For May 2022’s SLO of the Month, SD Europe spoke to the Supporter Liaison Officer at Swedish first division side IFK Norrköping, Fredrik Nilsson.
In addition to his role at his club, Frederik is also an SLO for the Swedish national teams. In recognition of his work in supporter liaison, Frederik received an award from Swedish match delegates naming him SLO of the Season.
The Swedish top division Allsvenskan has seen a rise in attendance in the last twenty years that’s almost unprecedented in Europe. Also, the football culture has taken enormous steps. And IFK Norrköping is a fine example of both. Today there is a powerful atmosphere at their home games due to more spectators and active supporters.
Fredrik Nilsson made the headlines last season when Norrköping played an away game and lost. After the home team scored a goal in front of Norrköping’s supporters, one person tried to get into the pitch. But Fredrik’s swift action stopped the supporter and prevented a potential catastrophe.
How did you become the Supporter Liaison Officer at your club? Norrköping has gone from a mid size club to one of the bigger clubs when it comes to the home support the last couple of years, how has that affected your work?
“In the early 2010s ,my club didn't have an SLO for approximately two seasons. The club board wanted to properly re-implement the function before the 2015 season and our official supporters club nominated me as a good fit for the role. In 2014, the football club was in a difficult financial situation and were almost relegated, so to begin with, the SLO role was unpaid. In 2015 which was my first season, I worked unpaid at all 30 games. That season we became champions and our average attendance doubled compared to the season before. This made it possible for the club to hire more staff and I got the chance to work full time for the club in 2016.”
What are some of the achievements that you have had in the role? And do you work in a dedicated SLO team? How many SLOs are at your club?
"In general, I take a lot of pride in the journey the club and myself have been on with the SLO function. In 2022, I am full-time and I have two SLOs in my team (Andreas Saastamoinen and Victor Gustavsson) who work on a matchday basis. I hope that we will be able to grow the SLO team even further in the future. Least of all because it's important for us to refresh the team with new views now and then.
Speaking personally, another achievement that I am really proud of is to be part of a great SLO team around the Swedish national team where me and five other club level SLOs work together.”
Which people and groups are you in liaison with as the SLO?
“I am regularly in conversation with my colleagues in the football club who working in different departments where I voice the supporter perspective in a variety of meetings and discussions. That is a big part of the job that I don't think a lot of people think about, we are working throughout the week too, not just on matchdays.
Also, of course, our supporters. Both our official supporters club, the tifo group, Ultras and so on. Both myself and the other SLOs in the team have a good connection with all the groups in our stands.
Additionally, I attend a lot of meetings with the police on a variety of subjects. Everything from quarterly meetings with a bigger regional agendas to weekly talks with our dedicated supporter police. I've also been lecturing about supporter culture at the police academy for police officers going to work with football and ice hockey.
Finally, on matchdays we are attending meetings with match delegates, SLO and security officers from both clubs, police, the arena staff and other functions.”
What kind of tools do you use to communicate with the fanbase? Meetings, dedicated communications channels?
“We use the club’s website to share information before each game, we also have SLO accounts on Twitter and Facebook. But I would say that the most common way our supporters contact me is by phone and mail.
I also like face-to-face meetings. We've begun in-person meetings again after the pandemic where the board of our supporters’ club met with me, our security officer, club director and board members.”
You were voted best SLO among the Swedish match delegates last season, tell us a bit about that?
“I am very pleased that this prize has started because it gives recognition to SLOs for their hard work. It elevates the role creating more awareness around it. Usually, awards in football are for players or related to the team’s performance, so it’s positive that SLOs are receiving more recognition for their contributions.
I was told I was given the award in recognition of my good engagement, professional work and having a good understanding for the different needs among the supporters. I was humbled to receive the award, but speaking honestly, I could name numerous SLOs in Sweden who would also fit this description. Like I say, the very fact that the prize exists and gives recognition to the SLO work is the most important thing for me.”
There was an infamous incident where you stopped a potential crisis when some supporters were going onto the pitch at an away game last season. What was your thought process at that moment? And what were the reactions afterwards?
“Straight away I thought that it would be really, really bad both for my club, for Swedish football and for the supporters themselves if they even made the slightest touch on any of the opposition players. So that's what made me act but you can never know how that kind of action might make our other supporters respond. It was important for me to go straight up to the stand afterwards to explain to our supporters what had happened and why I took the action I did to stop them and because of this I think that there was a good understanding of why I did what I did.”
What are the main benefits you have experienced from taking part in the SLO Network meetings?
“In Sweden we regularly have training and conferences which are good opportunities to share experiences and have productive discussions about the SLO role. There is always someone who has experienced similar challenges to yourself, and we have a good collegial environment where we help each other.
On the international level, I've yet to attend any of SD Europe’s SLO network meetings but I´ve made good connections with SLOs from all over Europe thanks to SD Europe’s LIAISE project, the work with the national team and my club’s (too few) European games over the last years.”
What are your short-term and long-term goals in your role?
“We have come far but we need to keep developing. I hope that all clubs in the Swedish first division have a strong SLO function.”
What actions are you looking to take to engage fans and further make a difference?
“Speaking generally in a personal capacity, I´m going to use this question as an opportunity to remind all Swedes reading it to not take the 50+1 rule for granted. And all non-Swedes should never give up on getting it.”
What do you think has been the main benefit of the implementation of SLOs in Swedish football?
“I think that the gap between the organised supporters and most of the clubs, was big ten years ago in Sweden. There was little dialogue and mutual understanding between them. The SLO function has really helped reduce this gap and overcome preconceptions and misunderstandings from both supporters and clubs.
The gap between the supporters, the FA and the league were possibly even bigger, and I think that the way the league has invested in the SLOs and especially in dialogue with SFSU (the Swedish national supporters organisation) has made an enormous difference of benefit to Swedish football over the last decade."
SD Europe would like to warmly thank Fredrik Nilsson and IFK Norrköping
for taking part in the SLO of the Month series.
Read more editions from SD Europe's SLO of the Month series here.
Have you read the new UEFA Practical Guide To Supporter Liaison co-authored with SD Europe? Download it here.
SD Europe recently completed the first pilot of its new SLO consultancy with clubs, helping English club AFC Wimbledon to appoint a new SLO team.
Contact us to find out more about the Supporter Liaison Officer role and SLO club consultancy here.