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Optimism 1 – football experts 0: how FGR wrecked a Roman holiday

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Saturday-afternoon shoppers in Nailsworth experienced an unusual event when a series of acoustic shockwaves rippled over the town and out across the Stroud valleys, the first being followed in increasing frequency by another, and another and another. Oh, and then, if it’s all right with you, one more. 

Uncertainty as to the source gradually subsided as the news spread: don’t look now, but Forest Green Rovers was actually winning a game.

In the trade, they call this a demolition: not one, not two, but five wrecking balls smashed into the net of the visiting team to ensure that – along with zero conceded – that popular chant “we never win at home” was roundly silenced. FGR’s first home victory of the season has certainly been a long time coming but, all the same, felt far sweeter for the wait. 

Pictures: Simon Hacker

IMG 3956 | Optimism 1 – football experts 0: how FGR wrecked a Roman holiday
Free ‘bacon’ sandwiches were handed out by LaVie vegan food experts

The day began jitterily enough and, I must admit, I had the advance script in my back pocket. A legion from Colchester, Brittania’s Roman powerhouse, would march up the hill to The New Lawn to put a tribe of mutinous savages to the sword.

IMG 3957 | Optimism 1 – football experts 0: how FGR wrecked a Roman holiday
A party from Westonbirt School came along to add some cheering to the home side

This Essex garrison might not exactly be staring down at FGR in League 2 from a great height (we were 24 out of 24 after we slipped to rock bottom last week from a defeat in Lancashire), but they vanquished the mighty Notts County at the death of September and, well, to be honest, we’ve been loitering in such a trough of home-fixture doom since the season opener that if you told me your mum was coming to have a go with her aunties I’d probably avoid opening Wednesday’s predictive email from Sports Mole.

IMG 3962 | Optimism 1 – football experts 0: how FGR wrecked a Roman holiday
Colchester fans started the day with a cautious smile

As I say, the day began auspiciously. One thing FGR does, despite the nonsense trotted out by social media’s influenza of influencers, is make visitors welcome. Okay, we don’t give most of them the nicety of a roof to keep their heads dry, but how about a half-decent live band and free face-painting for the kids? There were even free bacon sandwiches (relax, pigs, it was yet another free grub promotion, this time from LaVie, and they wouldn’t do that). 

IMG 3982 | Optimism 1 – football experts 0: how FGR wrecked a Roman holiday
A picture paints a thousand words

The website FanHub ran a clickbait poll this week to see which was the most “tinpot” club in Britain… and used an image of The New Lawn as a less-than-subliminal illustrative suggestion. But given the immediate backlash (not only from FGR fans), it seems fair to say we’re not doing badly for a club that is now treading water before it moves to a setting that will knock more than one or two premier league clubs’ CO2-haemorraging HQs into a cocked hat.

But enough of dreamy futures. Today’s nightmares were at hand. With a summit looming next week between club owner Dale Vince, manager David Horseman and those fans mustering enough energy to engage, FGR needed a result today. And we’re not talking ‘need’ on the level of being slightly hungry. Today was a case of confronting a weight loss that otherwise might result in a club so starved for home glory it might turn to a husk and blow away on the indifferent breeze.

Of course, as a fan, I would say this, but recent scorelines have not reflected the levels of quality we’ve often watched. Since August, FGR has played some perfect two-act tragedies, certainly at home, where it would be understable for fans  (me included) to stomp out crying it’s just not fair. And something in the injustice of that had begun to seep into the players’ bones. You can only have so many gravity-altering Troy Deeneys, balletic Kyle McAllisters and octopusian Tyrese Omotoyes; the heart and soul of Dom Bernard might have your back while bulldog Matty Stevens nods away in the box, but it all comes to a bag of nothing if the belief isn’t driving it. 

So yesterday, you might read in sports reports elsewhere, FGR did it. Except that’s not really true: they gave it some, and gave it some more, for sure, but it wasn’t technically them: it was the fans. Despite all the heartbreak and fear of watching our team tumble from League 1 and embark on what might terrifyingly resemble a beeline for National League, the fans who came along anyway – and crucially the fans in the South Stand – powered this game. Led by drummer Jack Hopkins, they never missed a beat. And that fug of doubt that’s often seeping onto the pitch to infect our boys? Well, it was there, but it kept moving and clung on tight to a flustered and tetchy Colchester.

As I say, you can read all about the fill-your-boots sequence from far better sports writers than me. And hopefully they will note what happened in the second half of the game: the one off the pitch. 

Thus helped, FGR’s boys banished their demons. And all those weirdly positive predictions we have seen, from Stockport fans to Luke Williams, the manager of Notts County, came to life: FGR, they said, is actually a good team, and they will, sooner or later, begin to click. Thanks to the belief of our fans, who were rewarded by the bizarre spectacle of a team running towards them in 5-0 celebration, it started today.

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