In honour of the upcoming 10 year anniversary of the development of the Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) role, SD Europe is excited to share the third edition of ‘SLO of the Month’, where we speak to SLOs from across Europe about their role and experiences.
For December’s edition, we had Standard de Liège SLO Quentin Gilbert sit down with us to speak about his experience at the football club since he joined 18 months ago. Quentin’s role is quite unique amongst SLOs because it is married with the responsibility of Strategic Officer in which he develops the strategic direction of Standard de Liège.
What are some of the achievements the SLO department has had at your club?
‘First of all, I have been at Standard for one and a half years now, before me there was no SLO. I’m the first one in the club. I started from a blank page, it’s challenging, because I have nothing to go on, but I like it, I get a lot of support from the club. The first achievement was to really make a bridge between the fans and the club. Before the SLO function, the only dialogue between the club and fans was with the security or a director when there were problems. The SLO function has allowed dialogue with fans that is not just about problems, it helps exchange the fans’ point of view, their projects and what they think about the direction the club takes.
Before, it was the fans going to the club, now I have reversed that; the club goes to the fans. I did this by contacting all the presidents of the fan clubs, we have 58. For a month, pretty much every evening I went and spoke to each of them. They really appreciated it, it was the first time Standard de Liège had come to them, and it was important to explain my role. That was the first achievement. I also make myself available to fans as much as possible to help them with any issues or enquiries.’
Would you say that it is vital looking to the future that all professional clubs appoint SLO’s?
‘Of course, I think an SLO is the missing link between the fan base and the club. It’s important that everybody understands between the fans and the club that we all want the same thing in the end. We want our team to win, to be as high possible and as structured as possible. The Executive Board of the club and the fans don’t always express the same thing, but in the end, we all want the same thing, dialogue from both sides is so important. I think a lot of clubs now have SLOs because they have to, but for my club, they really wanted to make it a success and use the role for good.’
What personnel and groups do you liaise with as the SLO?
‘We have ‘La Famille des Rouches’ (the Red Family), which is an umbrella over all the fan clubs with a board of 7 people made up the presidents of the fan clubs and me as the SLO. This acts as a bridge that facilitates everything between the club and fans. There are the 58 fan clubs, of which two are ultra groups, who I am closer to than others, because they are more active on matchdays. I am close to them and we are often talking.
I also have a good relationship with other Belgian SLOs. Reaching out to them to exchange best practice and experiences was one of the first things I did in this role. It helped me to understand the job but also it was very useful to know my counterparts. I am also close with the club’s Community Manager and the Security Director. Security is not part of SLO, but it’s an important, closely related aspect, I try to be close to the Security Team without being in that department. Also, I am the DAO (Disability Access Officer) of the club, I speak to fans with specific needs to make attending games easier for them.
The police, of course, I try to be the link between the fans and the stewards and police. I have contact with colleagues in all of the club’s departments, because if any of their projects involve the fans they want me involved too, they bounce ideas of me to see if they will be appreciated by the fans. I also speak to the national association, it’s difficult in Belgium because SLOs are new, two years ago nobody knew what SLO meant, we are all growing together. And of course, SD Europe. I attended the meeting in Watford recently, it was great to see that I am not alone and that we are facing the same challenges and issues. I talked to people dealing with the same thing and you find solutions.
Lastly, I am very close to the CEO of the club. We exchange a lot on the fans projects and approach. We talk a lot about La Famille des Rouches also, he really wants to embrace it and make it useful. It’s a very good thing that I am close to the CEO, if I wasn’t, it would be a lot more challenging. He’s very understanding of the fans, and it’s really helpful for me in this role to have his support.’
Do you work in a dedicated SLO team? How many SLO’s are at your club?
‘I am the only SLO. However, I consider the board of La Famille des Rouches to be my informal team of SLOs. They are really SLOs without knowing they are, they are the link to 58 fan clubs and 14,000 fans, for me they’re a really precious group. I call the President of La Famille des Rouches almost every day, we have a great relationship, for me he is essentially the second SLO.’
What kind of tools do you use to communicate with the fanbase? Meetings, dedicated communications channels?
