As Forest Green Rovers makes history with its first touch in League One, support off-pitch may be just as crucial, writes Simon Hacker.
Tom Needham doesn’t look like a typical recruiting sergeant, but this Tuesday, as Community Coach, he was busy rallying fresh troops and readying them to go over the top. Some of the new signings are as young as five. My own son, reporting for duty at the age of 12, is virtually past it.
If it gets the scoop, you can see the tabloid headlines: Extremist vegans indoctrinate kids to spread their woke cult of sustainability. Under the baton of Sgt Tom and command of Field Marshall Sarah Urquhart, the strategy is straight from the Jesuit playbook: get ’em young, keep ’em for life. But FGR’s ambassador scheme might, at this historic threshold, be every bit as important as each kick of the ball in the 48 League One games to come.
To understand why, just look east to Wembley and the astounding work of the Lionesses. Just as these trailblazers have said balls to male domination, Forest Green is on a crusade not simply to kick its way up the football league but more crucially to show how our sport can do all that while making the world a greener place. In fact, the entire point of mounting the EFL ladder is to show that sustainability harvests success.
And missions needs missionaries, foot soldiers who can go forth and amplify the eco message across playgrounds, classrooms and their communities from Petty France to Paradise. Hell, with special training, maybe even behind enemy lines in the hinterland of Cheltenham.
So what debate guidelines does Sgt Needham hand out to his emissaries? With my son attending his first registration at The New Lawn we were both keen to find out. After being inducted and kitted out, here’s our take on the prime ammo for boosting the 22-23 season for Nailsworth’s finest.
1 Go full Nicholas Klein.
Trade union activist Klein’s famous quote (often attributed to Gandhi) should be carved above the entrance gate of the next stadium, whenever it materialises: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The bitter cynicism of rivals provides sweet fuel for FGR’s energy tanks. Our best reply as yet to first-time visitors from clubs we’ve yet to meet? We hope you like hummus. Both locally and nationally, FGR has been strafed with military-strength banter for the club’s deep green ideology. As a young ambassador, you have to absorb such negative energy, laugh with your opponents and turn their ridicule into resolve to show them they’re wrong. And if they grow weary of FGR players extolling the virtue of going meat-free, there are always other names to drop.
2 Be green – it’s the new black.
The Bolt New Lawn might look in need of relocation but its toll on the world around it is minimal: wind and solar power light the lights and run the vegan kitchens, the turf is nourished on seaweed (sorry, fish, but this is way greener than taking waste from animal farming) and moistened by captured rain water. Even the urine from the away stand loos is destined for repurposing as water and fertiliser (prompting the Bolton News to pre-warn the town’s club that FGR “could literally be taking the p*** out of League One fans next season”). And where FGR innovates, others follow, even if their borrowing of our ideas is barely more than textile deep (hey, Doncaster Rovers, we’re taking your new green and black away kit as a lovely compliment).
3 Kick disrespect into the weeds.
But don’t go walking in the weeds around The New Lawn. If you’ve noticed that some of the stadium’s curtilage looks a little ragged and untroubled by strimmers, there’s a reason for that: letting nature be and applying a light touch to low-traffic areas means wildlife can flourish. Result? Slow worms have taken up residence. Despite being shy and retiring creatures, these snake-like lizards appear to love the borders of FGR’s current HQ.
4 Whisper it, but there may be slightly more important things than football…
Controversial, this one and into the realms of cognitive dissonance for diehard fans. But unless we work to ensure that every Saturday afternoon game’s collective impact on our environment is minimal and sustainable, there will eventually be no Saturday afternoon to hold the game on.
5 …and way more important things than taste buds.
If you’ve already been nudged, or led willingly, to the belief that flexitarianism and meatless days are good for the planet, you’ll feel little resistance to The New Lawn’s animal-free food and drink offerings. And once you’ve tucked into a Q Pie or a Green Devil’s burger and troughed on chips in gravy, your tastebuds may tell you that any initial premonitions of sensual loss were thoroughly misguided.
6 Be proud – if it helps.
FIFA’s naming of FGR as the world’s greenest football club is surely an accolade to stir pride in every youthful heart that’s handed the team’s shirt, but for the team’s chairman, Dale Vince, the rear-view mirror and what’s been achieved is never as crucial as the road ahead. Determination, as we know, matters more. Dale was recently asked by the Daily Mail if he’d swap adding a single slice of meat on FGR’s menu for a place in the Premier League. You know his answer. Wherever we go in the future, it has to be a mission for the planet, not profit. Enjoy the season, whatever comes, and know there’s no better team to represent!