Forest Green Not Red

It’s a Monday evening and the 2021/22 football season has just finished. I’m sat at the back of a hall waiting for other members of our community choir to arrive for a practice. Last to enter, and to complete our half-dozen blokes bass section, is Alan. Chirpy as ever, he’s dressed in a very striking top. (My mum would have called it ‘snazzy’, one of her favourite words.) Between voice exercises up and down the scales and us hitting and missing notes, he gives me the back-story to his shirt. By the time we conclude our repertoire for the night with ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, I’ve found a new Forest to support!

Alan takes an active interest in environmental issues and occasionally wears a tee-shirt emblazoned with a cause to care about but this one is different. ‘ecotricity’ stretches across the chest of bright, lime green, cut through with black, diagonal waves as stripes. You can’t ignore it! A neat, small circle, where you’d expect a club badge to be, has in it a traditional lion-unicorn-football image and the name ‘Forest Green Rovers’.

Founded in 1889, it’s only in the last decade or so, since Dale Vince took over, that the club has come to claim some fame on the green-front and to climb up the leagues. Forest Green have just been promoted to Division One as Nottingham Forest have claimed a Premiership spot!

Dale Vince also happens to be the owner of the renewable energy firm, Ecotricity, and the environmental credentials of his club are impressive. Their home ground, New Lawn, perched on a hill outside the small Cotswold town of Nailsworth, might only have a capacity of 5,000 but in other respects it’s ground-breaking. Powered by 100% green energy, including solar panels on the roof, Forest Green has now been recognised by the United Nations as the world’s first carbon-neutral club. In 2018, FIFA called it the greenest football club in the world.

Given all this, I can see why Alan feels a strong connection with the club and has come to support it, but is there any other reason he wears the shirt with pride? ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘My mum comes from Gloucester and Forest Green’s the nearest team to her family.’ So – as so often – supporting a club is entwined with family and heritage. Finally, as if I needed to know more in order to understand how special the club is, he says: ‘The pitch is organic and free from pesticides and weedkillers. It’s mown by a solar-powered robotic lawnmower’. We laugh in tune!

A couple of months later, I look at my own lawn (can I still call it that?), biscuit-brown and on the cusp of dust.  No surprise there, given the summer we’re having. No surprise, either, that professional football pitches are a consistently brilliant green. We would expect no less these days (and the City Ground has always had one of the best pitches), along with pristine markings and billiard-table smooth playing surfaces. Long gone are the mud-bath or bobble-baked or sandpit surfaces. It’s easier for players to show off a turn of speed, silky skills or swift interplay. We all applaud and appreciate that and it’s what fans want.

With the recent announcement that the local council has approved plans for the Peter Taylor main stand to be redeveloped, Forest will make about 5,000 more seats available to supporters, helping meet a demand for tickets in the future, assuming they stay in the Premiership. The club, of course, were reported to be delighted that ‘the green light’ had been given to their building proposals.

I hope that’s not the only green reference in any ground developments. On Sunday, the Reds will host their first top-flight game for 23 years against West Ham in unprecedented conditions. Record temperatures mean teams playing over the weekend in the Premiership will be given official drinks breaks during their match. That’s an immediate response to a serious issue. It would be good to see the powers-that-be in football act more decisively on a number of other pressing issues, including the inevitability of climate-heating. The sport’s close relationship with the gambling industry needs to be reviewed, racism continues to raise its ugly head, responsible club ownership should be reassessed. These are a few of the other heavyweight concerns that blight the beautiful game which captivates so many of us week in, week out.

Forest Green Rovers have gone it alone on the environment-front. It shouldn’t be left to individual clubs but they’ve modelled what can be done. I’ll be following them, along with my inherited Forest, this season, and hope they both survive. The Reds – aside from what they’ve given fans on the pitch – have much to be commended for as a club, including connecting with the community. (Their contribution during Covid comes to mind.) It’d now be great if they could pick up the baton of their namesakes and add more green to their own credentials.

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @FGRFC_Official the New Lawn home of Forest Green is free from pesticides.

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