Football Supporters Europe (FSE) is an independent, democratic, and non-profit association of football fans recognised as a representative body on fan issues by institutions such as UEFA and the Council of Europe. We currently have members in over 50 UEFA nations.
FSE can trace its origins back to Football Supporters International (FSI), a coalition of national fans’ groups that provided fans’ embassy advice, information, and support to fans of national teams at international tournaments.
But the real story of FSE as it now exists began in July 2008, when the UK-based Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF)—now the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA)—hosted the first European Football Fans’ Congress (EFFC) at the Emirates Stadium in London.
Fans from across the continent attended the meeting, which covered a range of issues, from discrimination and policing to ticket pricing and the commercialisation of the game. By the end of the weekend, a loose network had taken shape, and an agreement was made to further expand cooperation between European fans’ groups.
This agreement quickly paid dividends. The second EFFC took place in Hamburg a year later, where the attendees decided to adopt statues and establish a formal organisation, which was registered in Germany and part funded by UEFA.
The founding members ensured that democracy was the bedrock on which the organisation was built.
Membership and voting rights were split between three principal categories: individual fans; local fans’ groups; and national fans’ organisations.
The Biennial General Meeting, meanwhile, was established as the highest body of the organisation. As its name suggests, the BGM takes place every two years, usually coinciding with the EFFC. It provides members with an opportunity to vote on and influence FSE’s aims, objectives, and policies, as well as to approve changes to the constitution and elect members to the Board.
The Board is responsible for running FSE, making the most important decisions, developing activities together with the wider membership, and representing the organisation at events and meetings. Its members are assisted by ‘on-topic divisions’ (i.e., Fans’ Embassies and Anti-Discrimination). These divisions were created as semi-autonomous networks to provide and deliver specific expertise and services. Each on-topic division appoints a director who represents their division on the Board.
The FSE Office, which is located in Hamburg, is responsible for day-to-day operations (i.e., accountancy, legal issues, internal and external communication etc.).
European Football Fans Congress (2008-Present)
The EFFC has been an important forum for FSE members since 2008. Its purpose is to identify and address fans’ most pressing concerns through workshops, panel sessions, and discussions with representatives from European governing bodies and political institutions.
The event was initially organised on an annual basis, with each one taking place in a different city and organised in collaboration with FSE members local to the area. As mentioned, EFFC 2008 and 2009 took place in London and Hamburg, respectively. Barcelona played host in 2010, Copenhagen in 2011, Istanbul in 2012, Amsterdam in 2013, and Bologna in 2014.
EFFC 2015 convened in Belfast, where FSE members opted to switch to a biennial format. Since then, EFFC’s have taken place in Ghent and Lokeren (2017) and Lisbon (2019), while smaller, pared down Summer Network Meetings were held in Izmir (2016), Gijón (2018), and Aarhus (2020).
Institutional Lobbying (2009-Present)
From the very beginning, FSE has engaged with various institutions to ensure that fans’ interests are represented in decisions that impact them.
Since 2009, for instance, FSE has occupied an Observer Seat on the Council of Europe’s Standing Committee of the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events (T-RV) and Committee of the Saint-Denis Convention (T-S4). In 2012, the European Commission invited FSE to join the EU Expert Group on Good Governance as an observer.
Other bodies have also consulted FSE, seeking support or expert input, mainly on matters related to safety and security (i.e., EU Football Experts Think Tank).
In recent years, FSE has intensified its lobbying of UEFA, including on ticketing, safety and security, hosting conditions for away fans, collective sanctions, and public health protocols. This has led to a number of successful outcomes—most notably in September 2019, when the governing body introduced a price cap on away tickets in the Champions League and Europa League.
FSE has also taken a proactive stance on human rights. Indeed, since 2015, FSE has been a member of the Sport and Rights Alliance (SRA), a global coalition of NGOs and trade unions working together to embed human rights and anti-corruption across world sport.
Fans’ Embassies (2009-Present)
The fans’ embassy concept can be traced back to services organised for fans of England and Germany at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. This gradually evolved into the more structured, formal, and comprehensive model national team fans are accustomed to today.
The main aim of fans’ embassies is to provide information, support, and access to dialogue mechanisms for travelling fans at international tournaments and fixtures. They also serve an important social function, promoting cross-cultural understanding and (hopefully) de-escalating any tensions that might arise within or between different groups of fans. They also furnish help and assistance in case of emergency (physical violence, theft, etc.).
The idea for fans’ embassies came out of two national initiatives developed independently of one another in England and Germany in the early 1990s.
- The English model – by fans, for fans
On the English side, the fans’ embassy service began as a lobbying and self-empowerment initiative set up by the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), a membership-based campaigning body comprised of ordinary football fans. The English Fans’ Embassy service, known as Free Lions, has a reputation among England’s travelling fans as consistent, reliable, and relatable. The FSA runs fans’ embassies at every England game and publishes a Free Lions fanzine. More recently, the FSA has established a fans’ embassy for fans of the England women’s team, known as Free Lionesses.
