A Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) – a position that is becoming increasingly important in the matchday experience for fans up and down the country.
But how much is actually known of the role and who are these people? And who is Huddersfield Town's current SLO?
According to the Football Supporters Federation the role is that of “a club employee responsible for building bridges between the club and its fans. SLOs might communicate fans’ opinions to a club’s board or senior staff members, and should also liaise with stewards, police and counterparts at opposition clubs."
The first official reference to the position was made by Michel Platini in the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulation which stated ‘football clubs will be obliged to have an Supporters Liaison Officer in place for the start of the 2012/13 season to ensure a proper and constructive dialogue between the clubs and their fans’.
Below lifelong Town supporter Mike Davis catches up with the club's SLO Nathan Hosker as well as Borussia Monchengladbach’s Thomas 'Tower' Weinmann to find out more about the role.
1. Who or What is a SLO ?
Nathan Hosker (NH), Huddersfield Town’s Supporter Liaison Officer: A Supporter Liaison Officer can be an individual or a group of individuals who's role is to build bridges and constructive dialogue between clubs and their fanbase.
Thomas “Tower” Weinmann (TTW), Borussia Monchengladbach’s Fanbeauftragter: On the one hand I have to keep the interests of the BMG supporters and on the other hand I have to adhere to the interests of the club and the German Football Federation (DFB).
I do care about club and the league interests but, first I am the lawyer of the fans and a fan/supporter myself.
SLOs are the main communicator between all protagonists in and around the club and our job is to maintain contact with everyone to talk and share information.
2. When was the position of SLO introduced at your club ?
NH: The position of the SLO was introduced for the beginning of the 14/15 season.
TTW: The first SLO was at BMG more than 20 years ago.
3. Are you a supporter of your club, is this a benefit of being a SLO?
NH: I am a lifelong supporter, I believe having spent a number of years travelling to both home and away games it places myself in an ideal position to identify key issues within the fanbase, discuss them with the club and put forward solutions to the fanbase that benefit them.
TTW: The three SLOs at BMG all come from inside the fanbase. It is much easier for the fanbase to respect me personally because of my history as an active supporter.
4. How many SLO are there at your team ?
NH: There is only one SLO at the present time – it is a voluntary role and based around working matchdays and throughout the evenings during the week/weekends.
TTW: I am one of three SLOs (my SLO colleagues are Thomas ‘TJ’ Jaspers and Jan Ruoff) employed at BMG.
5. How long and why do you support your club ?
NH: I have supported the club since 1998. My first match was the 3-3 draw with Portsmouth when Marcus Stewart and Wayne Allison were on the scoresheet.
You never forget your first game but the other painstaking and beautiful moments were the Play-Off finals – especially the most recent one back in May!
TTW: My first match as an active supporter at the Bokelberg (BMG’s former stadium) was in 1980 and since then the club has only won the DFB Cup in 1995 and experienced two relegations.
6. Have you ever had any advice from the club?
NH: Myself and the club are in constant communication and at the right moments will provide me with advice on particular matters. The relationship between myself and the club allows me the freedom to complete my job with their backing.
TTW: My boss, the club’s chief executive always tells me:“What is good for the club is good for the fans”. My reply is always: “What is good for the fans is good for the club”.
7. How do you keep in touch with the fans?
NH: I keep in touch with the fans through a number of different channels - the All Together Town Voices Panel, through the Huddersfield Town Supporter Liaison Officer Facebook page, via twitter @htafcslo, or on email email@example.com.
Fans can also find me outside the ticket office on matchdays at the John Smith's Stadium with my SLO flag.
TTW: The SLOs stay in contact with the fans to provide them with everything they expect from the club. They also participate with many decision processes including fan-club administration.
8. How do you keep in touch with policy and security members?
NH: I keep in touch with the authorities by attending meetings, speaking with people directly on the phone/match days and via email.
TTW:The SLOs work together with the main police and club security members to sort out the troublemakers from the fanbase without being an agent of the police and security.
9. How do you keep in touch with the club?
NW: I keep in touch with the club via email, face to face meetings, telephone and social media.
TTW: At BMG, this is achieved with monthly reports to the club secretary and a yearly meeting with club board to inform them of any tendencies in and around the fans. This is very important that the club understand the fans.
10. Is the role of SLO the best job in football?
NW: My job is thoroughly enjoyable, it allows me to speak with fans and individuals who work in the same role as me.
I enjoy being able to help people and in return they get to have a better match day experience. Travelling to different clubs and being able to meet their SLO's allows me to gain insight as to what another club experiences and this can help build bonds between clubs through the sharing of ideas about supporter engagement.
The main negative aspect of the role I find is its awareness to the footballing community and its fanbase across the UK.
European clubs particularly in Germany, have well established networks of SLOs who travel on a global scale and are recognised for the contributions that are made to in helping their fanbases.
The UK has not had much exposure to this as the role is relatively new in comparison to some leagues in the world. I am hoping that over time a trust is built in the SLO role and it's taken forward with great pride.
TTW: Its a dream come true for every fan or supporter to be so near to your club and to the players.
But you should not forget that many people are jealous and envious of your “success” so you should be strong enough to take criticism.
On the one side the club wants something from you and on the other side the fans expect something from you as well.
11. How are the fans represented?
NH: The fans are able to contact me directly as and when they have a concern, I am then able to represent them by passing on the valid information to the relevant person / group of individuals at the club / external footballing bodies / authorities to ensure that a valid acceptable solution / outcome for the supporter is achieved.
TTW: At BMG we the three full time SLOs organize everything around the first liaison ‘pillar’ of 1,100 official Fan-clubs and 30,000 members.
The second ‘pillar’ is our organization of external liaison work by the FPMG. This not-for -profit project is based at the FanHaus.