Griffin O’Neill gives an account of Forest Green Rovers, recently promoted to the Football League and changing the way football is played, off the field
With the new football season just beginning, a whole new set of interesting and fascinating stories have come about. One of the most interesting of these stories is that of English club Forest Green Rovers. This Nailsworth-based club was recently promoted to League Two via the playoffs and appears to have all the tools for success in the fourth tier due to not only the quality of their play, but also the support given to them by the less than 6,000 citizens living in Nailsworth.
Who are Forest Green Rovers?
Founded in 1889 under the name “Nailsworth and Forest Green United,” Forest Green has never been considered a big club. Their crowning achievement came in 1982 when Forest won the FA Vase while being promoted from the Hellenic League to the Southern League Midland Division in the same year. Sadly, though, its good fortunes would not continue throughout the rest of the eighties. Multiple final day escapes from relegation later, and the board decided to rebrand the club as “Stroud FC.” The fans instantly rejected this, and upon new chairman Trevor Horsley’s arrival in 1992, Forest Green Rovers returned and the ship was thusly righted.
Trevor Horsley is regarded as a club legend at Forest Green, and rightly so. He was the catalyst of the club’s promotion to the national league as well as their ability to stay there despite the odds. Under Horsley’s guidance, Rovers became the longest serving member of the National League, and thanks to Horsley’s forward thinking Forest were able to construct a new stadium in 2006. While this did move them out of the same stadium which they had used since 1889, the New Lawn was a statement of intent from Forest Green, and it paid off. This stadium helped attract energy tycoon Dale Vince to buy the club.
The club under Dale Vince
Under the influence of Vince, Forest have become a completely new club. Vince saved the club from financial troubles, renovated the stadium, turned the club professional, put the club members on a completely vegan diet, implemented the use of a solar, which uses solar panels as a great energy alternative, and wind powered mower to cut the grass on the field, and has begun to use Scottish Seaweed to fertilize the pitch. Another firm in the US have already been trialing such products, Lawn care service California being one of them. The club is undoubtedly on an upward, albeit different, trajectory from most clubs in the lower reaches of league football. Vince has also promised significant financial support for the club in its rise up the league pyramid. According to a report published by the Football League in April of 2017, Forest paid £174,613 more than the rest of the national league put together in agent fees. Manager Mark Cooper admits that the agent fees were “too much,” but because of the financial fair play regulations present in League Two, this level of spending would not be possible anyway.
The Quirks of Forest Green
With any football club in the world there are always going to be traditions and intriguing tidbits of information that make the club that much more popular than they already were. In terms of Forest Green, there are many small things about the club that make it more and more interesting.
The most well reported of these things is the fact the players and staff are only provided vegan food items on training and match days. This diet was decided on both to promote the players and staff members’ well being, but also the well being of the environment, and the environment is the main reason for most of the quirks present at Forest Green. The club’s vegan style goes all the way to the food sold on matchday. Opposing fans are obviously not overjoyed at the prospect of only eating Q-Pies (a pie consisting of Quorn, soya béchamel, thyme, and leeks) during a match, with opposing fans known to chant “Meat! Meat! Meat!” during matches.
Forest Green has also been named the most green club in the world by FIFA, and this honor is well deserved. There are electric car charging ports outside of the ground, plans to build an entirely wooden stadium in the coming years, and interestingly, the pitch mower runs entirely off of solar and wind power. This is something quite amazing – most of the best Lawn mower options on the market aren’t like that after all. The ET Mow is one of the most interesting pieces of technology in football today. It is controlled by a satellite that plots its course on the pitch, and if it runs into an obstruction, it goes in a different direction and comes back later. This so called “mowbot” is yet another reason why Forest Green are helping pave the way for many clubs of the future.
All of these technological and environmentally conscious entities present at Forest Green are due in large part to previously mentioned club owner Dale Vince. Vince is the owner of Ecotricity, an electricity company. Vince has molded Ecotricity into one of the greenest energy companies in the world, and he has carried that over into his club ownership.
Forest Green’s Style of Play
One place where Forest’s progress has been especially visible is in their style of play. Before the arrival of former Swindon Town and Notts County manager Mark Cooper, Forest Green played the traditional, direct style of football that is a common stereotype of the lower tiers of English football, but upon Cooper’s arrival, the club’s style changed greatly. In an interview with the BBC earlier this year, Cooper said,”We try to play football the way we believe it should be played. Our fans know we’ve got a bit of an identity in how we play football.” Forest’s style of free flowing and attacking football paid off greatly in the National League last year, with Rovers scoring the most goals in the entire division.
This kind of football is also one of the most efficient ways to climb the football pyramid and attain continued success for the future. The perfect example of this model is current Premier League club Bournemouth. The side have ascended through the leagues under the tutelage of Eddie Howe, and appear to have a good future ahead of them in the Premier League as well. Thanks to the managerial nous of Cooper and the financial backing of Vince, many parallels have developed between Bournemouth and Forest Green. Both Bournemouth and Forest Green play attractive football, and their specific styles have been fabricated from the mind of their young, English managers. Hopefully, Forest will be able to further the Bournemouth model even more and progress all the way to the Premier League under the guidance of Mark Cooper, and with talented players such as 24 year old top scorer Christian Doidge and also club captain Liam Noble in the squad, the club looks primed for success in the future.
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