- The German model – professional fan workers
Similarly, the service operated by German “fan workers” is delivered by individuals known to and trusted by the fans’ groups. However, the German Fans’ Embassy is managed by trained social workers engaged at various club-based fan projects (or fanprojekte), primarily involved in work among local fans’ groups. Since the 1990 World Cup, professional fan workers have also travelled with German national team fans and fans’ groups. The German Fans’ Embassy is run by KOS, the coordinating office of more than 40 club-based German fan projects.
It is significant and interesting to note that despite very different starting points, the parallel development of fans’ embassy services resulted in remarkably similar working practices. This commonality of experiences and conclusions about methodology shared by the two longest standing and most successful practitioners in the field allows us to speak with some authority about a tried and tested best practice model.
To push the further development of the fans’ embassies and to improve and establish the work on a common network basis across Europe, practitioners and organisations in the field founded the FSI network in 2001. FSI was initially set up by the FSF (now the FSA) and Germany’s KOS, along with organisations from Italy and the Netherlands. FSI was later officially funded to set up fans’ embassies at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal.
At the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, an even larger number of FSI Fans’ Embassy teams travelled to assist fans’ side by side with the newly introduced stationary fans’ embassies. UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland provided the network with the opportunity to further develop its work, increasing the number of mobile teams and officially running the programme with the necessary funding from UEFA. FSI members helped to continuously professionalise the approach and concepts and established new fans’ embassies all around Europe.
Ahead of UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, after many months of hard work and campaigning it was confirmed that the fans’ embassies concept would become part of UEFA’s four targeted social projects. The newly established FSE received the financial assistance required to deliver the Fans’ Embassies project under the RESPECT Fan Culture banner. This proved to be a pivotal moment for the movement. There were 12 mobile fans’ embassies in operation and 8 stationary fans’ embassies from the competing nations.
FSE fans’ embassies from England, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium were active at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
At UEFA EURO 2016 in France, fans’ embassies from 19 participating nations were in operation to help travelling fans. Once again under the banner of RESPECT Fan Culture, fans’ embassies provided help and information on match days for supporters following their teams and reported a high demand from fans throughout the tournament. In total, there were more than 180 volunteers and staﬀ members running fans’ embassies information points around every match at the tournament.
In 2018, at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, FSE coordinated and facilitated a whole range of fans’ activities, with the support of the Russian Football Union, Rosturism, and the host cities. In the first week of the tournament, FSE member associations and partners organised fans’ embassies, fan walks, and friendly matches between fans in every host city. Fans and fans’ organisations from 20 participating nations were involved in the project.
UEFA EURO 2020 proved to be a watermark moment in the fans’ embassies story. The transnational nature of the tournament, together with the coronavirus pandemic, posed significant organisational challenges, largely related to travel and ever-changing public health restrictions. But close cooperation between fans’ embassies and tournament organisers ensured that many of these difficulties were overcome. In the end, 20 out of the 24 active fans’ embassies were able to operate a service of some kind, including new ones from the Czech Republic, Finland, Portugal, and Spain.
Stadium Action Days (2010-2011)
In 2010 and 2011, FSE initiated two European stadium action days on topics that were considered relevant to fans across the continent. Both were formally endorsed by fans’ groups and initiatives from more than 10 countries.
The first was organised under the slogan “Our Game – Our Time” and involved tifo displays opposing anti-social kick-off times. The second adopted the motto “Save Fan Culture” and mainly addressed the issue of safety and security measures, which were believed to be too restrictive in many nations.
“Our Game – Our Time” proved to be highly effective in Sweden, where the football association offered to consult fans on the arrangement of the fixture schedule.
Fan Lawyer Network (2012-Present)
In the aftermath of the 2011 EFFC in Copenhagen, FSE started to identify those lawyers in Europe who were experienced in dealing with their respective national legislation and interested in defending fans’ rights. FSE aimed to bring them together to improve networking and the exchange of legal expertise.
During the 2012 EFFC in Instanbul, the first official meeting of the European Fan Lawyer Network took place at the Fenerbahces Şükrü-Saracoğlu Stadium. The network has grown significantly since then and published a ‘Know Your Rights’ document for fans.
Fans’ Action Fund (2013)
Introduced in 2013, the Fans’ Action Fund was a mechanism to finance fan-led initiatives and projects through profits generated by FSE’s online shop.
Handbook on Supporters Charters (2013)
In the same year, FSE successfully lobbied for the creation of a handbook on supporters’ charters at the European level. Supporters’ charters are a joint agreement between clubs/FAs and fans that outline each side’s rights and obligations in a mediation process.
