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English football cannot afford to lose SLOs

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Every month here at the FSF we will be featuring a different Supporters’ Liaison Officer (SLO). Speaking to SLOs from across the Football League and Premier League, we hope to learn more about their work and experiences.

According to Crewe Alexandra SLO Dave Tomlinson, many fans and clubs are still “not getting” the SLO role and the potential it has to improve the fans’ experience. This week, Dave took the time to tell us more…

Having been appointed to the SLO role at Crewe Alexandra a season-and-a-half ago, Dave Tomlinson can point to many concrete improvements in how the club interacts with its supporters.

Despite numerous successes, such as redesigning the club’s banning and appeals procedure, Dave feels that clubs and fans alike aren’t utilising their SLOs enough. There is still some way to go, Dave insists, to ensure the role becomes as important to English football as it is in other European countries.

“The problem with the SLO role at the moment is that both clubs and fans just aren’t getting it.” Dave said.

“We can’t lose the SLO role. If fans are pushing for it and using their SLO fully it becomes harder for clubs to ignore the role.

“You see it at a lot of clubs – the SLO being appointed from within the club and the SLO being a defensive role.

“Supporters need to be listened and they need someone at the club who will put their views across.”

Many fans that Dave comes across at home and away games remain unaware of what an SLO is, he added, and what they can do for supporters.

Dave shares the SLO role at Crewe with Beverley Dyer, the club’s Customer Service manager. The club’s decision to have the role shared with a long-time supporter and an existing member of staff has been beneficial, Dave told us, leading to a more constructive and collaborative approach.

Dave attends home and away games, and is always there if supporters have a problem to report. Together with the SLOs, the club has created ticketing initiatives, targeted at under-11s and under-14s to encourage younger fans to come to matches.

“In my work I can I can pick up the phone and speak to the relevant people at the club, speak to Bev, speak to the Chairman, to help solve a problem,” he said.

“The SLO is in the middle, it’s not all about making sure supporters are heard.

“If supporters are asking more questions of the SLOs clubs will realise how much they need them, and give them a more prominent position than they have now.

“A good SLO represents both sides, making sure the club’s position is understood too. There have been times when the club have made a decision and I think ‘Yeah, I agree with that’.”

Dave – a Crewe Alexandra supporter since childhood – has years of experiences in fans’ matters, having been chairman of the supporters trust at Crewe, as well as being involved with FSF policy and campaigning. He has used his knowledge to improve the fans’ relationship with the club.

In one recent case, Dave was able to over-turn a heavy-handed stewarding decision – when stewards refused a 67-year-old man entry as he had drank alcohol. Dave liaised with police officers on site, who deemed the fan fit to enter the ground. 

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don’t necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Paul Wilkinson for the image in this blog, reproduced under here CC license.

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