Dykes is employed by the pan-European group Supporters Direct in a project funded by UEFA. He works to promote Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs), trusted and credible fans who act as a point of contact for authorities and supporters and help to ensure smooth organisation on matchdays.
The idea is to prevent problems before they start, rather than act as watchdogs for the police or authorities. His philosophy is that football is for everyone, and conflict can be avoided through effective communication.
"SLOs are a bridge between clubs and fans and set out to improve relations between both sides for the good of all football stakeholders,” said Dykes.
”In Stuttgart, SLOs tell away fans who are banned from stadia where they can watch the game— which happens to be the local police social club, just behind the ground,” explains Dykes, tickled by the irony.
His Finnish mission is well-timed. Although Finnish club football is endearingly ramshackle and small-scale, with sparse crowds and a personal feel, the game is not immune to issues that affect bigger countries.
Problems run deep
Over the last decade most clubs have acquired a group of hardcore supporters who sing, chant and sometimes travel to away games. They wave flags and sometimes set off flares, and see themselves as the vanguard of football culture in a country where most people still prefer to watch ice hockey.
This has caused something of a disconnect with the Football Association. Fans are upset at the fines levied on their clubs for what they regard as normal behaviour, and the FA is concerned about the reputation of the sport amid rumours of hooliganism. At the end of the 2011 season, the relationship was at crisis point.
“The problems run deep— there is a lack of understanding and streetwise thinking,” wrote Topias Kauhala, Chief Football Writer at the sports weekly Urheilulehti, last November.
“In the end the situation will only improve if there is a general understanding of why people follow football, and what supporter culture is. Right now there are people on the FA’s disciplinary committee that have among other things proposed that a certain club should dissolve it’s supporter’s group. Even though that group has been a pioneer in Finnish supporter culture. And even though that group...has played an important role in the club’s growth.”
The situation is simple and worrying: fans feel ignored and the FA feels threatened. Protest stickers and chants spread last season, accusing the FA of 'killing football culture', and the FA seemed to respond with yet more sanctions.
One Finnish football fans' online forum kept a running total of fines handed out for supporter infractions. By the end of the year the sum had passed €20,000, no laughing matter in a sport where every penny counts.
There are, however, hopeful signs. In the week before Dykes visited Finland, the Football Association announced it had found a solution to a long-running dispute over fire safety and materials used by fans in overhead displays at national team matches.
That dispute, along with dissatisfaction at fines given to clubs for supporter behaviour last season, had fuelled protests at matches. It was resolved after discussions with the national team's supporter's group, SMJK.
That model of co-operation needs to spread for SLOs to succeed. Former Finland international Ville Nylund, who is handling the SLO initiative for the FA, agrees that there is much to do.
“I have talked a lot with the fans and I know that there is a lot to do between the FA, clubs and all other partners that are involved in football matches,” admitted Nylund.
Timo Marjamaa, CEO of the Finnish top flight, Veikkausliiga, was enthusiastic about the SLO project.
“We are lacking communication at the moment,” said Marjamaa, after buying a round of drinks for attendees. “We don't say things straight and correct problems right away. From the fans to the league and to the Football Association we hope that these kind of forums are the way forward. It was helpful.”
No SLO = No licence
The European football body UEFA has now made SLOs compulsory for all clubs as part of the licensing process. Dykes's task is to assist national FAs in implementing the SLO requirement.
They are supported by UEFA President Michel Platini, who has done much to advance a supporter-friendly agenda at the European football body.
The reaction has generally been positive. In Ireland the FA now requires SLOs at every top flight and second tier club. In Sweden sponsors have paid for five full-time SLOs, and other full-time workers have their salaries paid for by the clubs.
Olli-Matti Matihalti, who works as a communications officer for his club Seinäjöen Jalkapallo Kerho and attended the fans forum, said that the SLO role will formalise much of what he does already.
“Last season we had big away followings from Ilves and BK46, and both times I sent them a lot of information about where to park, where they could eat and drink, what they could do in the stadium and so on,” said Matihalti.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the initiative is that it has not happened before. Fans have turned up to matches and contributed financially, but rarely has anybody asked their opinion. Marjamaa found the experience useful.
“It should be held regularly -- in springtime, during the season, and the fanbase can be involved. Now we have this programme where we need to find this connection between the clubs and the fans.”