D3D4 Morecambe Correspondent documents his recent trip to Nailsworth to see how things at Forest Green Rovers are done differently…
Experiencing Another Way.
I’ve been personally looking forward to this day ever since Forest Green spoilt the Rovers Return by overcoming Tranmere at Wembley in the National League Play-Off Final earlier this year to win a place in the Football League for the first time in their history.
Forest Green Rovers initially came to my attention when the man who rebuilt Morecambe Football Club to be in a fit shape to enter the Football League – Jim Harvey – went there as Manager after the Morecambe Board treated him disgracefully after he had a heart attack in the changing rooms at Christie Park before a game against Cambridge United during 2005: the longest-serving manager in the Football Conference at the time was sacked by them as soon as he recovered – to their eternal shame.
Since Jim took charge at the New Lawn – which had just been built a short distance from their previous ground – there have been many changes at the Gloucestershire club. Belying the reality that Nailsworth – where the club is based – is a tiny place, Forest Green defied predictions of their demise even as a Conference club year after year before current Chairman Dale Vince took-over in 2010. He oversaw a revolution at the club both on and off the field. The owner of an `environmentally friendly’ power company and described as `Britain’s Richest Hippy’ by some business websites, Chairman Vince implemented new policies at the club including the gradual withdrawal of all meat-based and then dairy-derived products not only from his players’ diets but also from the catering throughout the ground.
“It’s fairly widely known that red meat is bad for performance and it isn’t uncommon for top athletes to avoid it, but it’s less common in football” he explains, adding: “Typically football food is hideous. Burgers are the most awful parts of an animal and are really unappealing products that are cheap as dirt. We’ve replaced them with really high quality plant-based food.”
It seems self-evident to me that if vegetarianism is good enough for Sergio Aguero, it’s surely good enough for most professional footballers, isn’t it? Having said that, there is a vast difference between veggies and Vegans. I have a vague notion that it is understandable that many people might have the same attitude towards Veganism as George Bernard Shaw had to another movement in vogue in his era: `the only thing wrong with Socialism is Socialists’ he said – or words to that effect. Vegans have a reputation, sadly, for being earnest and self-righteous individuals with a virtually fascist attitude to what they do: not attributes which are generally admirable and precisely the sort of attitude which causes non-Vegans to see them as cranky in more than one sense of the term. However, if you have any doubt that a Vegan diet means that you might as well wear a Hair Shirt as well, you clearly haven’t been to the Whale Tail cafe in Lancaster: I heartily recommend their menu and if you don’t like the look of the main courses, remember Marie Antionette and just eat the Vegan cakes instead – you won’t be disappointed…
As someone who has not knowingly eaten meat (murder) or fish (justifiable homicide as they say) for almost forty years, I personally couldn’t wait to get my hands on some of the nosh for sale at The New Lawn. Thinking “Hippies; Buddhist beliefs; Tibet; Yaks”, it occurred to me that there might be Yakamole for instance. (But then it occurred to me that, as a Yak is an animal, this wouldn’t happen. I’m a bit slow sometimes and it then occurred to me that Guacamole is vegan anyway – except if you make it with real Moles, of course…) But whatever was actually on the menu, if I could wash it down with a pint of organic beer from the nearby Stroud Brewery in the Green Man pub which is part of the ground, all the better…
But back to Forest Green Rovers and their own philosophy. All their players are required to eat a meat-free diet, even manager Mark Cooper. (I must admit I find it difficult to imagine Mark’s dad – Terry Cooper, who was part of Don Revie’s Leeds United team which included such bruisers as Norman `Bite Yer Legs’ Hunter, Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner – ever accepting a diet which didn’t include meat – unless cannibalism was excepted, of course.) The club claim to have been described by FIFA as officially the most environmentally-friendly on the planet (I wonder how many vegan pies they had to slip their way to get that accolade, suggests he cynically) and – among their many other claims to fame, even have a robot lawn mower to cut the old as well as the new lawn presumably.
So here we have a right-on forward-looking club setting Another Way for running a football club (and with the latest goings-on this week back home in Morecambe, I don’t personally feel in any position to criticise the way any club is run differently at the moment to be honest…), where the lawn is humanely manicured, no animals are forced to suffer, the electricity is renewable, the plan is sustainable and… whoa! – hold on a minute…
I was forced to question my quaint notions that I was visiting the Green Republic of Nailsworth and an alternative way of doing things as soon as I looked at the ticketing arrangements listed by Forest Green on Morecambe FC’s website a couple of weeks before the game. At other grounds I have visited to watch the Shrimps: Carlisle; Hereford; Bradford; Blackpool; Bury; York City; Wrexham – you name it – opposition supporters have been shepherded into covered seats from which they could watch the contest without being at the mercy of the elements. At Fleetwood and Dagenham & Redbridge, you could stand if you wanted to but only Accrington Stanley in my previous experience required visiting fans to stand in the open come hail, rain or shine whether they wanted to or not: but that’s probably what you would expect from a pretty Neanderthal outfit playing in probably the worst stadium in the EFL. At The New Lawn, I was expecting at least Yurts filled with large cushions stuffed with organically grown Kapok or something even better to welcome supporters from elsewhere. So imagine my astonishment when I read the following before setting off for deepest, darkest Gloucestershire:
“All away fans are invited to watch the match from our West Terrace (standing only), which can hold up to 808 people.
The West Terrace is an uncovered standing terrace at the moment and we have plans to create a covered seating area, but it won’t be ready in time for your arrival unfortunately.
