The first leg of the second Europa League qualifying round saw Bulgarian club Beroe Stara Zagora host Danish side Brøndby IF. The Bulgarian Football Union took the opportunity to organise its first UEFA SLO bilateral meeting, which was also the inaugural meeting for the 2015/16 season.
The event took place at the premises of the local BFU branch one day before the match. It was chaired by BFU SLO coordinator Dimitar Christov and attended by representatives of the local BFU office (who were also responsible for the logistics), the SLOs of Levski, Beroe and Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Brøndby SLO Lasse Bauer and representatives of various supporter organisations.
The event kicked off with Dimitar Christov presenting on the recent developments of the SLO project in Bulgaria and continued in a discussion among the SLOs present about the main problems they face in doing their job. In particular, they underlined the importance of improving stadium infrastructure, as there are examples of stadiums lacking basic facilities, and the overall treatment of visiting supporters. The interaction of SLOs and supporters with the police was discussed with the local representatives, who expressed the need for standard national police guidelines for interacting with supporters. They also suggested that the BFU should attempt to establish a platform of dialogue between the Ministry of Interior, the BFU, the professional football clubs and supporter organisations about the behaviour of all the stakeholders in an attempt to find commonly accepted solutions to the problems.
Last but not least, all the parties in attendance agreed that it is imperative for a clear and accepted description of the SLO role to be introduced. Dimitar Christov also reminded the participants that the BFU offers all SLOs official accreditation that can easily be identified by all matchday stakeholders and allows SLOs to move freely between all stadium areas relevant to their work. The Beroe SLO confirmed that the accreditation had been a great help in his experience. The BFU informed the participants that the process for producing a job description is already in place and that an initial draft would soon be made available for comments. They also highlighted the BFU regulations requiring SLOs to be present at the matchday -1 meeting (Art. 27, Para. 10 of the championship regulations) and said they would accept any kind of suggested working relationship between the clubs and their SLOs (full time, part time, volunteer).
At that point, Lasse Bauer was asked to present his experience on the general and day-to-day work of a supporter liaison officer in Denmark. Lasse explained that he is the person who tries to make sure that fan culture is taken into consideration by the club “Better fan culture means fewer problems in and around the stadium,” he said. He also analysed the interaction with the police, which is mainly done through the dialogue police, a special department that does not have any powers of repression. The dialogue police and the stewards of each club travel with supporters, allowing them to communicate with the same people, building relationship of mutual trust and preventing provocative behaviour and misunderstandings. “The development of the SLO project and my engagement with police and stewards has solved many problems at Brøndby,” Lasse added. “There might still be problems at some matches, but they are not so widespread. You can see, for example, how the damage caused by travelling fans has been reduced to a minimum.”
Closing the debate, Dimitar Christov updated the SLOs on the latest edition of the BFU Disciplinary Regulations and the fines for using pyrotechnics. He also said that the BFU were currently looking into the possibility of organising an SLO seminar before the friendly match between Levski Sofia and Djurgårdens IF in October that would be attended by the experienced SLO team from Sweden, a country that has managed to take the SLO project a step further and develop a ‘Swedish SLO model’.
Under Article 35 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs across Europe are required to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) to ensure proper and constructive discourse between them and their fans. The SLO project originated in 2009 as a result of detailed talks between UEFA and SD Europe. It was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in 2010, with SD Europe appointed to manage its implementation across UEFA’s 54 member associations. If you would like to learn more, visit the SLO section on the SD Europe website or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.