Original article appears on Pundit Arena.
Ahead of tomorrow’s FAI Cup Final, League of Ireland fans arrived to the home of Irish football to discuss the domestic game and the crucial work carried out by supporters in an effort to keep Irish clubs surviving and thriving.
Organiser Niamh O’Mahony was happy to see representatives from a number of clubs attend the event and discuss the potential that is currently in the League of Ireland.
“There are a lot of good things that go on in the league. We’re not perfect, we have a lot of work to do, there’s a lot more to be done but we can start to take small steps in the beginning and I think the most interesting thing about this workshop is that no matter who we asked for help, everyone said ‘yes’ because they really liked the idea of something that was going to be showing the league for the potential it has,” said O’Mahony.
FAI Competitions Director Fran Gavin opened proceedings by joking that it was “lovely to get a warm welcome from League of Ireland fans.” Gavin spoke highly of the domestic game. He said that the Irish game is attractive to sponsors and he hopes to make an announcement in the near future in regards to deals with the league and cup.
Gavin pointed out the need for the league to shift towards a family friendly environment. The result being that more kids will come to see their local side play rather than staying at home.
This was something that was also brought up by John Kennedy, vice chairman Cork City. He discussed the approach taken by the club and their family section at Turner’s Cross.
The club have a policy of “Positive Support” in the family section, which includes no smoking, no booing and showing appreciation for everyone on the pitch, be it players, the referee or even the entertainment at half time. He says this policy has worked well for the club and the feedback has been great and the family section has been increasing gradually.
Supporter Liaison Officers
One of the most intriguing sessions at the workshop was the discussion around the role of the Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) at a club. Arne Christian Eggen, an SLO for Norwegian club Rosenborg, discussed what is involved in the role and how it can have a positive effect on the relationship between a club and it’s supporters.
Eggen claimed that clubs need to be educated first about what an SLO is and what duties are undertaken by the person in that position. He claims his club have benefited from the improved relationship with its fans.
He also discussed the part the SLO plays in discussing security of matches with local police and again the positive effect that can have at a community level and also how it affects the atmosphere at a game.
Could the SLO position play a positive role in club/supporter relations in Ireland?
Niamh O’Mahony commented on the current situation with SLOs in Ireland; “Every club already has one [SLO] but what we found with this workshop was that the SLO role is not being talked about, people aren’t being educated about it and we have a lot of work to do in that area. The reason we had that session was because I think the role has a huge potential for football clubs.”
“I think supporters should be demanding an SLO and asking who their SLO is. I think the FAI are aware that they need to do more but it has to be from all three sides [FAI, the clubs and the supporters].”
Representatives from Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians discussed the initiatives at their respective clubs that are based purely on supporters volunteering.
MOST (Montpellier and O’Devaney Gardens Striving Together) is one of the projects that is supported by Bohemians, which aims to divert young people from a path that could lead to prison, by building relations with the Garda through shared activities. This includes bringing the young people to Mountjoy Prison to talk to prisoners about prison life.
The First Steps Programme was set up by Shamrock Rovers as a way to keep local talent at the club and to develop a relationship with them. There are 15 volunteers who take part in weekly training sessions for kids aged between 4-19 years old. The programme is supported by the club but runs based on the help of the volunteers.
O’Mahony was keen to stress the importance of supporters acting as volunteers at their local clubs; “The difficulty I think we have is we need people to help themselves and not to be focused on the bigger issues that you can’t do anything about but taking it step by step and going ‘look that is happening and it’s really good and we can do that ourselves and tweak it slightly and it can really work out and make a difference.’ Because nothing that was discussed here today was big on resources, needed €10,000 worth of investment, none of it did, it was all voluntary, it was all free, the costs are time and resources. And if people and clubs and supporter’s trusts and groups realise that actually their time and resources are a huge, huge resource to every League of Ireland club.”
Attracting new supporters is arguably one of the hardest things a League of Ireland club faces today. Some ideas were discussed including discounted tickets for local students, graffiti that displayed a positive message about the club and community and photo competitions. All had positive results that attracted more people from the local community to their respective clubs.
With great ideas being done by some clubs as a way to market to fans. Were other clubs ignoring basic marketing techniques in attracting the public to their club?
“It’s such a tough thing to just survive the last couple of years that I know there is a huge fear out there that if they do something different it’ll affect what they have now and that’s a very difficult thing to get over,” said O’Mahony
“However, what we see clubs doing is ad hoc and it’s not strategic. If you’re going to do something think about what you want from it and how you measure whether it succeeds or not and then you’ll start to have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t work. I think there is a fear of even trying to do things in the league at the moment and that is the biggest obstacle right now.”
With many fans coming from various parts of the country, the question remains whether the Irish Supporters Network plan to take this workshop on the road.
Commenting on any future plans for the workshop, Niamh O’Mahony said “We’d like to do it again and certainly moving it around the country is a good idea because this league now, particularly going into next season with Galway, Sligo, Derry, Finn Harps, it‘s a long road down [to Dublin] for them. So maybe it’s not a regional workshop but maybe the annual workshop moves around.”
For more details on the Irish Supporters Network and any details on forthcoming events, go to www.heartofthegame.ie