met with a positive response from the clubs as it was aimed at providing them with the help and support they need.
Andrew Jenkin of SD Scotland explained the role that supporter organisations can play in helping national football bodies to develop the SLO work done by clubs and improve relations between the various stakeholders. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) engaged SD Scotland to roll out the SLO licensing requirement in 2015, and has been delighted by the success the move has brought.
“The programme has proved to be so beneficial that since January 2017 the SFA has adopted it as a requirement for all Silver and Gold clubs in our club licensing process,” Jenkin said. “SD Scotland started by making site visits to clubs to explain the role, the licensing requirement and the benefits to them. We then made presentations to the SFA Congress, the Professional Game Board, SPFL League Meetings for the Premiership, Championship, League 1 & 2, and the Supporters Summit. With more clubs recruiting SLOs, we are now staging quarterly SLO Development Days. Since we started the number of club SLOs has risen from two to 18, a trend that is set to continue.”
Unfortunately, the SFA were unable to attend due to prior commitments, but CEO Stewart Regan extended his best wishes for the event, saying: “By working with SD Scotland to help facilitate an SLO position at every Scottish club, the SFA aims to encourage dialogue between fans and clubs – dialogue that will help improve fan behaviour, generate positive ideas, and add vibrancy and colour to match atmospheres. At the SFA we recognise how vital the SLO role is to improving the culture within Scottish football. The SLO role is a forward-thinking initiative and we are committed to supporting its development.”
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The second day of the workshop began with a presentation by Jorge Silvério of the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) on how to organise a bilateral SLO meeting before a Champions League or Europa League game, taking advantage of the presence of visiting club SLOs for an exchange of experience and good practice with SLOs from the home country. The FPF has organised two such meetings to date and hopes to hold a third this season. “Our bilateral meetings have been very useful and have proved very popular with the Portuguese SLOs,” Silvério said. “They cost very little to organise and are a great way to learn from each other.”
Monica Namy of Uefa then outlined to delegates how her organisation had recently upgraded its HatTrick social responsibility programme to include projects in the area of fan dialogue. SD Europe‘s Loukas Anastasiadis looked at the options available to national associations wishing to run such a project and some of the projects that are already under way, many of which have been developed by the SDE team.
A practical example of such a project was then given by Dimitar Christov, SLO coordinator at the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU). “The aim of the BFU’s HatTrick project is to raise awareness for the process of dialogue between the four main categories of stakeholders – clubs, fans, the football federation, and non-football stakeholders such as the police and the media,” said Christov. “The support provided by SD Europe in developing the project has been invaluable, and I can only recommend that other national associations work with them on their own projects.”
The workshop then moved on to the topic of multi-agency cooperation at European level under the new Council of Europe Safety, Security and Service Convention, which entered into force on 1 November 2017. Ilknur Yuksek, Senior Project Manager (ProS4+) at the Council of Europe, said that the purpose of the new Convention was to ensure that football and other sports events provide a safe, secure and welcoming environment for all individuals through the implementation of an integrated approach on safety, security and service at sports events by a plurality of actors working in a partnership amid an ethos of cooperation. David Bohannan of the European Think Tank of Football Safety and Security Experts then explained the implications of this for football governing bodies and how the new Convention could help them in their SLO work.
Rounding off the presentations, Barbara Kontner of the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) told delegates how the SLO role has been implemented at national team level in Austria. Since the launch of the national team SLO in 2009, the number of official supporters clubs has risen from nine to 44 at present. The ÖFB offers fans a full service at international matches and big tournaments, including ticketing and other means of support. This session was an important development for SD Europe, who as part of its work in the preparation of Uefa EURO 2020, is promoting the work of SLOs at national team level.
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The workshop finished with a panel discussion focusing on a range of topics that hadn’t been covered in detail until, with the opportunity for delegates to pose questions and engage with the panel members in discussion. Sitting on the panel were Niamh O’Mahony, acting CEO of SD Europe, Tomas Carnogursky, Czech Football League SLO coordinator and Slovan Liberec SLO, Chris van de Poll, Dutch Football Association SLO coordinator, and Lasse Bauer, SLO at Brøndby IF.
On behalf of SD Europe, Head of SLO Implementation Stuart Dykes said: “Events like this are really important for helping football governing bodies to raise the standards of the SLO work at over 1,000 clubs across the continent.
“The meeting also placed the SLO role in the wider context of the integrated approach to safety, security and service at football matches as set down in the new Council of Europe convention. The event was well received by all who took part, and I look forward to more in the future. Thanks to all at Uefa for making it possible.”