The latest edition of Football Supporters Europe’s SLO Spotlight interview series features FC Utrecht SLO Toby Rijk. 

The goal of this feature is to enhance the recognition and awareness of SLOs. We want to provide a platform for SLOs to gain knowledge from their peers by learning about their experiences and for supporters to deepen their understanding of the role too. 

Toby has been in the SLO role for four and a half years now and was approached to take on the role because of his background as an active supporter of FC Utrecht. Since becoming the club’s SLO, Toby has experienced positive developments in the standing of SLOs in Dutch football with clubs in the top two tiers now mandated to have SLOs from the beginning of the 2025/26 season.  

How long have you been your club’s SLO, and what made you decide to want to do the role for your club? 

“I started as SLO in November 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic began. To be honest, I wasn’t immediately convinced. I was not sure if I should do it. I was afraid of losing my place at the stands. I was involved in the founding of the Utrecht Ultras’19, and around the same time I was asked to take on the position of SLO. That was my first challenge which you have often as SLO, I found myself in a split. 

After several conversations with my current Manager of the Supporters Department (Robert Junier), the final conversation was in one of the supporters’ pubs (Café De Vuurtoren) where I decided to take the step. FC Utrecht is my life and to make your hobby into your job is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am happy that I have taken the opportunity and that the club and supporters are offering me the opportunity. 

If, as a supporter of the club, you can make the stadium your workplace, that is very special. Why? Because I feel safe and I found my own identity here. I tell this often, if not daily, to my colleagues to keep them aware that the stadium is a very special place, because here special things happen, like legendary games. For example, FC Utrecht versus Celtic where we won 4-0. We also have a supporters home in the stands, which is very rare in the Netherlands! It’s a social community space for supporters to connect with each other and you can see the ‘Domtoren’ (the cathedral tower in the city). The social community feeling can make the difference for the club and each other. Being here feels like home. 

A little side-step, my first ever game was FC Utrecht versus SC Cambuur Leeuwarden on April 2, 2000. We lost 1-2, and since then I’ve lost my heart to FC Utrecht.” 

What are you most proud of achieving since becoming your club’s SLO? 

“There are many moments that I am proud since I started in November 2019. It is difficult to choose just one moment. Here are some moments I want to share with you in no particular order. 

In the 2022/2023 season, I was on the cover of the supporters’ magazine, made by supporters association (SVFCU), named: “Forza”. Proud, because I see it as recognition for the work and the person that I am. 

Secondly, also at the beginning of the 2022/2023 season, right after the Covid-19 period, there was a big disconnect between the club and some of the supporters. There was dissatisfaction from some supporters about the strict security policy and they protested by taking action in the stands. We facilitated different conversations to engage with each other and understand each other’s situation. It resulted in mutual understanding and trust in each other. I think this is the basics of our work and it demonstrates the significance of an SLO. 

Next, the unconditional support from our supporters this season. We were in last place for a number of weeks but we saw perspective and kept faith in each other. Partly due to conversations between the club and supporters, we stayed together and the supporters continued to support the club unconditionally. The result is almost always a sold out Bunnikside (a stand in Stadion Galgenwaard) in home matches and almost every awayday is sold out. We’re still in the race for European football. This is why you’re doing this job. 

The solidarity and warmth that grows when someone is ill or dies. Unfortunately, we have had to say goodbye to a number of supporters in recent years, but I am proud of how we (club & supporters) have dealt with these difficult situations. We stick together and we take care of each other.  

When the family want it, we organise a small memoriam around one of the matches. They get tickets for a match, are allowed to enter before the stadium opens for a moment and we keep in contact. If it’s allowed, we will organise that a delegation from the club goes to the funeral. For example, last week we went to England to pay our final respects to an English FC Utrecht supporter, the founder of British Utrecht. 

Finally, I am also proud that FC Utrecht takes the SLO role and the role of the supporters seriously. We are a club of connection and collaboration. We show that because next to me we’ve got a Supporters Department Manager, another SLO (two in total), and three ‘Fan Coaches’ who are specialised in taking care of people who need help with a social issue, and a volunteer who takes care of welcoming the away fans. Highly involved and passionate supporters are in the top of the club and ensure a healthy relationship between them and the club.” 

