It is only a few years ago when Forest Green were plying their trade in the far flung reaches of the footballing pyramid. Now, Rovers fans will be able to search for special betting offers from sites such as oddschecker, for games against such footballing glitterati as Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, teams they are competing with on a level playing field. That rise through the leagues only tells half the story, however, of this truly ground-breaking club.
The Early Days
The club began life as long ago as 1889, several years before the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea. In 1904, when the Mid Gloucestershire League was set up, FGR were invited and became one of its founder members. For much of the twentieth century, the club, based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, a town of under 6,000, competed in and progressed through many different leagues, as the structure changed, and/or they got promoted. These included spells (again as founder members) in the Gloucestershire County League and the Hellenic League.
It was after their move to this league that the club really started to show signs of the progress to come, being crowned champions in 1982 and going to Wembley to lift the FA Vase in the same season. Successive promotions saw Rovers enter the conference for the 1998/99 season. That year Forest Green became the first club to play in both the FA Vase and FA Trophy finals. In 2006, the club moved to their new stadium, The New Lawn, from their former home, The Lawn Ground.
That could have been the end of the story, or certainly as far as the club would have gone, if Dale Vince had not taken them over in 2010, shortly after they had been saved from two relegations due to other clubs being demoted.
The Vince Era
The club we see today owes a lot to the vision of Dale Vince. Success did not come overnight, but steady progression saw them at first establish themselves as a solid conference side before in 2014/15 they started to make an impact at the top end of the table. A fifth spot saw them qualify for the play-off for a league place, however the club were unable to get through the semi-finals. The following season, more progress saw FGR achieve their highest ever finish, when they came second, again qualifying for the play-offs. Though Rovers managed to win the semi-final, they were beaten at Wembley.
It was to be third time lucky the following season however, when they defeated Tranmere Rovers at Wembley to secure their place in the league, and in doing so, became the smallest town to ever host a league side.
The club was not done there though. After two further unsuccessful play-off campaigns, Rovers achieved another step up the footballing pyramid in the 2021/22 season, this time eschewing the lottery of the play-offs in favour of automatic promotion.
The Green Revolution
Remarkable though the rise of such a small club is, it for another reason Forest Green Rovers are mainly known. Vince, a former New Age traveller, a green energy industrialist, and owner of Ecotricity wanted to mould the club with the principles he himself was so passionate about. The first steps were to cut red meat from the players’ diets, stop the sale of meat at the ground and using only organic fertilisers on the pitch.
It has come on leaps and bounds from that however prompting FIFA to label them the “greenest team in the world.” Football is not a sport or industry that lends itself to having a tiny carbon footprint, with factors such as fans travelling the length and breadth of the country to support their team. It is also something that perhaps does not sit comfortably with the traditional masculine, meat-eating image of the national sport. What Vince and his Rovers have achieved however, not just by making a stand, but by actually getting success on the pitch alongside the green measures that have been put in place, show that these are not necessarily sacrifices, but are things that can be beneficial in many more ways than the ones for which they are initially put in place.