Supporter liaison was firmly on the agenda in Berlin on 13 and 14 October when a pioneering workshop was held for supporter liaison officer (SLO) project coordinators from across Europe, giving them a chance to familiarise themselves with the principles of the project and the role of the SLO at national and club levels.
Under Article 35 of the new UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs will be obliged to have an SLO in place from the start of the 2012/13 season to ensure a proper and constructive dialogue between clubs and their fans.
The workshop, making its first appearance on the UEFA calendar, brought together some 47 national football body project coordinators and experts from the field, including currently serving club SLOs and security experts, to discuss and exchange information on supporter liaison issues and consider how best to implement Article 35 in the immediate and longer-term future.
UEFA Executive Committee member, chairman of the Stadium and Security Committee and vice-chairman of the Club Licensing Committee, František Laurinec, addressed the participants: "I would like to underline the position of the Executive Committee in that we fully support all the activities of the SLO project. UEFA is an organisation with very professional operations but we still need to improve our relationship with supporters. We cannot allow a small minority to ruin the game and so cooperating with positive supporters will be key. This workshop is one step but I'm sure it is a step in the right direction."
Licensors attending the workshop listened to various presentations on the subject of supporter liaison and its tie-ins with safety and security considerations. They were also provided with practical support in the form of the new UEFA Supporter Liaison Officer Handbook (2011 edition), prepared by UEFA's club licensing and financial fair play unit in close cooperation with Supporters Direct and a working group of club, league, association and supporter experts.
The SLO Handbook is complemented by a document toolkit for use by national associations comprising templates and information sheets designed to afford SLO project coordinators a deeper insight into the main principles of supporter liaison. Other guidance has been supplied in the shape of video training tools that are being made available to national associations via internal communications platforms such as UEFA's Knowledge & Information Sharing Scenario (KISS) programme. A library of online supporter liaison resources is also in preparation for UEFA.com.
William Gaillard, senior adviser to UEFA President Michel Platini, said: "Supporter liaison is all about relationship management. The SLO will also be a key factor in the safety and security efforts of national associations. But supporter liaison is not just about safety and security, it's about giving supporters better opportunities to enjoy themselves. Clubs need to look at supporters in a different light and view them as people who can contribute. Without supporters there is no modern football, only entertainment."
The SLO project coordinators of the national associations also had the opportunity – notably in the form of three working groups on the subjects of hospitality, building partnerships and establishing supporter structures – to share experiences, expertise and examples of best practice. Antonia Hagemann, head of European development at Supporters Direct, said: "Unlike a player, a coach or an administrator, a fan has nowhere else to go. It is best for all concerned that the relationship between fans and their club is as good as it can be, the efforts made by both are not taken for granted and each makes the life of the other as good as it can be. We are really encouraged by the start to the SLO project."
On the second day a question and answer session with the SLO coordinators of the German Football Association (DFB), the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) alongside UEFA security officer Willie McDougall also prompted a healthy and lively exchange of views. The workshop was the inaugural platform for UEFA's efforts to enhance the dialogue between national associations, clubs and fans and to promote a positive supporter culture throughout the game.
Sefton Perry, UEFA's benchmarking manager and project responsible, closed the workshop by emphasising the importance for the project to grow organically – with the national project coordinators taking into account the specific issues and environments of their clubs and entering into dialogue with their clubs and supporters to decide how current best practice examples from across Europe can be spread and the basic principles of good communication employed. In short, to use UEFA's support to navigate their own path to better club-supporter relations.
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