Ten years ago, back in 2007, SD Europe set out on a journey around the continent to bring together supporters interested in fighting for a common cause.
In response to financial struggles at clubs at all levels of the game, supporters were determined to become involved in decision-making processes and to be recognised as important stakeholders within football.
By then, like-minded supporter organisations had already formed at national and local level – from Brian Lomax’s Northampton Town and Supporters Direct in the UK, to Unsere Kurve in Germany, Hapoel Katamon and Israfans in Israel, Bohemians in Czech Republic, the Norwegian Supporters Alliance in Norway, Aris in Greece and Austria Salzburg in Austria.
Coordinated under the umbrella of SD Europe, organisations cooperate to share accumulated knowledge and experience. They also help supporters in other countries get involved in the network and infuse a positive culture in the decision-making of football. For more than a decade, SD Europe members have been committed to the core values of constructive dialogue, active participation, social inclusion, transparency, democracy, financial sustainability, and volunteerism.
A social responsibility partner of Uefa, SD Europe has helped to develop the supporter liaison officer (SLO) role since 2010, establishing fruitful relationships with football associations from Portugal to Azerbaijan and Iceland to Israel, as well as the Council of Europe.
In 2012, SD Europe launched its ‘Heart of The Game’ position paper at the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Ivo Belet. The event was a key milestone in what has become a constructive partnership with both the European Union and European Commission.
Our ‘Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership’ project played a crucial role in the creation and development of different national supporters organisations and local initiatives The subsequent ‘Clubs and Supporters for Better Governance in Football’ project, co-financed by the Erasmus+ programme and Uefa, has supported the development of ‘a network of member-run clubs and national supporter organisations’, as project partners worked together to highlight and overcome common issues and challenges. The project has brought together some 40 different organisations from 20 different countries to date, creating a forum for discussions and contributions across Europe, the USA and Africa.
In September 2016, following a meeting of the European network in Hamburg (2015) and with the support of Uefa, SD Europe was established as an independent pan-European members organisation. The development allowed supporters organisations and member-run clubs across Europe be formally involved in the running of its European co-ordinating body for the first time.
From January 2018, SD Europe will also coordinate LIAISE (A Liaison-based Integrated Approach to Improving Supporter Engagement), another Erasmus+ project (co-financed by Uefa). LIAISE will promote the value of enhanced dialogue and communication between club SLOs and the authorities through better understanding and implementation of established SLO good practices.
SD Europe today has 12 member countries and a wider network comprising of some 500 local groups. At the end of its 10th season (2016/17), the organisation was active in 38 countries, working with partners and stakeholders from grassroots to elite level. SD Europe’s main objective is still as relevant as ever: to improve the financial and social sustainability of football generally and also the relationship between supporters and the rest of the football’s key stakeholders.
Undoubtedly, and thanks to the efforts of the SD Europe network at European and local level over the past ten years, football supporters in Europe have more options and opportunities to get involved the running of their clubs and the decision-making process of football and to express their voice in a structured way.
The European Union today “considers the ownership model whereby club members retain control of the club (through the 50+1 rule) as a good practice in the EU, and invites the Member States, sports governing bodies, national federations and leagues to start a constructive dialogue on, and exchange of, this model”. Uefa president A. Ceferin, too, believes that “supporters’ groups are vital members of the football community. Football would not be the game it is today without the passion and dedication of its fans.”
Ten years of European cooperation and the promotion of SD Europe’s core values was first celebrated earlier this summer when William Gaillard, formerly Special Advisor to the President at Uefa, and Pedro Velazquez, formerly Deputy Head of the Sports Unit at the European Commission, remembered some of the seeds planted early on during the organisation’s growth.
“UEFA has enjoyed a strong partnership with SD Europe since 2007, and we were happy to see the network become an independent European organisation in its own right last year,” said Patrick Gasser, Head of Football and Social Responsibility. “SD Europe‘s work, along with the work of its members, demonstrates the important contribution supporters can make to football and we look forward to seeing further developments in the coming years.”
“10 years ago, supporters from across Europe had no united voice and weren’t even regarded as a distant member of the football family. Today, not only do we have a united voice, we are more and more heard where it really matters,” SD Europe CEO, Antonia Hagemann, said. “Over the last ten years, supporters have come together to save their football clubs from bankruptcy, made their clubs more democratic and improved the way their clubs are run.
“However, there are still many cases where football isn’t democratic or sustainably run, and clubs often aren’t the community institutions they should be. Football fans exist in their millions and will never go away. Their voice matters, and SD Europe will continue to serve its members and make their voices heard in the development of a better game for everyone.”
This coming weekend, the SD Europe network gathers once again for its second-ever AGM in Dublin, and further achievements, milestones and challenges from the last 10 Years will be highlighted in the coming weeks. We will feature a series of articles and videos on the SD Europe website and social media platforms – so stay connected!