‘First thing, is physical presence, I try to be in person everywhere at the same time. On a match day I walk like 10 km! I try to see everyone, I walk through every stand to every block, I try to see all the presidents of the fan clubs, normal supporters, drink a beer with Mr A and Mr B. There are days when you do have meetings, but it’s easier to get views in the stands, people are more relaxed. During the game, when you are laughing and talking, you can touch subjects that are lighter, it helps build the relationship. I try to be accessible. I go to all the away games when we are in a smaller group when I am really in the middle of the fans.
Of course, I meet with the ultras, I also attend the Executive Board meetings with La Famille des Rouches. To contact the fans clubs’ presidents, say for example if I have important information regarding an away game, this is how I share it. I also call a lot. If I have a document to share, I’ll email, but if I have a question, I’ll call them, it’s better, we just talk, the feelings are there, you get a better understanding.’
What kind of help do you get from the fans in your role? Do you have any volunteers on matchdays, for example?
‘First of all, I really consider the 58 presidents of the fans clubs as vital to relay information. I speak to 58 people and they then speak to 14,000. Being the president of a fan club is nice, but I see them as playing a really important part for the football club. They have responsibilities, they are an arch in the bridge between the fans and the football club. I think La Famille des Rouches Board and the presidents of fan clubs can be real ambassadors for campaigns. They are really helpful when it comes to specific objectives of the club, we have all sides of the club working together then.‘
Do you think fans can contribute in the areas of the matchday experience and safety?
‘Not literally, but of course in terms of safety they could contribute by being responsible. If we do a campaign around safety, I would count on the help of the fan club presidents, but I have not experienced a need for this as of yet. In terms of security, it’s more about the ultras, with them I need them to understand what rules we have and why we must respect them, I am not security, I don’t tell them what they can and can’t do, but I work with them to help them understand why it is important that certain things should not be done and why other things have to be done in a certain way, we have a good relationship.’
What are your short-term and long-term goals in your role?
In the short-term, I have not been here a long time, I wanted to develop trust and transparency. I also wanted to consolidate my contacts and my position, I wanted the SLO role to recognised by not just the fans, but every stakeholder. Also, other clubs, the police. In my role I know police officers, but in the ground, not every police officer knows what the SLO is, that needs to be worked on. That’s a big challenge because when I go to other clubs on away games, they don’t even know what SLO means. My short-term goal is to consolidate the SLO function essentially. But also, I want to make sure I am as accessible as possible, it’s easier with La Famille des Rouches, but still a lot of fans are not a part of it. So, I don’t forget them and I try to reach out to them. I make my phone number and email address available so people can speak to me, I also make myself visible on matchdays.
I also want to work with my colleagues to develop the fan experience at home games and away games. I don’t like that often when we go to away games, fans are not treated well, they are in cages. Football is not about that. But I have to see from both sides, I help fans realise that if certain behaviours don’t take place then things should improve. Fans are not animals, of course we sing, chant and yell, but it’s football, it’s about feelings. I think that both sides are right, my job is to make the fans and club consider the opinion of the other. Also, I would like to engage our fans more in our CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy.
As well as being SLO, I am Strategy Officer at the club, I think the fans should be engaged in CSR projects, we are at the beginning of the process, fans have a role to play in it. Overall, it’s just important for me to be accessible so fans can speak to me. We have a new stadium project. I’ll be getting the fans involved so we can find out what they think of it and take into account their views. They see things that the football club does not.
How does your role as SLO work alongside being Strategy Officer? How did this come about?
I did an internship at Standard a couple of years ago. I worked with the CEO and shadowed him. After the internship ended, he called me and said ‘I want to hire you’. I studied business strategy and he asked me to do a report on the club and how I viewed it. He wanted me to go further on it. He asked me to draw a strategic vision for the football club, but this did not require a full-time job. At the time, SLOs were recommended and the CEO was interested in the function. He knew I was the Standard fan and that I attended every game, so he hired me to take on both functions. I really like it because the SLO is about talking and meeting people, being on the ground, going to the games whilst the strategic function is about reflecting on the club and its functions, processes, how we do things, how we can help. Having this great relationship with the CEO really helps me to fulfil both roles. We talk about vision and exchange views. It’s really valued by both of us.
Miss last month’s ‘SLO of the Month’? Read it here.