A blend of on-site visits, discussion panels, presentations and group work saw participants in our first LIAISE workshop develop a deeper understanding of the supporter liaison officer (SLO) role from in April.
Representatives from the Erasmus+ project’s 10 partners and 11 additional organisations (from 12 countries) were involved in activities over a three-day training event in Stockholm, hosted by Svensk Elitfotbol (SEF) from April 15th to 17th. (See Partners)
SLOs in action at a Stockholm derby
Getting the workshop underway, the project group arrived in Sweden’s capital in time to attend one of Stockholm’s biggest games: AIK Solna v Djurgårdens IF. An intense rivalry between the clubs means a busy match day, with SLOs in constant contact for weeks in the build up to the main event.
A post-match debrief involving the main SLOs and security personnel from both clubs followed, during which the panel explained the importance of working closely and cooperatively with their counterparts from other clubs to ensure a smooth experience for everyone in attendance. There were questions from the project group and also insightful contributions from SEF CEO Mats Enquist.
SEF CEO Mats Enquist
Day 2: A focus on best practice
Mr. Enquist got the second day’s agenda underway by explained how his organisation has changed its approach to working with clubs and supporters in recent years – to great effect. SEF focuses on improving the quality of the match day experience for everyone in the stadium and, according to Mats, the SLO role has been a key part of the positive steps taken.
Next, participants heard from Lena Gustafson Wiberg, the main SLO at Djurgårdens IF and also a member of the SD Europe team, on how the role has progressed in Sweden. She also explained the background to a project entitled ‘Stand Up For Football’, which secured financial support from league sponsors to introduced paid SLOs at five clubs initially as part of their support of the football family in the country.
The presentation was followed by a panel discussion of representatives from across Swedish football, including representatives of SD Europe members Svenska Fotbollssupporterunionen (SFSU), Sofia Bohlin, Fredrik Larsson, as well as SLOs Jakob Uddeholt (Hammarby), John Skärlund (AIK), Nils Ek (Djurgården) and safety and security personnel Jessi Motaghi (Djurgårdens IF) and Tomas Larsson (AIK).
LIAISE panel: Supporters, security personnel and SLOs
After lunch, the focus switched to other European football associations and leagues and how they have developed their respective national SLO strategies. First, participants heard about the work of the DFL (German Football League), through Ben Kandler, a former SLO himself. Bundesliga clubs in the top division will be required to have three full-time SLOs from next season, with each individual needing to take part in formal training over a two-year period. The DFL also brings stakeholders together on a regular basis by organising regional workshops and a “Fanwork and police” symposium, ensuring SLOs are an integral part of all discussions.
Dr. Dariusz Lapinski of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) then spoke of developments in Poland where finding a balance between financial and security and safety requirements while respecting the passion and dedication of supporters has been a challenge. There is at least one SLO at each of the clubs in the top three tiers of football and the PZPN places a particular emphasis on having common and unified working standards for all involved.
The development of the SLO role in Portugal has been a different experience, with national coordinator Jorge Silvério focusing on improving the implementation at various clubs by taking development steps year on year. A key achievement to date has been the creation of a ‘family’ of SLOs, who give each other support and advice and continue to work closely together.
Tomáš Čarnogurský, SLO coordinator of the Czech Football League
The fourth and final national SLO plan highlighted was that of the LFA, who implement the role in Czechia. The work is overseen by Tomáš Čarnogurský, also the SLO at Slovan Liberec, and he explained that the role largely remains “something new” amongst clubs and supporters. Some immediate priorities are to increase awareness of the role’s potential and to ensure SLOs already in place connect with and support each other regularly.
After a quick bite to eat, the project group departed for their second site visit of the workshop – a match observation exercise at the Tele2 Arena for Hammarby IF v IF Brommapojkarna. Hammarby SLO Jakob Uddeholt outlined his responsibilities for the evening and allowed a group of three of the group to shadow both himself and colleague Jonas Myrstedt for the evening, while a similar sized group received a similar insight from the club’s head of security.
The workshop’s final day brought an early start for participants, kicking off with discussions around what had been observed and noted at the previous evening’s game. The project group noted how important it was for SLOs to create meaningful connections throughout their supporter base and highlighted that Hammarby IF place significant emphasis on providing a friendly service to people attending.
Pre-match personnel meeting before Hammarby IF v IF Brommapojkarna
Next up was a session led by Dr. Adam Brown from project evaluators Substance. The discussion focused on why it’s important to measure the impact and performance of an SLO programme. Priorities from the project group included having new and consistent information to demonstrate the impact being made. Participants then broke up into smaller working groups to discuss possible measurements in more detail.
After a quick refill of coffee, two more excellent sessions followed. Beverley Mayer from SD Scotland explained the background to the Scottish Football Association’s (SFA) decision to fund her organisation to support the implementation of the SLO role in Scotland. Beverley, an SLO herself, is now heading up the development of the role on SD Scotland’s behalf, which has seen four development days organised to date and another one on the horizon later this year.
Riccardo Bertolin, SLO at Roma, then outlined how SD Europe members Supporter in Campo has been supporting the role’s implementation in Italy. SinC worked with Serie A, visiting clubs and raising awareness around the role’s potential as well as getting an IT platform, to support SLOs in their work, up and running. The work, however, is currently on hold due to the leadership vacuum at the FIGC and the top two leagues.
Measuring performance: group discussions
Rounding off the workshop were two unique insights. First, participants heard from two police officers involved with Stockholm’s ‘Dialogue’ police. Farid Tounsi and Jens Lindgren explained how their role has developed to promote dialogue between all key stakeholders, especially on match day, in an effort to prevent minor incidents escalating further. SLOs and supporters in the room voice alike voiced their support for the initiative and expressed hope that the unit could be expanded to other Swedish cities.
Secondly, the workshop heard from Jan Magnusson of MTR, the company that runs Stockholm’s main public transport facilities. Jan explained that regular dialogue with SLOs has allowed his company ensure that supporters and non-supporters alike can use key public transport facilities at busy times – providing the best possible service for everyone in the process.
The next date in the project’s calendar is the first exchange visit between the Czech Football League (LFA) and the Bulgarian Football Union, which will take place in May.
For further information about LIAISE and how you or your organisation might be able to benefit from its activities, visit sdeurope.eu/liaise. The SLO role is a Uefa licensing requirement (Article 35), and its implementation across Europe has been supported by SD Europe since 2010. For more information and resources, visit: sdeurope.eu/slo.