Playing a part in Forest Green folklore, managers Bob Mursell, Frank Gregan, Mark Cooper, and Rob Edwards need to take a collective bow.
The 1980s saw the tiny club on the top of the hill start their climb with a Wembley win in the FA Vase 40 years ago, where the likes of Steve Doughty, Kenny Norman, and Andy Leitch etched their names into the history of a club once stupidly called Stroud FC.
in only their fifth season as an EFL club, Edwards’ side only required a point away at play-off chasing Bristol Rovers. And they got just that in a goalless stalemate at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday. It completes a fine season for Rovers, who can now look forward to a first-ever tilt in League One next term.
Rovers have been at the top of League Two since way back in September and are now eight points clear of fourth-placed Port Vale, who cannot catch them in their remaining two games.
Who would have dreamed that the heady days of the 80s would see the class of 2022 secure promotion to League One and now anticipated games against former FA Cup winners and UEFA Cup champions – rather than the grassroots encounters with the likes of Brimscombe, Stonehouse, and Shortwood.
In years to come, when Eco Park is an established landmark, Matty Stevens, Jamille Matt, Luke McGee, and the rest of the promotion class of 2022 will go down in history of a club founded in 1889.
However, the real source of this success starts with two entrepreneurs, with contrasting backgrounds. The ambition of gritty Yorkshireman Trevor Horsley and latterly former new age traveller Dale Vince.
The upward curve started in the 1990s with the shrewd appointment of a former army sergeant named Frank Gregan, the master tactician alongside Horsley, who backed his erstwhile manager to deliver what was then the unlikely dream into the National League and rubber-stamped by the meticulous Colin Peake, who helped the club stave off two relegations on technicalities.
Vince rocked up just over a decade ago – the maverick eco-warrior breezing into Nailsworth with ripped jeans, an electric motorbike, and deep pockets. He picked up a club set to go into administration and quickly made his mark – putting the green into Forest Green as football traditions such as burgers and Bovril were erased off the menu. His vegan ways didn’t curry favour with all, but after David Hockaday and Ady Pennock left the building, Cooper plotted a historic promotion to League Two in 2017 via a Wembley play-off victory featuring the likes of Sam Russell, Ethan Pinnock, Dale Bennett and Christian Doidge to name just four.
Despite the success, Cooper was certainly a marmite character for many fans and managed to keep Rovers up and then a second season first attempt at the play-offs.
A Covid ravaged campaign halted Rovers in their tracks before Cooper’s five-year tenure was brought to an end as the team faltered ahead of the play-offs, where caretaker boss Jimmy Ball took up the baton as Rovers missed out again.
Arguably, Vince’s greatest signing arrived last summer – rookie boss Rob Edwards a former Wolves and Wales’ defender. Schooled under Gareth Southgate in the England youth set up, Edwards’ affable nature has proved the key to success in bonding a close-knit squad described as a band of brothers.
With three games to go – a celebration at the Fully Charged New Lawn against Harrogate next weekend should see Rovers duly crowned champions.
Next up, we will see Wayne Rooney and Derby County, Ipswich, Sunderland, Portsmouth and many more strut their stuff at the little club on top of the hill.