The resulting document was a practical tool kit aimed at clubs and fans. It was produced in consultation with UEFA, European Professional Football Leagues (now European Leagues), national associations and leagues, players union FIFPro, fans’ representatives from FSE’s membership, and political institutions such as the European Commission and Council of Europe.
According to the chair of the latter’s Standing Committee on Spectator Violence, Jo Vanhecke, the “process to produce this handbook was in itself a breakthrough. All relevant stakeholders have had an input and discussed the content in an open dialogue, based on principles of mutual respect and equal status.”
Endorsed by UEFA, Supporters Charters in Europe was launched in five languages on 3rd June 2013 as part of the ‘ProSupporters Seminar and Round Table’.
FSE Fanzine – Revive the Roar! (2013-2016)
Between 2012 and 2016, FSE produced its own fanzine. Revive the Roar!, which encompassed six 12-page issues, was styled as a ‘how to’ guide for fans and fans’ groups, providing advice on everything from the law in different countries to handling the media.
Fan.Tastic Females Exhibition and F+ (2017-Present)
Fan.Tastic Females was launched in 2017 with a simple goal: to relate the history and experiences of female fans through interviews and an interactive exhibition.
This exhibition has been on tour since 2018, visiting clubs and venues across Europe, from Hamburg to Lisbon. During the coronavirus pandemic, a digital version was made available online.
In 2020, the project’s success led to the creation of the F+ Collective—an informal network that aims to sustainably mobilise female fans from within FSE’s membership and beyond.
OUT! – Fighting Homophobia and Empowering LGBT+ Stakeholders in Football (2018-2021)
Co-funded by UEFA and the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union, OUT! brought together individuals and organisations from across the continent to work on the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the empowerment of LGBT+ stakeholders in football.
FSE acted as the project coordinator alongside three main partners (Pride in Football, Fuβballfans gegen Homophobie, and the Royal Belgian Football Association) and four advisory board members. OUT! involved three transnational network meetings in London, Dortmund, and a virtual version of Brussels.
The project’s key findings, observations, and recommendations were published as a handbook in December 2020. 85 pages in length, it includes articles on the role of clubs, players, national associations, leagues, and fans, as well as interviews with and biographies of notable LGBT+ people involved in the game. In addition, UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin, VfB Stuttgart CEO Thomas Hitzlsperger, FIFPro, the Sport and Rights Alliance, MEPs Terry Reintke and Marc Angel, and LGBT+ fans and allies from across the continent have all made valuable contributions.
Cooperation with the Independent Supporters Council (2018-Present)
In 2018, Spanish fans’ organisation Federacion de Accionistas y Socios del Futbol Español (FASFE), FSE, and the North American based Independent Supporters Council (ISC) joined forces to oppose La Liga’s plan to host competitive matches in Miami.
The proposal ultimately failed, but it did have one positive outcome: strengthening the ties between European and North American football fans. FSE and the ISC have committed to ensuring they remain strong, working together on several initiatives, including opposition to FIFA’s biennial World Cup concept.
Fans vs Covid-19 (2020-2021)
A month after the coronavirus pandemic brought Europe to a standstill, FSE and SD Europe teamed up to launch ‘Fans vs Covid-19’.
The initiative was based around an online map that highlighted the good work done by fans, fans’ groups, and member-run clubs during the outbreak, from fundraising and solidarity banners to support for vulnerable groups and the health service. The map also acted as a platform for fans to share experiences, ideas, and good practice.
The Future of European Club Competitions (2020-Present)
In late 2020, it became evident that the European Club Association (ECA) was pushing for a dramatic overhaul of UEFA club competitions to benefit already wealthy clubs. A few months later, UEFA announced plans to do just that, with 4 more teams set to be added to the Champions League from 2024-25 onwards.
FSE consistently opposed these plans, and in March 2021, published a position paper entitled The Future of UEFA Club Competitions: An FSE Perspective. The paper made three main arguments:
- Existing proposals to reform UEFA club competitions are perilous for leagues, clubs, players, and supporters.
- The European model of sport provides a sustainable blueprint for the future of domestic leagues and UEFA club competitions.
- Alternatives to existing proposals should therefore seek to protect and strengthen this model, with a particular emphasis on maintaining sporting merit in European competitions, protecting domestic football, defending supporters’ interests, and fairer revenue distribution.
Super League and #ReclaimTheGame (2021-Present)
The timing, though not necessarily the nature, of the April 2021 “super league” crisis took the world of football by surprise. But it also demonstrated the overwhelming effectiveness of collective action and solidarity among fans.
FSE played a crucial role in the breakaway league’s swift demise, liaising with and bringing together fan’s groups from the three affected nations and lobbying football’s governing bodies and European institutions.
In response to the super league, FSE also launched #ReclaimTheGame in May 2021. The pan-European campaign includes 11 demands, covering important subjects such as ticket prices, safe standing, UEFA revenue distribution, and fan involvement in discussions on the future of football.