Supporter Liaison Officer – What’s that then?

Trust Board members Phil Harding and Tim Hartley joined other Premier League supporters groups at the first meeting of the newly created Supporter Liaison Officers (SLO) held at the Cardiff City Stadium. Here they explain what the new role means for us as fans and how clubs and supporters are working together to improve the away fan experience. 

The new supporter liaison officer is being brought in by UEFA to ensure better communication between clubs and fans. The SLO will provide a focal point for supporters to ensure their voice is heard in decision making at the club. UEFA President, Michel Platini, says, “Better organised supporters can be nothing but positive in terms of projecting the positive side of supporter behaviour as a counterpoint to the widely reported negative elements.”

Cardiff’s SLO is Tom Gorringe who is also the club’s sales and marketing officer. He says it’s important to have a club employee in the role so that the fans voice is heard ‘at the top table’. Tom told his fellow SLO’s about how Cardiff have been named ‘family club of the year’ more than once. He also unveiled a new online ‘Away Fan Guide’ which offers those travelling to Cardiff information on ticketing, travel and all the city’s attractions.

The meeting concentrated on away fan issues. There was concern at the way all fans are treated when they travel, subjected to searches, turned away from pubs and generally made to feel unwelcome. The Premier League knows that the pre match experience is an important part of an away trip and we are all pushing to make it as hassle free as possible. The league now has an Away Fan App which it is still developing.

One of the roles of the SLO is to seek fans’ views. Tom has stolen a march on all the Premier League clubs and has created a Twitter account where we can contact him – @thgorringe. Tom also said that the City are introducing an Away Fan twitter account so that those visiting Cardiff will have an constantly updated stream of information from booking tickets to live travel updates and guides to the ground. All 15 clubs represented at the meeting said they too would like to offer such an account.

Malcolm Clarke from the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) said away fans always seem to be put in the worst seats. I remember the vertigo I felt as we climbed to the top and back of the stand a Newcastle a couple of years ago. A dreadful experience! We voted unanimously for the Premier League to tell clubs to offer decent seats to all away fans.

As a Trust we have heard complaints many times about the price of some away tickets. From this season, Stoke will provide free away travel to their fans in an attempt to get more of them travelling. Phil raised the issue of pricing directly and suggested we all support the FSF’s ‘Twenty’s Plenty’  campaign to cap away tickets at £20. The income made from away tickets is small compared to TV rights so it wouldn’t really hurt the clubs. There was a vote on categorisation of games and it was agreed that clubs should have set prices for different seats whatever team you are playing.

Other matters discussed included smoke bombs and flares. Research shows that 83% of fans believe they are unsafe, rising to 87% of those attending matches. Five clubs now support a Safe Standing pilot and it is surely now a matter of time before the government offers clubs a chance to consider introducing safe standing terraces. We also discussed free transport to grounds on match days and playing DVDs of vintage matches in the away end before kick-off. I voted for the Leeds FA Cup game to be played in our end at Old Trafford this season.

It was good to meet other Trusts, Supporters’ clubs and, of course, the Premiership’s new SLOs. The role could be very important in ensuring fans views are heard and acted on. But the job must be taken seriously. It was disappointing to hear one SLO, say, “The role was thrown at me in the last few weeks on top of my day job and is not even a designated role.”

Our own Tom Gorringe made a great impression on the rest of the Premiership and has obviously hit the ground running. We are looking forward to working with him over the coming weeks as he draws up a plan to embed a culture of proper dialogue between the fans and the club at Cardiff.

Tim Hartley, Trust chair