Representatives of football stakeholders from three European countries recently took part in the second of 12 exchange visits being organised under SD Europe’s supporter liaison and engagement project LIAISE, which is funded by EU’s Erasmus+ programme and UEFA.
The visit was hosted by the Polish Football Association (PZPN) and saw representatives of the French National Supporters Association (ANS), the French Football Federation (FFF), the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), the Czech Football League (LFA) and Football Supporters Europe (FSE) travel to the northeast city of Białystok, accompanied by SD Europe as the project organisers and Mr Anton Cernat, Head of the Romanian National Information Point (NFIP), in the role of external expert and rapporteur for the visit.
The exchange visit had two main focuses:
To showcase the work of Polish supporter liaison officers and observe their work at the Ekstraklasa game between Jagiellonia Białystok and Lech Poznań.
To present the network of Polish fan projects under the Supporters United (Kibice Razem) programme
The SLO work in Poland was launched in 2013 following the coming into effect of Article 35 of UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Play Regulations, which requires all clubs applying for a licence to play in a UEFA competition to have at least one SLO. This coincided with the appointment by the PZPN of a dedicated SLO coordinator in Dariusz Łapiński, who welcomed the delegation at the offices of host club Jagiellonia Białystok.
Łapiński explained that SLOs are mandatory in the top two divisions in Poland and that most clubs in the third tier also have an SLO, even though they are not required to do so, an indication that the role performed by SLOs is recognised and appreciated. He outlined the training activities of the PZPN and the tools and resources deployed to develop the SLO work. The main problem facing the PZPN is the fact that most SLOs are volunteers. This lack of professionalism needed to be addressed in future, Łapiński said. On the positive side, Polish SLOs have made a valuable contribution to match organisation procedures at local level, something the delegation was able to see for themselves during the course of the visit.
The delegation also had the opportunity to exchange views with the safety officer of Jagiellonia Białystok, Zbigniew Pepczyński, and the club SLO, Bartosz Kadłubowski, who gave the visiting delegation an insight into the work of a Polish SLO in the run-up to a game and the cooperation between the various stakeholders on matchday, including the police.
On the second day, the delegation paid a visit to the local fan project, which is part of a tripartite cooperation involving the Ministry of Sport, local government and the local fan association and coordinated by the Polish Football Association. There are now 17 such fan projects across Poland, with each having a different offering as agreed with local supporters. In Białystok, the emphasis is more on organising media offerings for fans and nurturing club traditions, while in Poznań, for example, it is mainly about promoting sport (cycling, football, eSports, etc.).
From there, the delegation moved on to the stadium for a look at the matchday procedures. First, they were invited by the match delegate to attend the pre-match organisation meeting, where all the parties involved in the organisation of the event and security matters exchanged information and discussed any last-minute issues. The delegation then had the opportunity to observe the arrival and admission of the away fans and the work of stewards, the police, the SLOs of both clubs and the home safety officer.
After an entertaining game, which ended in a 2-2 draw, the day concluded with a debrief back at the hotel over dinner. The intensity of the discussions over the two days and the opportunity for the various partners to exchange information and experience ensured this was a very productive visit. The learnings from the visit will now flow into the intellectual outputs of the project, which will include a national action plan for each of the six project partner countries.
On behalf of the project partners, we would like to thank the PZPN and Jagiellonia Białystok for hosting this very informative visit. Many thanks also to Anton Cernat for producing an excellent visit report.