How well are you known among the staff at FC Utrecht and among the fans to the club?  

“I am convinced that I am strongly positioned in the club and in the supporters. At the club we work at three different locations (stadium, for the office employers, and two training grounds) and I try to be visible at all three locations once a week. In this way I try to stay in touch with all departments of the club. 

For the supporters, the vast majority of supporters don’t know the role of SLO. The vast majority of our audience that is involved in the club in one way or another do not have to be in direct contact with the club. They buy their season tickets and visit the matches. Almost all of the highly involved supporters who regularly come up with ideas, initiatives or actions for a better atmosphere know me. These are the supporters who want to be directly in contact with the club and for them I organise conversations with the club.  

Besides that, when something negative occurs (like last time at the away game at Ajax, where our fans didn’t have a good game experience), I will seek contact will all of the supporters who attended the game. Because I am easily approachable and am present at all matches, most highly involved supporters know me.” 

If you were giving advice to other SLOs, what do you think is the key to success in the role? 

“Make sure you are available to every supporter at any time of the day. The contact must be accessible and informal. Listen to them and take the feedback. Be the filter you need to be, translate, and provide feedback. Make sure your communication is clear, keep your agreements and be honest, even when it’s bad news.” 

What advice would you give to those new to the SLO role? 

“Be honest, open and transparent in your communication. The SLO role can be a lonely job sometimes. That’s why it is important to contact your fellow SLOs and build a good network. Because you can help them, but when you need help, you can also reach out to them. Don’t lose the supporter you are but try to think professionally and rationally. Always work with passion and fire in your heart. Be proud and talk about that! Because you are an ambassador of your club.” 

If you could give one simple message to all supporters of your club about the SLO role, what would it be? 

“Find us and don’t hesitate to contact us. We are the first point of contact into the club for the supporters. It is important to know that we are a facilitating and we’re not the people who make the decisions. We ensure that there is a dialogue and that the right people with the right specialisation are at the table together.” 

You took part in the first instalment of the UEFA Academy training for the Dutch SLOs. What were your thoughts on that? 

“It was very valuable and inspiring. The fact that I was able to spend two days with the other SLOs from the Netherlands allowed me to gain of a lot of extra knowledge. I am happy that the training is offered to the Netherlands SLOs and see this as an important professionalisation step for the SLO role in the Netherlands. There’s currently room for one SLO per club to participate in the training, so I recommend every club to participate and take the opportunity. For me, it was valuable because I am one of the youngest SLOs in The Netherlands. The other SLOs have more experience, and there were a number of assignments that you had to do together. So, there was a lot of good discussions.” 

How well do you know your counterparts in the other Dutch clubs? Is there a working relationship between all the Dutch SLOs?  

“I experience the relationship between the SLOs as professional. I experienced that between matches of our clubs and the first two days of the SLO training. As an SLO you are also there for the away fans, and you must be professional to put the rivalry aside. The club is always the most important thing. 

In addition, we have a group chat where there is often a lot of contact, and if someone asks for help, the SLOs are always willing to help or refer them to the right people.” 

What would you say is the biggest challenge for Dutch SLOs the coming seasons? 

“The positioning and acceptance of SLOs as partners to be worked with. A good foundation has been laid in recent years with some serious steps taken towards the professionalisation of the SLO role. 

For example, as an Eredivisie club and First Division club you are obliged to have an SLO from the 2025/2026 season who works for 32 hours a week, and an SLO working 24 hours a week in the First Division. In addition, there is an SLO group that is in contact with, among others, the KNVB and the Supportersollectief Nederland (the national supporters’ organisation in the Netherlands). At various clubs in the Netherlands, SLOs are not (yet) taken seriously by their own club and/or partners. This is still a challenge for some clubs. 

When the position and acceptance of an SLO is more professionalised, you can also provide more specialised work for each match. Sometimes, the mass of supporters are punished for the behaviour of one individual. By providing specialised work around particular scenarios, it can be easier to find more practical and sensible solutions with other stakeholders.” 

FSE would like to thank FC Utrecht and Toby for taking part in the series. 

Our previous interview with Aberdeen FC SLO Lynn Fiske can be found here.  

Learn more about SLOs and FSE’s role in developing the position here.    

Contact us to find out more about the Supporter Liaison Officer role here.   

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