That said, we’d advise fans to bring appropriate clothing in case of inclement weather particularly as The New Lawn is on top of a hill and is exposed to the elements.”
So it would appear that the only cruelty to animals that Forest Green Rovers (the Green Devils) actually promotes is that to the human beings who have the misfortune to support someone else. If the New Lawn was the mixture of downgraded chicken sheds, grown-up Meccano and whatever other building cast-offs Accrington’s Crown Ground is made of, they might have an excuse. But this stadium is less than ten years old: it was designed to be like this. So Boo and Hiss, Hippies; Green Devils indeed! My partner Anne intended to come with me on this adventure today but when she saw the above she decided that the thought of a 65-year old woman recovering from a stroke which she endured fourteen months ago paying eightteen quid to stand in potentially freezing weather in the rain was not only taking a liberty but also taking something else wet, totally natural but not necessarily organic as well…
So I went on my own, having first looked-up the address of The New Lawn (it’s: Another Way, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire) on Google Earth.
I was surprised how much bits of Gloucestershire around Stroud and Nailsworth actually looked like Lancashire because of the number of old brick-built textile mills in the vicinity. This hardly chimed with my preconception of the Cotswolds but after we passed through Nailsworth and headed further south towards Tetbury (where Anne, effectively banished from The New Lawn for being too old and too wobbly on her pins would spend the afternoon looking at overpriced ‘local crafts’ and other tat in their tourist trap `antique’ shops), the preconceptions were fulfilled. No – not necessarily the tourist tat but the green panorama and chocolate box buildings. No Satanic mills here, thank you very much.
I dropped her off just before two o’clock and headed back the eight or so miles to Nailsworth and followed the signs from the centre of the place up a very long steep hill until I reached the `overflow’ carpark at Forest Green and parked on the playground of a school adjacent to The New Lawn. I got out, exchanged pleasantries with a few other people on Missionary work from Morecambe and then walked the short distance to the ground, where I bought a ticket and a programme.
I’d dressed in green specially to make this pilgrimage and intended to visit the Green Man next to break bread (organic) and have an (orgasmic) pint of naturally brewed beer.
But a man with an orange reflective jacket and a Gloucestershire accent so impenetrable that I first thought he was trying to sell me a Forest Green Lottery ticket escorted me from the premises – or would have done if I hadn’t guessed that what he was actually saying was `home supporters only’. “Where do I get a pint then?” I asked: `Round the corner…”
If he’d added `in a tent’, I would have had another vision of some sort of Yurt. But this doesn’t look much like a Yurt to me:
(These don’t look much like Yurts to me)
The beer – as promised in Forest Green’s propaganda – was organic and from Stroud Brewery. From a bottle. I’d already bought an onion bhaji wrap from an adjacent Indian Food stall and it was really delicious. The beer wasn’t bad either and you can’t complain about the way it was served – biodegradable cup and everything…
( Even the programme is Green. Well, I suppose it would be, with a name like theirs, wouldn’t it?)
As I stuffed my face and wet my whistle, I got talking to another Forest Green Steward (note the bars between me and her. Animals in a pen? Surely not…) This was a female one and when I mentioned that I would not be all alone if it were possible to actually sit down as an Away supporter, she became quite indignant. If I had taken the trouble to ring the club in advance, space would have been made in the main stand for anyone with mobility difficulties. “And how would I know that as an Away supporter?” Face the East and go “Om!” preferably from Stonehenge? No – don’t be silly. “This is the fault of your club: they should have published this information in advance!” “I’ve no reason to believe that Morecambe didn’t publish all the information they were sent by your club” I said, “But there’s no mention of it there. Your lot told us to come prepared for bad weather!” She was not happy about this and said she would be `raising this issue’ with the Forest Green hierarchy – and I’m sure she will. In fact, she was very friendly and gave me this lovely smile to share with you all:
(The other side of the bar – sorry- bars:)
Once inside the ground, there was no escape from the fact that Forest Green is not a football club like any other I know of. Here’s the menu for those of us not already stuffed full of beer and Indian food:
( The Pies are so popular, they have to Q for them:)
And if you want a cup of tea, remember that you ain’t going to get any milk in it (I’m not entirely sure the cup and the cover which went with it are quite as right-on as the one with the beer had been but nobody’s perfect…):
( Soya or Oaty Vicar?:)
And if anyone was still in any doubt about being in a Vegan wonderland, this sign and the flagpole with a skull-and-crossbones flag attached to it were further clues, as was the eight-page supplement called Vegan Forest Rovers in the middle of the matchday programme.
( First word on the banner sums-up Morecambe’s problem…)
And if you still hadn’t got the message, the announcement over the PA that today’s sponsors were `itseasy2bvegan’ means that only the wilfully deaf and blind could ignore the fact.
I wish the club well personally. I didn’t enjoy what happened on the field during the next two hours or so but I hope that both clubs will meat – sorry – meet again next season in the EFL.
I don’t know how much it costs to visit a Premiership football ground but I can tell you what it cost me in strict cash terms to visit Forest Green today after I had paid for the diesel for the 400+ mile round journey: A fiver to park; the same for the Indian wrap; eighteen pounds to get in; three quid for a programme; £1.60 for a cup of tea and four quid for a bottle of beer. Total: £36.60. It’s not a cheap day out…
( The Away Supporters arrive. )
But at least it didn’t rain…Except in my heart. Here is the match report: