Supporter liaison provides a vital function for FAs and their national teams as it does for clubs, but how does the role differ?
For the second interview in a three part series with SD Europe Head of SLO Training Lena Gustafson-Wiberg, after delving into returning to football at club level, the focus shifts to supporter liaison officers working with national teams.
In addition to working as Djurgårdens IF’s SLO, Lena has also worked with the Swedish FA since 2018 as the one of the national team’s SLOs.
Below, Lena shares an understanding of the similarities and differences of being an SLO for a club and national team, in addition to the challenges faced as the position developed and her input into seeing a return of fans to Sweden matches.
What are the main differences between being a club SLO and a national team SLO?
“In order to identify the differences, I have to come back to the fact that when we started we weren’t really sure what to expect. We tried to come in with a very open mind, and feel our way through. What made us confident was that we realised quickly that the nature of the role can remain the same at the national level. The SLO role is not just for clubs, it works for national teams. In the national team environment you have to be aware that you will have some supporters that will support different clubs, also supporters that don’t even support a club, they just follow the national team, which makes sense. You encounter people who know who you are because they support the club you work with and people who don’t because they support another club, so you need to be there to be the bridge between them all; the translator, the mediator and just try to do what you do best which is to interact with all stakeholders around the matches.”
Where does your position sit in the Swedish FA’s structure? Who does the SLO report to?
“The SLOs belong in the matchday operations department, and we report to the individual responsible for supporter relations. On matchday, we work with everyone involved, we work with everyone from matchday operations to security.”
Is there just one SLO for the national team? What are the benefits of having multiple SLOs?
“The way we do it here for the Swedish national team is, together with the FA, we work with six SLOs from five different clubs around the national team matches, we are fortunate to have very good trained SLOs through the clubs. Since the men’s national team stadium is in Solna (municipality in Stockholm) we work with SLOs in the Stockholm area, and for the women’s team whose stadium is in Gothenburg, we work with SLOs there. This gives us quite a wide view with different experiences on what we do, it’s really nice to come together as a team. Once again I come back to that working together is easier because we all have the same foundations, the same training, the foundation of the function from the club level can be easily applied to the national team. We always have at least two SLOs working at a match, but it can be up to four depending on the number of tickets sold, and if there are away fans we make sure there are the resources to attend to them and get the service they deserve, meet their expectations and try to help facilitate them with information they need to make the visit to our stadium.”
Is it common to have this many SLOs?
“There are other countries that have been working to call in more club SLOs to matches, I know Germany has done it in the past, Russia is looking into bringing in more club SLOs. When we last played Norway they brought a team of three SLOs that we worked together with. So, all in all, we had seven SLOs working on that match, there was great cooperation leading up to the match which was very nice to have. We worked well together.”
Are you able to share ideas and pick things up off each other whilst working?
“To share experiences, to learn from each other as SLOs, I always say that we should share within the football world. On the pitch it’s competition, but for the rest of us, we should share ideas to help one another… Why should each football club have to reinvent the wheel? Why can’t an existing idea just be changed to the colours of a national team or football club and modelled to suit them?”
Do you have any responsibilities as a national team SLO away from national breaks and tournaments?
“We don’t have week to week responsibilities as such, but I would say ad-hoc. We divide the teams, so we have a lead SLO that takes part in the preparation of the matches and is the one exchanging information with counterparts at the other FA. I do take part in supporter meetings, supporters groups, together with the FA to have an SLO presence. I make sure I stay in touch with the supporter groups, so they can get in touch with an SLO when they need to. The Swedish FA ensures that supporters know that SLOs are there for them to speak with, and in confidence not to be shared with the FA if needs be. It works well. So, in between matches I speak with the major supporter groups.”
How does your role benefit national team supporters and the Swedish FA?
“I think it comes down to the same thing as it does in the clubs. It’s working on matchdays and in between matchdays, the supporters can interact with the FA with their questions, we can provide the information or direct supporters to speak with the right person at the FA, we make the process easier. We can be the interface to ensuring supporters’ enquiries are attended to faster, but also making sure we raise the right things to the right people.”
What are some of the challenges that have been encountered as the role developed for national teams?
“For us in Sweden, we have been very, very lucky. We have a good understanding in the Swedish FA in that colleagues very much understand what the role is and its significance. The people we report to have previous experience of working with SLOs. By way of example, our security officer is a former police officer who worked match days so he was familiar with SLOs, which is important. We are also very lucky because the core of the fans understand who we are and what we do. However, there can be challenges when supporters attend, maybe for the first time, who are not aware of the role and that can create misunderstandings, ‘are we security, are we not security, are we representing fans, are we not representing fans’ and so on. So we show our faces at pre-match gatherings, be there in stands, but be patient too, not running up to people and start chatting straight away but let supporters approach us and then we answer all the questions about our role that they have. There are no stupid questions, we say that if anyone has a question, please ask and we are more than happy to answer.”
Will you play a role in the process to return supporters to national team matches?
“Of course, we are in touch with the FA and the supporters groups on this, we are still fumbling in the dark a bit, we might see a change from October 1st, but the interim message we have is that its 500 fans will be allowed. We also have to discuss that the men’s national team stadium holds 50,000 people, so we need to decide what is good and what is not so. There’s a lot of questions and we will be involved in the discussions on an operational level. With authorities, those discussions are taking place high up in the organisation, however, we try to give as much input as we can.”
Over the coming weeks, we will be speaking to Lena about the exciting supporter liaison officer training partnership between SD Europe and UEFA Academy