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Can Supporter Liaison Officers be the answer to crowd disorder in Scottish football?

Date: 1st September 2016

The fallout from June’s Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Hibernian supporters has been heavily scrutinised by various stakeholders keen to eradicate crowd disorder from our game. Competition and passion are part of the fabric of what makes Scottish football great but rivalry resulting in abuse and sometimes violence has no place in the future of the game.

While any immediate ramifications and the suitable consequences are being contested within the corridors of Hampden, a long term solution which truly tackles the real issues within the game is required.

Having a Supporter Liaison Officer (often abbreviated to the SLO) has been a licensing requirement for clubs applying for a UEFA license since 2012/13 and means clubs are obliged to appoint a member of staff to be the point of contact between a club and its supporters.

In recent years fan representatives across Europe have highlighted the need for improved communications between supporters, clubs, governing bodies and the police and proposed the implementation of SLOs after discussions between UEFA and our colleagues at Supporters Direct Europe.

Through the role, UEFA believe clubs get more out than what they put in and have cited benefits such as improved relationships with fans at club and national level, greater insight into supporter view points and financial benefits from increased attendances, merchandise sales and sponsorship deals as fans feel closer to the club.

So what does this have to do with crowd disorder? Crowd control is central to the SLO role, with much of the officers’ time taken up discussing security problems and building relationships with the various stakeholders forms a key part of the SLO’s job. The SLO will work closely with the club safety officer and talking not only to fans but also to the police and organisations responsible for crowd control. One way of doing this is at a pre-match security meeting, where potential problems associated with that particular game can be discussed.

The SLO can play an important role by communicating the mood among supporters to the police and stewards and identifying potential causes of grievance. Based on the experience in countries that have SLOs in place, one key benefit identified for clubs, national associations, leagues and supporters is that there is less violence and better conflict management. In fact, the development of the SLO role in Sweden has been cited by the Swedish Football League as one of the main factors behind a 20% reduction in crowd disorder, a claim that has also been backed by the Swedish police.

The SLO role first emerged in Germany in 1989, when Borussia Monchengladback took on a volunteer part-time to manage the often fractious relationship between the club and its fans. Other clubs adopted it, with the first full-time SLO appearing in 1996. Now all Bundseliga clubs have three.

Of course, it is in everyone’s interest for matches to pass off peacefully and for supporters to feel safe attending games. Providing fans with reliable information helps to achieve this. SLOs know their own fans, their own cities and their own special fan culture and so can exchange valuable information, such as how to get to the stadium, where fans can park, which pub away supporters can use safely, what fans are allowed to take inside the stadium and whether supporters have been involved in trouble recently. The SLO can help bring down barriers & misunderstandings between the fans and other stakeholders internal (club management and staff, players) and external (other clubs & staff, fans, police, etc)

As part of SD Scotland’s newly formed partnership with the Scottish FA, we’ve been working to develop the role further within Scottish football and bring its benefits to fruition. We’re confident that with the attention it deserves from stakeholders, means the role can help contribute to the betterment of the game for all. While it isn’t a magic bullet that can cure all of football’s ills, the SLO’s role can play a major part in helping develop a collective response to prevent them.

At our recent SLO Development Day, we heard from Brondby SLO Lasse Bauer. A club previously synonymous with crowd troubles and hooliganism, Lasse outlined the steps he and Brondby had taken to tackle the cost the issue was having upon the club. Through a structured relationship and constant engagement between the SLO and supporters, solutions to the issues which were causing unrest were developed and have resulted in a 40% reduction of incidents of disorder involving Brondby fans.

At SD Scotland we see the SLO position as one part of the solution. As well as building a bridge at operational level between supporters and the club, it’s critical that there is meaningful structured dialogue between supporters and the leaders of their clubs. This is something that has been recognised by the Football Authorities in Scotland and we were part of a Working Group set up by the Government to improve supporter involvement within the Scottish game – taking on the development of many of the final report’s recommendations in the process.

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