Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs) are a relatively new feature on the British footballing landscape, but some clubs have been operating with an SLO in place for years. One such long-standing SLO is Bristol City's David Lloyd, who has written about his role and what he has learned in his 6 years in the post.
"In 2007, as a long-standing Bristol City fan, I was aware of a widening gap between the board of the club and its fanbase. In the light of the rapid escalation in players wages, the board were being forced to adopt an increasingly commercial approach to the running of the club, which led to some supporters feeling disenfranchised and marginalised. I fully understood the reasons behind the board’s approach, but as a supporter myself, I also had first-hand experience of the increased cost of following my team.
"This was by no means unique to Bristol City. It was – and remains – a major issue at most clubs.
"I felt strongly that City would benefit from appointing someone who could help bridge and ultimately reduce that gap. I emailed the idea to our Chairman of the time, Steve Lansdown, and included a job description outlining this person’s duties and responsibilities, and a personal specification of the sort of person who would fit the bill. I also applied for the job. Fortunately Steve agreed with me and I started two months later at the beginning of our first season back in the Championship.
"That season we got to the Play Off final and were just one goal away from the Premier League, so I had a fairly gentle baptism. After six years in the role I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between supporter happiness and success on the pitch. When the team are playing well, there is a noticeable decrease in complaints and issues from fans. When we are going through a slump in form – such as the one that led to our relegation last season – then the pies suddenly become tasteless, the tickets too expensive and the beer undrinkable.
"Another thing I’ve learned as Supporter Liaison is that you can often find yourself between a rock and a hard place. In order to do my job properly I’ve had to make sure that I am seen to be properly representing fans at all times, even if this means making myself unpopular with the people that pay my wages – the converse can also be true. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean that I can give fans what they want. The important thing is to be fair and honest at all times, and to explain the thinking behind any decision. I’ve learned that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and it’s a mistake to think you can. I just try and focus on doing the right thing, and being as open and transparent as possible about how decisions which affect fans are made.
"You also need to be on duty pretty much 24/7. I’m active on twitter and the fans forums and on email. I make a point of visiting bars and concourses before games when I can. I’m also the club’s matchday announcer, which gives me a public profile. As a result, most fans know who I am and know that I am the go-to person if they have a problem. Last year we set up our Fans Parliament, which I chair, drawn from representative supporters groups. This meets four times a year and acts as a conduit to feed in fans concerns on a variety of issues. We are also in the process of setting up regional supporters associations to give some our exiled fans a voice too. I’m always looking to find new ways of getting fans involved and feeling that they are part of the club.
"The job’s not without its stresses but it’s certainly never dull. I’m privileged to work at the heart of the club I support, and also to know that as a result of my input, fans now have a real voice at Bristol City – a voice which wasn’t always heard in the past."
Thanks to Flickr user GloomyCorp for the image used in this blog, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.
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