Violence in Swedish football has been reduced by at least 20% since 2012, SEF say, and Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs) are playing a key role in it, as “their hard work is spreading consensus among the fans“.
SEF’s moto is “Everyone is welcome and everyone should feel safe at a football stadium” and they describe SLOs as “people from the fan base who have a good knowledge of their club and its supporters and are responsible for the interactive dialogue between fans, clubs and police, before, during and after the match. SLOs are the spider in a web of different parties whose views should be communicated to each other“.
Improved communication As SEF say and the police and SLOs admit, dialogue between the two sides has been successful. Together, all SLOs have managed to bring the parties closer together.
From the police side, there is a connection between the falling numbers and the role played by the SLOs: “I have seen how SLOs work. They are very active and do preventative work, calming down the fans“, says Farid Tounsi from the Stockholm Event Police before adding: “SLOs can help us, the police, send a message to the fans and calm any stressful situation. The good dialogue with the SLOs helps the police and supporters exchange feedback and avoid external measures, such as stadium bans“.
“Without SLOs it would have taken us many years to get where we are today. They have, with their knowledge and contacts, facilitated progress a lot. This communication has removed many misunderstandings” says Tounsi.
Although it is hard to measure what has happened in Swedish football since the introduction of the SLO role, SLOs also believe that they have helped fans and police to come closer together. They also feel that supporters have become more aware of how security is defined in situations that were unclear and could otherwise lead to trouble. “The single biggest thing we have done is blur the boundaries between the supporters and the police“, says GAIS SLO Erik Bergkvist.
Yet the understanding between the police and fans isn’t the only benefit brought by the SLO role. Fans now have their own voice that can reach all levels of the football structure, starting from the club’s boardroom. “SLOs help supporters be accountable and the clubs’ supporter departments are now more structured”, adds Bergkvist. “We understand fan culture, so we take with us what is said and forward it to the clubs. There’s always a group of people in the board and the organisation chart who are not fond of the language spoken in the stands. So for the two sides to communicate, they need an interpreter“, believes Anders Almgren, SLO at IFK Göteborg, adding that “clubs have become a lot better at listening to their supporters, and supporters also have a better understanding of the daily workload involved in running an organisation“.
Fan culture Supporter organisations have their own culture. To them, what the police say is often not important, and the priority is to build and run something according to their own values. Marginalising and criminalising supporters does not help, however. SLOs are there to pay attention to the views of the fans and ensure that everyone respects each other and their opinions. They must have eyes and ears everywhere and be as familiar as possible with all stakeholders to create the conditions for mutual understanding. “It’s important for fans to run their own affairs” says Bergkvist, a view shared by Lena Gustafson-Wiberg, SLO at Djurgårdens IF, who points out how important it is to satisfy the needs of all the different groups “It would be easy to focus just on the active part of the stands, those who seek the attention, but we have to see everyone“.
Supporters groups might be run in their own way but when they need assistance, an SLO is the obvious contact person to go to. SLOs help supporters enter the stadium on matchday to hang tifos, they respond to individual supporters’ questions and help to communicate away travel arrangements. All SLOs try to be reachable as often as possible, and also use forums or facebook to answer questions.
SLOs were introduced in Sweden in 2012 as part of the “Stand up for football” project, a joint supporter engagement initiative by the SEF and a group of sponsors (Swedbank, TV4-group, Svenska Spel and Deloitte) that aims to harness football as a positive force and increase security in the stands. Today the leading SLOs of six clubs (Djurgårdens IF, AIK, Hammarby IF, GAIS, Malmö FF, IFK Gothenburg) are funded by this project, but all clubs have an independent SLO department of one or more volunteer or part-time SLOs. The SEF has supported and promoted the SLO project since its introduction. CEO Mats Enquist says: “The vision of the SEF is to create welcoming, secure, safe and atmospheric football events. Fans are our number one priority. In attempting to eradicate harmful behaviour it is vital to engage in dialogue with fans and cooperate with all the stakeholders because dialogue is essential. We might not always agree but we need to talk, we need a long-term approach despite the setbacks. This is why we implemented the SLO project in 2012 and we haven’t regretted it for a second“.
Under Article 35 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs across Europe are required to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) to ensure proper and constructive discourse between them and their fans. The SLO project originated in 2009 as a result of detailed talks between UEFA and SD Europe. It was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in 2010, with SD Europe appointed to manage its implementation across UEFA’s 54 member associations. If you would like to learn more, visit the SLO section on the SD Europe website or get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.