A total of 65 supporter liaison officers (SLOs) from the 36 clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 came together at the beginning of December for their annual winter plenary meeting, organised in cooperation with the German Football League (DFL). The various workshops focused on enhancing the experience of supporters travelling to away matches, pro-action and the fight against right wing extremism in the stands, and improving the sharing of good practice in fan work through networking.
“Germany is a pioneer in Europe when it comes to supporter work and behaviour“, said North Rhine-Westphalia interior minister Ralph Jäger in praise of the fan culture in Germany. The most important factor for the lively and unique fan culture in Bundesliga grounds, however, is the professional liaison work done with fans, which is a mandatory licensing requirement for all 36 clubs in the top two tiers of the German league system.
Jörg Schmadtke, general manager for sport at FC Cologne, welcomed the participants to the Rhein-Energie Stadium, hailing the crucial role they play in the communication work with supporters. “You have a difficult and complicated task because you are often caught in between the various groups, so your work is extremely important in maintaining the dialogue between all parties“, said Schmadtke, underlining the importance of the SLO role before adding: “Many things have improved over the last years thanks to the work you’ve been doing“.
Various issues of relevance to supporter liaison were discussed during the workshops. “The challenges we face have grown. We have to find new ways of developing and improving our work“, said Union Berlin SLO Lars Schnell. The first day of the workshops ended with a vision for the future and the presentation of ideas for improving the structure and the networking between supporters.
Three ongoing challenges for supporter liaison work were addressed on the second day of workshops: maintaining a strong front against far-right groups, improving the management of supporter away travel and continuing the beneficial exchange ofexperience through dialogue with supporters. The SLOs also looked into potential solutions and joint activities to overcome the problems they face.
The delegates worked in small groups throughout the two days. Julia Ebert, SLO at Werder Bremen and a member of the Plenary Meeting Planning and Implementation Working Group, explained why the SLOs opted for this model instead of top-down presentations: “Dividing the agenda into different workshops allows us to work in a rigorous and solution-driven way“.
Ben Kandler, supporter liaison assistant at the DFL, who prepared the event with the members of the plenary meeting working group, moderated the workshops and learned many important lessons in the process: “All the workshops generated outcomes and ideas that we need to build on. We have a lot of homework to do“, he said.