Adventures in Football #21: The New Lawn (Forest Green Rovers)
August 31, 2021
FOREST GREEN ROVERS vs. NORTHAMPTON TOWN (Papa John’s Trophy)
Forest Green Rovers are famous for being eco-friendly. Owned by green energy enthusiast Dale Vince, the club has an organic football pitch, has solar panels, a solar powered lawn mower (the “mow-bot”), the pitch is irrigated by rainwater, and all their players are vegan. It’s carbon neutral and FIFA called them the “greenest team in the world”, for what that’s worth. It would be nice if Forest Green could be reached on public transport thus reducing carbon emissions from people driving to their ground. When you get into the ground all the grub is vegan.
Forest Green were founded in 1889 but only competed in local leagues until the 1970s. They got into the Conference in 1998 but constantly struggled and routinely finished in the bottom half including dodging relegation when another team was demoted in their place. When Vince took over in 2010 it marked a change in fortunes. They started finishing comfortably midtable and then started challenging for promotion to the football league, which they achieved in 2016-17. They finished third and beat Tranmere to win the play offs. This was a year after losing the play off final to Grimsby.
As a league team they’ve sured up their position and finished P5, P10 and P6 in their first three years in League 2. In cup competitions they’ve not got a great history, although they won the FA Vase back in 1982. Despite being a league team, their best FA Cup performance is R3. The one thing, other than the hippy vegan business, that everyone knows about Forest Green Rovers is…”it’s in the middle of nowhere”. So, Maria is driving.
And what a drive it is! After coming off the M5 the radio stopped working so we were left amusing ourselves with how pretty the scenery was. The Cotswolds aren’t the most stunning of views. There are parts of the UK that blow it away, but it is a pretty place to visit and the further we went along our journey the more apparent it was that Forest Green Rovers inhabited the kind of location that most football teams tend to avoid. It’s 4.3 miles from Stroud, which is the nearest rail link.
Tinkley Lane, which leads you right into Nailsworth, is a single lane with the odd overtaking point. We passed a sign saying, “20 is plenty”, referring to the local speed limit, and our journey is interrupted by a lorry driver who’s stopped at a farm and blocked the entire road! Having escaped from Tinkley Lane we can literally see into the ground on the way to the island by the New Lawn. It’s a bizarre journey to take the Tinkley Lane approach but I’d heartily recommend it as it reminds you how close to being in the countryside Forest Green really is and how appropriate their name is.
We try to drive straight into the ground but parking is at a local school, which happens to have a football pitch, which backs onto Another Way, the road the ground is on. So, it’s close. Parking is a fiver and unlike some bizarre backwards Northern places you pay by card. The organisation at the parking is fantastic with people there to line all the cars up so nobody gets trapped. We drove out quite easily after the game. Out of the car park and left onto Nympsfield Road, it’s a very short walk back to the ground. We admire some of the local housing, which are made from stone and are also very pretty to look at. FGR are keen to keep with the local aesthetic but should really build their new ground out of stone, not wood as has been suggested.
Outside is a pop-up shop that sells shirts and I ended up buying a home jersey for this season because I’m a sucker for the design. I’ll probably wear it quite a bit. Interesting to note that FGR don’t do match programmes anymore and the guy on the desk was asked three times while I was queueing where they could buy a programme. Looks like a missed opportunity but I get the club not wanting to waste paper, given their reputation. Club shop is card payment only too and an easy in-out purchase.
Into the ground itself and negotiating the turnstiles is ridiculously easy for once. The ‘print at home’ tickets came with helpful information about cutting them into three pieces to make it easier to scan in. Maria wanted us to get some food, so we ended up buying some nuggets and chips. The nuggets were vegan. So was the mayonnaise that Maria put on the chips. Absolutely disgusting. Vegan mayo tastes like mayonnaise that’s gone off. The nuggets were like someone had vaguely described what chicken was like to someone who didn’t get it. I’ve heard other people praise the food here but honestly, dreadful. Josh had a hot chocolate, which was also vegan, so it was basically sludge at the bottom. I applaud the effort but I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps vegetarian would have been good enough so I could have decent tasting mayonnaise and Josh can have a hot chocolate with actual chocolate in it?
