In honour of the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the development of the supporter liaison officer (SLO) role, last month SD Europe announced a new monthly interview featuring various SLOs across the European SLO network.
In the second edition of this feature, we asked Matijas Loeb, the SLO at Norwegian club Vålerenga IF, to reflect on his role and the future of SLO development.
What are some of the achievements the SLO department has had at your club?
Vålerenga is unfortunately not spoiled with titles, but has a rich supporter history. We’ve had CEOs working their way up from the stands, and former players becoming members of the supporters club. In many ways this mentality is relatable with the intention of the SLO role – narrowing the gap between the club and the supporters.
We’ve had active SLO’s providing services for Vålerenga since 2012. Fan engagement, however, was a big part of the club long before that.
The biggest improvements since the implementation of SLOs are within stakeholder relations, such as the media, FA, police, etc. For far too long, Norwegian fans have been viewed as a burden instead of an asset. With SLOs in place, the fans have now gained a much stronger voice and become important decision-makers within Norwegian football. For example, supporters are now included in the dialogue when the league schedule is being set for the coming year. Match dates and kick-off times are important for supporters, and they should be a significant part of the process when they are being fixed.
Would you say it is vital, looking to the future, that all professional clubs appoint SLOs?
Supporter inclusion is crucial in professional football. If we lose that, we lose the club. These days, when massive amounts of money are being pushed around, there are plenty of considerations to make. To ensure supporter inclusion in all of this, there needs to be a structure in place, something SLOs most definitely provide, both in terms of creating a voice for the supporters towards the club, and by setting up common structures amongst the clubs in our association.
Do you work in a dedicated SLO team? How many SLOs are at your club?
Our SLO team consists of me, myself and I! Actually, that’s not entirely true. The supporters club have their own steward division that provides great safety and security services at all matches, both home and away. Having said that, the dialogue, as well as the pre- and post-game work, I do mostly by myself, which can be lonely at times. The licensing agreement in the Norwegian FA requires every club in the top two divisions to have appointed an SLO. However, I’m the only employed SLO in Norway, for now!
What personnel and groups are you in liaison with as the SLO?
First and foremost, I liaise with all the fans of Vålerenga IF. The most formal communications are the ones I have with the supporters club, Klanen. Throughout the season, I am invited, or I invite myself, to their board meetings every now and then. I also encourage and initiate dialogue with other organised and unorganised fan groups several times during the year.
Vålerenga also has a strong social department that I naturally cooperate with, as the team are in many ways involved with my line of work. Vålerenga is a strong institution for anti-racist and anti-discrimination work in Oslo and Norway in general. “Vålerenga against racism” is incorporated on our team kits.
Within the club, I communicate and cooperate with the administration, sporting, media and marketing departments. I also liaise with external stakeholders such as the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF), the Norwegian League (NTF), SD Europe, the police, private security, media outlets and, of course, SLOs from other clubs.
I also provide SLO services for the Norwegian national team together with SLOs from other clubs.
What kind of tools do you use to communicate with the fan base?
The most important communications I have with the fan base are the informal talks on matchdays, especially when we’re playing away games. Showing travelling supporters our appreciation is an exceptional way of developing trust and good relations. In return this gives me the leeway I need in order to provide sufficient SLO services on matchday.
For social media, I mainly use Twitter for ticketing and travel information. On occasion, I also post articles of fan affairs on our club’s official website.
What are your short-term and long-term goals in your role?
At the time of writing, there’s an ongoing dispute about the use of pyrotechnics between fans and the NFF. This has caused a nationwide fan demonstration. In the short term, I hope to take part in the dialogue towards a more tolerable agreement in this matter.
One of my other short-term goals is providing SLO services at a European away game. Vålerenga has never been in a European group stage, but came close in the Champions League play-off stage against Club Brugge in 2005. The last official European game was in 2011, when we played PAOK in the second qualification round for the Europa League. Every now and then, we play unofficial matches and friendlies in Sweden and Denmark, but this is merely a reminder of what hopefully awaits in the future.
When speaking of long-term goals, I wish to work in a well-functioning SLO team that has more team members than just me. By that, we can specialise in different fields and provide a much stronger service, both for the club and its supporters.
Looking even further down the pipeline, I wish for the SLO role to take additional steps in the Norwegian football system. Every year I see some improvements, but fan inclusion can still be considered a nascent concept at many Norwegian clubs, compared with how much it should’ve grown by now.
I’m quite satisfied with the way the SLO role is being implemented at my club, and I consider myself fairly impatient when speaking of further improvements. Nevertheless, other clubs need to follow as well, and we need strong support from the NFF and NTF.
What actions are you looking to take to engage fans and make even more of a difference?
Most importantly, I aim to give our fans the experience of making a difference, both on and off the pitch. I want to make sure we have a good framework in place for our fans to be as loud and supportive as possible. This can only be achieved when they feel at home and are considered a crucial asset for the club and sport in general – not a burden. I want to include supporters in the decision-making and give them a strong voice so that the beautiful game of football can be played with the consideration of the supporters.
Miss the first SLO feature? Take a read here!