Matchday 4 in the UEFA Champions League group stage saw the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) stage a bilateral meeting attended by an SLO of German outfit FC Schalke 04, SLOs of almost all of the 18 top division clubs in Portugal, representatives of the local police and a “guest appearance” by Gavin Powell, SLO Coordinator of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), who was on a fact-finding mission to learn more about how the role is being implemented in both Portugal and Germany. The meeting, which took place before the match between Sporting and Schalke, was organised to encourage an exchange of views and experience between SLOs from the two countries.
The event kicked off with introductions by Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho, Luis Paulo Relogio, licensing manager at the FPF, and Stuart Dykes, SLO consultant to Supporters Direct and UEFA. Thomas Kirschner, a founder member and former leader of Ultras Gelsenkirchen and one of two full-time SLOs at Schalke, then described how his very active supporter background was one of the reasons Schalke asked him to join their SLO team last season. “It is important to have people inside the club who understand fans and their needs and wants“, Thomas said before moving on to details of the work they do at the club and in Germany, such as working with the local fan project, liaising with supporter groups, holding public meetings to discuss issues of interest to supporters, filling out reports, doing media work (commenting on incidents, reporting events etc) on behalf of the club, and even advising sponsors on their planned activities and how well they will go down with fans.
He also explained how Schalke reorganised their SLO work to include the SLOs in the Supporter Relations, Members and Security department, enhance their cooperation with the Tradition and Social Responsibility departments and allow them to participate on a committee that decides on whether stadium bans should be issued or not.
The two-hour meeting was wound up after a series of questions not only from the Portuguese side but also from Thomas Kirschner, who was keen to know more about the fan scene and supporter culture in Portugal, the problems SLOs face and also the solutions they come up with.
This is the second season in which UEFA are promoting such SLO bilateral meetings, which started as a pilot project last year in order to share and disseminate good practice between local and visiting SLOs, hopefully bringing us another step closer to the successful implementation of the role across Europe.