Anyone wishing to know more about the history of the supporter liaison officer role has to look at Germany. SLOs were first introduced in Germany in 1992 as part of the National Concept for Sport and Security (NKSS). Like many other European countries, Germany had suffered from problems of hooliganism and violence throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The German Football Association (DFB), the German Sports Confederation (DSB) and politicians from the ministries of the interior and sport at both regional and federal level therefore decided to agree on a joint course of action aimed at tackling the problem.
This led to the development of the NKSS, which comprises the components of fan liaison and support (fan projects and SLOs), stadium safety and security, stadium regulations and the coordination of all the stakeholders involved.
The work proved so successful that the supporter liaison officer role was eventually included in the licensing requirements set by the German Football League (DFL).
As outlined above, one important aspect of the role in Germany, in addition to good governance, is prevention. To learn more about the interaction between SLOs and club safety and security officers, we spoke to Volker Fürderer, the security officer at FC Schalke 04.
Article 35 of the 2010 UEFA Club licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations calls for close cooperation between supporter liaison and security officers. What are the advantages of such a cooperation for you as the security officer at Schalke?
First, through the supporter liaison officers I have a direct line of communication to the fans. Through them I can familiarise myself with the structures within the fan base. Second, my work with the SLOs gives me an opportunity to promote mutual understanding between the various parties involved, such as ultras and hooligans on the one side, for example, and the police on the other. Third, it allows me to identify trends within the fan base and get a feel for the mood among the supporters.
What form does this cooperation take in practice?
I work very closely with the SLOs when it comes to stadium bans, for example. At Schalke we developed and introduced a hearing system where supporters accused of committing a misdemeanour are given a chance to give their side of the story. After that we discuss the facts of the case and then decide whether a stadium ban is appropriate and should be imposed or not.
We also work together on a day-to-day basis in the run-up to games. For home matches I have a direct line of communication to the away club through the SLOs. Any choreo requests by away fans are channelled through them to me, for example. We also liaise with regard to the number of away supporters to be expected, their preferred method of travel and their breakdown into ordinary fans and potential troublemakers. All this information then flows into the pre-match security meeting. Before away matches, both at home in Europe, I work very closely with the SLO team to ensure things run as smoothly as possible, for example getting to and from the stadium, and I also liaise with the local police.
It is also a great help to be able to communicate security and safety-related
information to fans via the SLOs. The SLOs can explain to fans why it is necessary to keep aisles and staircases clear, for example, and why we have had to put nets up behind the goal. We don’t do these things simply because we want to mess fans about. We do them for safety reasons and the SLOs can explain the rationale behind these measures better than a security officer can.
Finally, we hold regular meetings together to exchange information and improve our understanding of our respective roles. Our national meetings, for example, are held separately but at the same venue, with one joint session together to discuss issues of relevance to our work.
Do you think it makes sense to separate the role of supporter liaison officer from that of the security officer?
Yes, most definitely, because of the conflict of interests inherent in our different jobs. The issue of pyrotechnics illustrates this very well. SLOs would lose their credibility in the fan base very quickly if they were seen as merely an extended arm of the security officer. Fans want to be able to use flares and smoke bombs etc. to create a better atmosphere. As the law stands, however, they cannot. The SLOs can explain to fans why they are not able to use these things but it is my job to ensure they do not. On other issues, too, I have to play a completely different role from the SLOs. I personally see myself as a link between the fans and the police and between the club and the fire brigade or the stewards. But there are certain basic rules I have to abide by.
The relationship between the ultras and the police is a very difficult one and sometimes non-existent, but one of my tasks is to try and bring the two sides together and the SLOs help me to do this.