Mariachi bands, stewarding and more: one SLO's first year in the job

Grimsby docks Photo Alan Burnett

It's been an eventful year or so for Grimsby Town both on and off the field as Kristine Green tells us about what's been going on during her opening 12 months as the club's first Supporter Liaison Officer...

If you’d have asked me 18 months to two years ago what a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) did or even meant and I’d not have a clue.

At that time my beloved Grimsby Town were in non-league and had been when it became compulsory for English Football League (EFL) and Premier League clubs to have one.

Fast forward to May 2016 when we’d finally achieved promotion at the fourth attempt and an SLO would have to be put in place.

I like to consider myself a helpful person, who wouldn’t? So I went about finding out more about this role that the club now had to have.

First port of call was checking out Doncaster Rovers’ superb supporter engagement as well as a look at what Crewe Alexandra were doing – where a current member of staff at the club shares the role with a volunteer supporter.

I liked what I read and with blind trepidation and no specific job role I put myself forward, being selected as part of a committee in July 2016.

FSF-led meetings, bringing together SLOs from across the country, were a real help in understanding what the role incorporated for others. It became apparent that this role just isn’t a one size fits all, tick box exercise or at least if you want it to be a role with value and purpose to club and fans then it shouldn’t be.

Since starting out as SLO a good proportion of my time has been spent in conflict management or getting important information to supporters. I could not have been better advised by the FSF’s caseworker, Amanda Jacks, who I’m sure felt was on my speed dial at times. It’s important to be informed on various law aspects and that’s something that has definitely built up ten fold!

It’s not all stress and strife though - I genuinely love the voluntary role that I have, the people that I’ve had the privilege to meet throughout the last year and the opportunities it’s opened up when hard work is put in.

The most bizarre memory from the 2016-17 season was ‘Operation Mariachi’.

We confirmed via the SLO twitter account @GTFC_SLO that inflatables were not permitted into Barnet’s Underhill Ground after an incident the last time we met there.

Before the fixture Grimsby Town fans were wondering what they could do to ‘stick two fingers up’ if you like to the authorities at Barnet FC. As I logged off for the night about 11pm town fan Trev Hewson put up a poll on twitter with some obscure options, one of them was a Mariachi band, I voted for that and went to bed.

Little did I know the next morning that a crowd funder (we’re good at those – see Operation Promotion) had been set up to organise just that with £300 of the £1000 target reached! What on earth do I do here I thought? If they were not enamoured with inflatables they won’t take too kindly to a three-piece band showing up!

So the frantic work began – Trev booked the band, the fans raised the cash – more than £1,000 in the end with the surplus going to our Disabled Supporters Club.

I frantically tried to sweet talk Barnet into letting this band in, even calling the council to see if there was an issue with them marching from the local pub, they thought I was mad! Even I thought I was mad but they said yes.

As it turned out Barnet and their safety officer were really co-operative with us, helping to make the day a special and memorable one. The band turned into a four-piece, 1,200 fans turned up for a ‘nothing’ game in sombreros and ponchos. Videos of the day racked up the views all over the internet with reports in Germany, Spain and even the U.S.

The 2017-18 season has already thrown up some major challenges for Grimsby Town fans – can’t have missed the controversy caused by our visit to Stevenage FC. We’ll continue to represent Mariners as best we can and be ready for anything else the season throws at us.

We’re already well on the way to more positive link up with Humberside Police, building contacts with other clubs and lots in the pipeline to engage with a wider base of fans. We also need to think about how we top the band of last season, I’m sure plenty of fans have ideas so it's quite possible!

On a personal note I’m looking forward to my the FSF’s National Council meeting this month, my first since being elected at the AGM in July. I also start my PR degree at Lincoln University which I am sure will be more than useful!