Danish Superliga side Brøndby IF recently took a significant stride forwards in bringing more fans back into football stadiums.
On 21st June 2020, some 2,500 fans were allowed to attend Brøndby IF’s Danish Superliga derby match against FC Copenhagen. The football club was selected by the Danish government to trial new measures which permitted more spectators to safely attend, with Brøndby’s supporter liaison officer Johan Reiler playing a significant role in preparations for the game.
Credit: Robert Hendel
The Dainish government had originally set a limit on 500 people, including all players, match officials, media and club staff, attending a football match.
Below, Johan offers an in-depth insight into his experience in Denmark and the process to slowly and safely begin welcoming supporters back to football matches.
"I know the fans, how to speak to them and what they need to be given to follow the guidelines before the games. Without an SLO it would not be possible at all."
What was the background to more supporters attending Brøndby IF’s game?
“Two weeks ago, the Danish government allowed up to 500 people at any cultural event, including football: 500 people, including every person in the stadium, that includes players and media and stewards and so on. So that meant that Danish clubs could allow maybe 200-300 fans into the stadium. The Danish league appealed for more fans to be let into the stadiums, and the government said ‘OK, let’s do this as a test where we don’t have a maximum capacity, but there are different rules’. They chose three games this weekend to do the tests, one was our game. Now they have to evaluate, and we hope this concept can be approved and then all games in Denmark can be played under these rules.”
What were the new measures and requirements in place?
“We were told that we had a test game on the Monday, and we had the game on the following Sunday, we had six days to prepare and it was our derby against Copenhagen… It’s the biggest game in Denmark.
So the rules are you have to have two metres between every person in the stadium. You have to have different sections in the stadium. You can only have up to 500 people in a section of the stadium. They must have their own entrances and exits, their own toilets, and their own refreshment facilities for each section. It was about minimising contact. Those in each section have to stay in that section, which limits the possible spread in the stadium. Of course, it shouldn’t spread at all with these measures, but it limits it.
There was a lot of work to do, my role was involved in the signage in each section of the stadium. With a lot of rules to comply with, we had to find a new way to section our stadium; the old system couldn’t be used. We had to find new ways to split the fans entering into each section in the stadium. It was strange but we managed. My role was to help design the sections, considering how we can use the stadium in the best way possible following these guidelines.”
There were different guidelines we had to follow. We involved our fan groups in these discussions, they said that ‘not being able to stand, to sing, this is not for us, but we understand that it has to be like this’.
We actually decided to close the main ultra section, because we thought if people go into that section it will be less likely they follow the rules. This decision was made in consultation with the fan groups who agreed on closing it. There was a lot of talk on social media about how people should behave, because it was the derby and so on. I had a lot of discussions on social media to explain what people can expect and what we as the club need from them at the game. It was very important to have this conversation. People were surprised, but they understood when they got the reasons. If we hadn’t had that conversation, people would have just shown up and done whatever they thought they were allowed to, which would not have helped this concept to get approval for the future.”
Was it a success?
“It went very well, it was a massive success. Of course it’s a success because people did what we asked them to. It was impressive to see how well people followed all of the guidelines. Even considering it was a derby and people hadn’t been in the stadium for four months, but people respected the guidelines, even when we scored a 1-1 equaliser after 89 minutes, and of course people were cheering and going crazy and so on, but they stayed in their seats. People really took responsibility, because they knew this is the way back, we have to go through these steps to get back to normal in the football stadiums. It went very well, of course it’s not the same, but again I think people understand that this is what we need to do and accept that, and then we can move forwards.”
How important was it to have an SLO involved in this process?
“I had a very active role on social media before the game to explain to people how we expected them to behave and why, it’s especially the why, that’s very important when you talk to fans, not just say you need to this, but explain why so they themselves say ‘OK I need to do this, not because you tell me to but because I can see that’s the right thing to do’. We help them to understand that this is the right thing to do. I know the fans, how to speak to them and what they need to be given to follow the guidelines before the games. Without an SLO it would not be possible at all.”
How did you feel about returning to your role as SLO in the stadium?
“My personal opinion is that the whole situation feels very strange, and it’s a strange situation for me as an SLO to go out to people and say please do this and that at the game and limit how you cheer, it’s usually the opposite of what an SLO does, but it’s one step in the right direction. As a club we are just focused on one step at a time. Two weeks ago we had zero fans in the stadium, a week ago we had 225, on Sunday we had 2,500, it’s just a necessary evil to do this. There actually was a good atmosphere in the stadium, but it was really strange, we just understand that this is how we have to do it and we need to get through it. We do some things we don’t normally do, and ask people to act in ways we don’t normally ask them to behave.
Some countries maybe, but for most of Western Europe I think it would be naïve to think you will go from a closed stadium to 100% again. So, this is a way to show it works. This was a test game. We had individuals from the Danish health authorities in attendance evaluating the whole setup. This was a chance to prove ourselves when football clubs say ‘we can handle this’, when we say ‘we can do it like this, it’s going to be like this’, so this was the way to show that football clubs are experts in crowd management. Football clubs are good at this. There’s a lot of normal things at football clubs that you can use. Organising entrances and lines, we are good at organising a lot of people in a little space. Now there are different guidelines we follow, but it’s actually pretty much what we used to do just with some things changed.”
How did fans in the stadium feel?
“The fans I talked to, and read about on social media afterwards, were very positive. Of course, before the game there was a lot of skepticism from the fans, but people were actually surprised by how much of a match experience they got and some said ‘this is one of the safest places I have been since the virus’. They could see so many measures had been taken with the distancing, with stewards reminding people to keep safe and remember the distances.”
Where do you see this going?
“We now have to get this concept approved for the whole league, but we expect it to be approved because the test games went so well. We are already talking about how the measures could be refined to allow more people to safely attend. We are also talking about maybe letting people who have travelled together to sit together, because we had families coming to the game in the car together then asking why they had to sit two metres apart, so maybe families, or friends travelling together can sit together in the future, and then you have to have two metres to the next groups of family or friends. So that’s maybe the next steps, which could see us moving to 5,000 or 6,000. We hope that when our new season begins in September, maybe we can go back to almost normal. We will continue trying to take steps; it could be a long time until we are back to normal completely, it could be September, it could February, nobody knows.”
SD Europe would like to warmly thank Johan and Brøndby IF for taking part in the SLO of the Month series.