Over the next month or so, we will be publishing a series of interviews with representatives from national and continental supporters’ organisations – discussing their role within football, the issues they face, and their plans for the future, as well as how fans can get involved.

This week, Box To Box contributor James Chisem spoke to Football Supporters Europe (FSE) CEO Ronan Evain.

Can you tell us a bit about FSE?

Ronan Evain: FSE can trace its roots back to Football Supporters International, a collaboration by national fans’ organisations to provide information and support services to fans of national teams at international tournaments.

But the real story of FSE as it now exists—as a democratic, membership-based organisation—began in July 2008, when the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) hosted the first European Football Fans’ Congress (EFFC) in London.

This meeting, which was held at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, focussed on issues which affected fans from across the continent and gave impetus to the development of a cross-national network.

The following year, in Hamburg, the second fans’ congress was held, with workshops and strategy meetings on issues such as discrimination, policing, ticket pricing and commercialisation. During this congress, the decision was taken to adopt statutes and establish a formal network.

Membership was made open to fans as individuals, as well as to fans’ groups organised at local—i.e. supporters’ trusts—or national levels—i.e. FSF—and democratic elections were held to appoint a committee. The first Europe-wide campaigning activities were launched, and in a significant milestone, FSE was recognised by UEFA as their European dialogue partner on fans’ issues. Ever since, UEFA has supported our association by funding its core activities and assisting with the organisation of the biennial EFFC.

The FSE committee is composed of members elected at each EFFC, all of whom serve two-year terms, plus representation from the Hamburg-based coordination office and the FSE “on-topic divisions”, the semi-autonomous departments charged with the development of specific areas of work. These departments are the Anti-Discrimination Division and the Fans’ Embassy Division, the latter of which provides support for fans of national teams.

What issues and campaigns do FSE focus on?

RE: Over the years, FSE has run many campaigns and projects, focussing predominately on three briefs: defending the fundamental rights of all football fans, promoting a positive fan culture, and ensuring that the views of football fans are taken into consideration by other football stakeholders.

Is there a common theme when you talk to supporters from different countries? 

RE: We are focusing on two different topics for the 2017-2019 cycle: away fans’ rights and safe standing. Both issues are crucial for fans from clubs and national teams across the 55 UEFA member associations.

Everywhere you go, away fans are the most vulnerable group of supporters. Whether you travel for a domestic or an international game, away fans rarely have a proper interlocutor or a channel to make sure their rights are respected. Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs) have, of course, drastically improved the situation, but there is still a lot to do in terms of the provision of infrastructure and information.

That’s why we launched our Away Fans at European Competitions Survey, in order to get a better understanding of the many challenges that football supporters face when travelling abroad to follow their team in the Champions League (UCL) and Europa League (UEL).

Ultimately, the objective is to persuade UEFA to implement minimum standards for away ends in these competitions.

As for safe standing, or standing in general, fans are at the sharp end of the all-seater requirement for UCL and UEL fixtures.

In countries with safe standing sections, this means conversion into a seating section, and potentially a rise in ticket prices to compensate for the resulting lower attendances. In countries with old-style terraces, where clubs or local authorities do not have the financial means to match modern security standards, full standing sections have to be closed as they cannot be converted. In both cases, fans are the ones who suffer.

For that reason, there is currently a great deal of support for safe standing. It was recently introduced at clubs such as Celtic FC and Ajax Amsterdam, and fans are campaigning for it in countries such as England and France, where it is currently forbidden.

So, we believe that cooperation between fans from different European countries can play a decisive role in the safe standing debate, by allowing for an exchange of information, the development of good practice, and hopefully joint campaigning.

What would you say is FSE’s biggest achievement over the past decade or so?

RE: We will be celebrating our 10th anniversary next year, so I would say that the creation of a representative, democratic and transparent network of European football fans recognised by all major football and institutional stakeholders on the European level—UEFA, Council of Europe, European Union, etc.—is a pretty big achievement!

How can people get involved with the FSE?

RE: They can start by joining our organisation, which can be done online at www.fanseurope.org. Membership is open to all fans so long as they commit to our core principles of anti-discrimination, rejection of violence, empowerment of fans, promotion of fair play and good governance.

We welcome all people to get involved, join one of our working groups, help us with communication or research, support the organisation of the EFFC, and so on.

It’s all about how much people are able to contribute to the life of the organisation and the topics they want to focus on. We can only encourage people to get in touch with us via email (info@fanseurope.org) or our social media channels (@FansEurope) and let us know how they can help.