On our way into the ground Josh gets lunged at by some nutcase Northampton Town fan, who stops in mid-whatever because he drops his ticket. Absolute melt. When we go to Northampton we’re probably going in the away end. We’re sat in the Main Stand, which is the only real seating area in the entire ground. To the left of us is the home end where the ‘ultras’ go. Opposite them is the stand for the away fans. Both areas are all terraced. Opposite us, in the Main Stand, is a bizarre two row seating area and a very small terrace.
The Main Stand is very tidy and has a good concourse running under it. These are the seats. The tickets for tonight’s game were cheap as chips (£7 each, nuggets & chips was £4.60…so…almost as cheap as chips) and I assume kids got in for virtually nothing as there are a huge number of rugrats. The verbals between the away fans and the home fans are between 60-year-old men from Northampton and 7-year-olds from Nailsworth, responding to Northampton’s chants with high-pitched “who are ya?” abuse. It’s beautiful. Speaking of beautiful; as I’m looking across at the terracing opposite us, I spot sheep in the fields beyond. Nailsworth is properly out in the country, and nothing says countryside like being able to see sheep from inside the ground.
Other interesting features include the solar panels, visible behind the away end, and an assortment of wacky flags. Including a skull & crossbones variant that sports the legend “sea shepherds” (also on the back of this year’s shirt) and a Union flag with green replacing the red and blue.
Come game time I was suitably fired up, having had a fun journey to the ground and enjoyed the layout and all the little things that make FGR unique. The first half lived up to the billing as well with Forest Green playing some wonderful football. Taylor Allen, Ebou Adams and the relaxed Sadou Diallo all played some lovely stuff. They work the ball out from defence and the goal came from them doing just that. One touch passing, a good cross, nice lay off and a perfect finish. We thought we were in for a clinic but FGR couldn’t follow up on all that promise.
Maria was getting quite vocal at the start of the second half and her squeals of delight every time the ball came near to the goal had definitely drawn the attention of the locals. I was howling when she mimicked a fan’s “come on Rovers” at the start of the second half and Josh had to hide his face because he was laughing so much. Maria also misheard me saying “mark tighter” and thought I’d said “Mike Tyson”. She was looking around as if he was hanging out in Nailsworth, just watching the footy. Josh and myself amuse ourselves by pointing out all the renewable energy stuff that’s happening. Josh peaking by asking if Rob Edwards’ coat was made of apples.
The second half was a different story. The game got scrappy and unattractive. FGR had a goal ruled out for offside. Northampton equalised with a far post header. Forest Green chucked on big man Jamille Matt, dubbed “Massive Matt” by Josh because of alliteration. This just encouraged a more direct style of play that wasn’t FGR’s natural game plan. The game faded badly and ended up going to penalties because that’s what happens in the Papa John’s when you’re level at 90 minutes. Forest Green proceeded to bottle the penalties, despite a horrendous miss from Northampton’s midfielder Shaun McWilliams. I think he was aiming at a supporter behind the goal.
It’s the first penalty shoot-out I’ve seen live and it’s a nervy experience. Most of the players slotted their pens away calmly. Maybe having penalties in this competition is a good idea, to get players used to taking them at a lower level (this is a competition the top sides U-21’s play in) but still in a competitive environment.
I know I’ve made fun of Forest Green in here. They do have access problems and it’s not particularly green to run a club so far away from transit links that everyone has to drive. They’re looking to change this when they move to Eco Park and I hope what they do is successful because football needs green teams. Ones who want to make a difference in the world. It was reflected in their young fanbase. You get those kids onboard at an early age and you really will change the world. It seems evident that the children who go to Forest Green are the most passionate about the club and if you get an entire generation of kids growing up as Forest Green fans then that’s great for the club and great for all of them to have that shared passion for something.