Forest Green Rovers, the Greenest Team in Sports, earned promotion this weekend up from the fourth tier of English football/soccer to the third tier, aka League One. FGR becomes the smallest club to ever get to such rarified air in the English Football Pyramid.
The move up the ladder is a massive payoff of owner Dale Vince’s decade+ long commitment to pushing the green envelope.
The next challenge? Proving the ‘Little (Electric) Engine That Could’ can stay in League One.
The challenge after that? Earning promotion to the Championship, England’s second tier, one level below the Premier League.
But for now, celebration is the order of the day for Forest Green Rovers and, it must be said, the entire Green-Sports movement.
The vast majority of 0-0 draws in football/soccer do not result in champagne corks being popped. Yawns and/or angry calls to sports talk radio about lack of action are much more common. Yet, cork popping is exactly what Forest Green Rovers players, coaches and owner Dale Vince were doing after Saturday afternoon’s goalless match at Bristol Rovers.
Forest Green Rovers players celebrate promotion to League One with a champagne shower after their 0-0 draw at Bristol Rovers on Saturday (Photo credit: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian)
Because with the draw, FGR, the Greenest Team in Sports, had secured promotion from League Two to League One, the third tier of English Football. Locally, this is a big story as it marks the highest level ever reached by the 133 year-old club from tiny Nailsworth (population: 5,700 which is the approximate capacity of its New Lawn stadium), about 100 miles west of London.
Globally, FGR’s promotion should result in a major boost in awareness of and interest in the club’s über-green DNA. Will bigger clubs accelerate imitation of Forest Green’s solar powered-vegan-EV approach? That is to be determined but promotion can’t hurt.
Forest Green Rovers’ move up the pyramid from an obscure county- and regional-level club to the top 64 of English football and its establishment as a global green brand coincides with its purchase by Dale Vince, chairman of solar and wind company Ecotricity, in 2010. New investment in green infrastructure (solar on the stadium roof, organic pitch, and vegan-only food for players and fans alike), better players and coaches ensued. And so did promotion: FGR moved up rom the fifth to fourth tier in 2017.
Promotion from fourth tier to third is a big, difficult leap that took Forest Green five years to achieve. The final piece of the puzzle appears to have been the appointment of former Wales, Aston Villa and Wolves defender Rob Edwards as manager last summer. The 39-year-old has earned plaudits for his youth-oriented approach — 22 of the 29 players are under 25 years old — and for sticking with a stable lineup. FGR barreled towards first place and promotion on the wings of a 19-game unbeaten string last fall and winter. Striker Matty Stevens and attacking midfielder Jamille Matt (the Matt Attack!) have led the way with 43 goals between them.
Dale Vince, Rob Edwards, the Matt Attack and the rest of Forest Green rode a rented Yutong (China) electric bus down to Bristol, knowing that all they needed was a draw on Saturday at Bristol Rovers to clinch its move up to the third tier. Automatic promotion goes to the first, second and third place finishers. A draw would mean that, with two games left, the club’s lowest finish possible would be third.
The owner was excited both by the prospect of promotion — and about potentially buying an electric bus for the club’s first third tier season.
“This is the last piece of the jigsaw for us,” Vince told The Guardian’s Ben Fisher on the bus ride to Bristol. “The way our team travels is probably the biggest thing within our control that we hadn’t yet dealt with. Beyond that the really big thing we’re going to do is move to Eco Park, [a new stadium] built from wood, which has the lowest carbon footprint of any material in the world. It is good to be pushing the boundaries, otherwise you get a lot of box-ticking.”
On the pitch, FGR pushed boundaries, going for the win, with Jamille Matt, Jack Aitchison and Nicky Cadden all being denied by the Bristol Rovers keeper. At the other end of the pitch, Forest Green keeper Luke McGee, untroubled most of the afternoon, was able to keep a clean sheet with a stellar save in the second half. And thus, when the final whistle sounded, the nil-nil score line was cause for celebration among the team, the 750 or so supporters who made the three-hour trip…and the Green-Sports movement around the world.
Jamille Matt (foreground in green) skies for a header for Forest Green Rovers in Saturday’s 0-0 draw vs. Bristol City Rovers (Photo credit: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian)
GSB’s Take: Congratulations to Forest Green Rovers’ players, coaches, staff, and of course Dale Vince. Make no mistake: Moving up from the fourth to the third tier is a significant accomplishment for the club and its #ClimateComeback actions and messaging. Why? The League One (third tier) platform is much bigger:
- Average capacity of League Two (fourth tier) venues is around 10,000 with the biggest being the 25,000 seat Valley Parade, home to Bradford City. League One stadiums are, on average, 60 percent bigger at 16,400; Sunderland’s Stadium of Light leads the way at 48,707.
- League One boasts several clubs with long, impressive top tier histories, including the aforementioned Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton Wanderers.
- Forest Green Rovers’ exposure in the US will grow exponentially — League One games air on the ESPN+ streaming service while only a few League Two matches are available on the platform. A quick check of the FGR USA Facebook Supporters Page reveals that there are 192 followers.
I have a feeling that last number will grow exponentially starting in August when Forest Green Rovers begins its first League One campaign.