Supporter liaison officers (SLOs) from 13 countries attended the third meeting of the European SLO network at the home of Feyenoord Rotterdam in early June. The gathering constituted a highpoint in the development of this growing representative body.
After previous meetings in Stockholm and Gelsenkirchen it was the turn of Rotterdam to do the honours this time. Representing host club Feyenoord, manager for supporters and social work Ton Strooband welcomed the following SLOs to the third meeting of the European SLO network: Andrey Kyuchukov, Dunav Ruse (Bulgaria), Lasse Bauer, Brøndby (Denmark), Jonathan Waite, Tottenham Hotspur (England), Jasmin Hyvärinen, Ilves Tampere (Finland), Hugues Esteban, Olympique Lyon (France), Thomas Kirschner, Schalke 04 (Germany), Riccardo Bertolin, AS Roma (Italy), Matjias Loeb, Vålerenga (Norway), Nuno Ribeiro, Boavista (Portugal), Ivan Ulanov, (CSKA Moscow), JP Taylor, Celtic (Scotland), Pierre Nordberg, Malmö FF (Sweden) and Maarten van Holstein, Feyenoord (Netherlands). Apologies were received from Tomas Carnogursky, Slovan Liberec (Czechia) and Jerome Lambert, FC Lausanne (Switzerland).
The proceedings kicked off with a presentation by Feyenoord on the SLO work done by the club. As the senior SLO, Ton Strooband is on the same hierarchy level as the safety officer. The SLO/CSR department comprises six people, including two “fan coaches”, two matchday SLOs and a disability access officer (DAO). Four members of the department are employed full-time. Of particular interest was the club’s focus on the 13-23 age group as part of its attempts to reduce anti-social behaviour. The SLO department is part of the appeals and rehabilitation process regarding stadium bans and its work is proving very successful, as only 2% of banned supporters re-offend. Feyenoord also have a dedicated SLO for the away team.
Next up was Thomas Kirschner, lead SLO at German outfit FC Schalke 04, who spoke about the new fan and spectator management course organised by the German Football League in conjunction with the universities of Potsdam and Kassel. The course is an 18-month programme costing €9,500 that offers ECTS credits to those who participate and is classed as vocational training. Conflict resolution, communication, stress management, fan culture, crowd management, and sports legislation are among the topics covered as part of a new academic drive to professionalise the SLO work in Germany.
The floor was the handed to the first of two guest speakers, David Bohannan, chair of the European Think Tank of Football Safety and Security Experts, whose presentation focused on the Council of Europe Convention on an Integrated Safety, Security and Service Approach at Football Matches and Other Sports Events. David highlighted the existence of different standards in each country (policing, stewarding, SLO, legislation, etc.) and the challenges this raised for match organisation, policing and supporter liaison. One problem is that SLOs are still viewed with suspicion by other stakeholders, who often see and treat them as ordinary fans. He also looked ahead to possible changes in European legislation, in particular with regard to spectator violence, pyrotechnics use and racism and discrimination, and the implications for SLOs in their day-to-day work in terms of risk, responsibilities and liability. The meeting agreed to seek expert legal advice for dissemination among their peers.
The second day was dedicated to our final speaker, Keith Dalton, who is Head of Football Operations at UEFA. It was a major step forward in the development of the network to have Keith attend the meeting and the participants wasted no time in highlighting the need for UEFA to place more attention on the SLO role, for example with regard to their participation in the organisation meeting ahead of European matches. Keith pointed out that although it was the responsibility of the club to decide who attended such meetings UEFA could raise awareness for the SLO role among match delegates, for example, and require them to ascertain whether an SLO was present.
The SLOs also repeated their request for a dedicated SLO section in TIME, UEFA’s club information exchange system. This would greatly enhance the ability of SLOs to prepare matches and share information with their counterparts at other clubs, especially in the early stages of the UEFA competitions, when time is of the essence. Keith confirmed that this was a work in progress. Another bone of contention was the fact that SLOs are not specifically invited to attend the UEFA/EU Security Conference, which takes place after the draw for the Champions League and Europa League group stage has been made and gathers club safety officers and attached police, among other security experts, for an exchange of information and experience.
The meeting closed with an important decision to transfer the group from an informal network to a working group with nominated spokespersons and sub-working groups on various topics of importance, such as reporting and resources, risk and liability, the proposed second UEFA SLO handbook, securing recognition of the SLO role as a profession at EU level, among other things. Nominations were sought for the first representatives of the SLO working group, and JP Taylor (Celtic), Thomas Kirschner (Schalke 04) and Ton Strooband (Feyenoord Rotterdam) were selected. The “committee” will now draft an outline remit for the working group in conjunction with SD Europe before seeking further discussions with UEFA and other stakeholders such as the Council of Europe.