Stuart Dykes is Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) project consultant to Supporters Direct Europe. Here he explains the background, progress and current status of the project across Europe...
"Supporters are the very lifeblood at the heart of professional football."
These words from UEFA President Michel Platini provide the opening to the UEFA Supporter Liaison Officer Handbook, first published in 2011 and now available in eleven different languages – with more in the pipeline.
The project, which is currently in the midst of its implementation phase, celebrated its third birthday earlier this year, having first been enshrined under Article 35 of UEFA’s 2010 Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations – the rules by which all clubs competing in the Champions and Europa Leagues must abide.
Having been closely involved in the development of Article 35, SD Europe was appointed by UEFA to facilitate the introduction of the new requirement, which stated that all clubs wishing to apply for a UEFA licence must have appointed an SLO by the beginning of the 2012/13 season.
SD Europe's role
Initially, a key part of our work was participating in the production of the aforementioned handbook. Although the concept is new to many countries and supporters, it has been around for two decades in Germany (for example) and our experience of working with supporters there (as well as in other countries) meant that we were happy to be involved from the beginning.
At the same time as the handbook was being drafted, we began to travel around Europe, meeting with various national associations and leagues in order to explain the SLO concept, outline how it could be implemented, and provide examples of best practice to help those who were getting involved for the first time.
Although Article 35 only covers clubs applying for a UEFA licence, many national associations and leagues have chosen to extend the requirement to appoint an SLO across their top divisions and beyond in many cases (such as Italy). As a result of this, we have organised and participated in a range of workshops and one-on-one meetings with national governing bodies, leagues and clubs. We also took part in the first SLO workshop for project coordinators across Europe in Berlin.
As the project has unfolded, so our contribution has developed. Whilst each individual country is at a different stage of implementing the requirement, the general European picture is encouraging, though there is clearly still a long way to go.
Countries such as Sweden, where the concept was previously not present, have taken to the project extremely well – so much so that a report commissioned by the Government to investigate spectator violence at football matches highlighted the positive impact Sweden’s new batch of SLOs have had.
One of our priorities is ensuring as much interaction between SLOs from different countries as possible, and that people have the chance to share ideas, learn about best practice, and apply those lessons at their own clubs.
Another key task is making sure national supporters’ organisations such as the FSF in England; Supporters in Campo in Italy and others are involved in the project’s implementation in their countries, at both club and national level. Given that supporter representatives across Europe have long highlighted the need for better communications between supporters, clubs, governing bodies and other stakeholders (such as the police) it is now vital that they are part of the conversation.
We believe that the SLO project should form part of a wider picture where supporters are not simply viewed as consumers, and that football clubs are, in general, more well-run across the continent.
Transparency, better club/supporter communications and supporter involvement in decision-making processes will, we feel, benefit the game as a whole; a good SLO should provide supporters with the chance to make their voices heard. Our task over the coming season(s) is to make sure the project continues to grow, and that the existing network of European SLOs continue to make football a better place for supporters.
- Find out more about SLOs and the FSF's work with them here.
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