Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football (Soccer) Ladder

In the almost four year existence of GreenSportsBlog, we have written more stories about fifth tier English soccer/football club Forest Green Rovers than any other team or topic—12 times to be exact. Why? FGR is, clearly to GSB, the Greenest Team in Sports. From rooftop solar to mowing the lawn with a solar powered “mow-bot” (I kid you not!) to the now famous vegan-only food concessions, FGR is at the cutting edge of Green-Sports. And, as of Sunday they are no longer in the fifth tier of English soccer. After beating Tranmere, 3-1, in a playoff match at London’s fabled Wembley Stadium, FGR earned promotion to the fourth tier (aka League Two), for the first time ever. This is huge, from both football and greening perspectives.

 

I am quite sure you’ve never heard of Kaiyne Woolery. But he may well be one of the most important people in Green-Sports today—and he likely has no idea about that fact.

Woolery scored two goals to lead Forest Green Rovers (FGR), aka the Greenest Team in Sports, to a 3-1 win over Tranmere Rovers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. The playoff victory earned FGR promotion from the National League (the fifth tier of English football) to League Two (fourth tier).

Kaiyne Woolery

Kaiyne Woolery celebrates one of his two goals for Forest Green Rovers in Sunday’s promotion 3-1 playoff win at London’s Wembley Stadium over Tranmere. FGR moves up to League Two, the 4th tier of English football, next season (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

You simply cannot overstate the impact of this win, abetted by Woolery’s two goals, both in terms of football and FGR’s sustainability/climate change fighting mission.

 

MOVING ON UP

From a football perspective, consider that Forest Green Rovers has been in existence since 1889 and has never made it up to the fourth tier (FYI, there are 24 tiers in English football, with over 7,000 clubs).

In most countries—but not the US and Canada—professional soccer operates a system of promotion and relegation. Clubs that finish at or near the top of a league are promoted to the league above for the following season. Teams that end up at or near the bottom get relegated to the league below. If you want more information on promotion and relegation, check out this schematic, which maps out the top nine tiers of English football, and/or click here.

 

English Football Pyramid

The English Football Pyramid. Forest Green Rovers won promotion from the 5th Level (Conference National) to the 4th Level (League Two), the highest tier it has ever achieved. (Credit: An American’s Guide to English Soccer)

 

For most of its 128 year existence, FGR rattled around a maze of English local, county and regional leagues, moving up and down over the decades, never getting above the sixth tier. In 1997-98, they made it up to the National League, the fifth tier of English soccer. While that was an accomplishment, let’s put it in its proper perspective: In baseball terms, the fifth tier is the equivalent of the low minor leagues. FGR’s quaint and sustainable home ground, The New Lawn, has a capacity of about 5,100, similar to most of its (now former) National League compatriots.

The club largely teetered between relegation and mediocrity until Dale Vince, OBE^, owner of Ecotricity, a solar and wind provider, bought the club in 2010. They started slowly but hit on an upward trajectory that led to FGR making the promotion playoffs in 2015 and 2016. They fell short both years but the third time proved to be a charm on Sunday. Before a crowd of almost 19,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, the club earned promotion to League Two with Woolery’s 11th and 44th minute goals sandwiching one from Christian Doidge in the 41st.

The honeymoon will be brief for the coaches, players and supporters, many of whom flooded The New Lawn for a celebration Monday night. FGR’s first League Two season starts in just three months (it’s a loooooong season!). Some higher caliber talent will need to be added to the core of this season’s group to make sure Forest Green Rovers stays in the fourth tier and doesn’t face relegation.

 

LEAGUE TWO: BIGGER MEGAPHONE FOR FGR’S GREENNESS

From a sustainability perspective, the implications of Woolery’s two goals and of the resulting move up the ladder are also massive.

One might not think going from the fifth to fourth tier is that big a deal. Trust me; it is.

  • Sky Sports, a British version of ESPN, broadcasts League Two matches, providing those clubs with greater media exposure, and thus a bigger audience, than their National League counterparts (without a national broadcast deal) can hope for. And that means a bigger audience for stories about FGR’s greenness, the vegan only food, the mow-bot, etc.
  • With its ascension to League Two, FGR is now, per the schematic above, part of The Football League, the organization that oversees the second, third and fourth tiers. This is important because FGR can take part in two domestic, knock-out Cup competitions, the League Cup (includes the Premier League teams) and the League Trophy (open to League One and Two clubs only) that are not open to National League clubs or below. And that means they will share in yet more additional revenue. The more famous and prestigious FA Cup is open to all levels.

 

FGR Tweet

 

  • The TV deal and the additional Cup exposure will result in a financial windfall for the club, estimated by one source to be between $1-$2 million. That is rounding error compared to the estimated $220 million influx for each of the three teams that get promoted from the second tier Championship to the Premier League. But $1-$2 million can be a big deal in the Forest Green Rovers world. It will allow Mr. Vince to attract a higher level of talent. And perhaps he will be able to move forward on some new sustainability initiatives.

 

The highest profile sustainability-focused project on Mr. Vince’s docket is FGR’s new stadium. To be clear, the world’s first all-wood stadium was in the planning phase before this season started.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Did you say all-wood stadium?”

Yes. Mr. Vince and company is planning an all (fire-retardant treated) wood stadium. In a meadow.

 

FGR Exterior

Computer-aided design of the exterior of the planned all-wood Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Mr. Vince, in a story by George Ramsey that ran Tuesday on CNN.com, said, “The importance of wood is not only that it’s naturally occurring, [but that] it has very low embodied carbon — about as low as it gets for a building material. And when you bear in mind that around three-quarters of the lifetime carbon impact of any stadium comes from its building materials, you can see why that’s so important — and it’s why our new stadium will have the lowest embodiment of carbon of any stadium.”

 

FGR Interior

Computer-aided design of the interior of the planned Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the stadium will be topped by a translucent, sloping roof to reduce shadows on the pitch (field) and aid in grass growth. Venue walkways have been fashioned to allow better ventilation and maintenance of the field.

 

The first 53 seconds of this 6:44 video from TomoNews provides details about Forest Green Rovers’ proposed all-wood stadium.

 

If all goes to plan, the stadium will be the hub of a 100-acre Eco Park. At an estimated cost of $123 million, the park will include facilities for both the community and the club: gyms, all-weather soccer pitches/fields, sports science clinics, as well as a conference center.

The project still needs approval from local authorities, so Mr. Vince asked the fans present at Monday’s promotion celebration to write to the Stroud District Council in support of the stadium—another benefit of promotion to League Two.

But don’t think that Mr. Vince is content to stop at League Two. He was quoted at the celebration by Aled Thomas in Gloucestershire Live as saying, “I think we’ll have a good first season in League Two and will be there or thereabouts for promotion – I’m aiming for League One and then the Championship.”

And the FGR owner is also aiming, with his club’s higher profile, to show his fellow owners that green is good for business and good for football.

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire, a level of chivalry in the United Kingdom.

 


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GSB News and Notes: Arsenal Signs Solar Power Deal; Swiss Ski Industry Imperiled by Climate Change

GreenSportsBlog offers up a European News & Notes: Arsenal, historically, one of England’s winningest soccer clubs, signed a deal to power their London stadium with solar power, and almost immediately began encouraging its fans to sign up for clean energy. Swiss ski resorts could see a 70 percent drop in snow cover as a result of climate change. 

 

ARSENAL PARTNERS WITH OCTOPUS ENERGY TO POWER STADIUM WITH SOLAR; ENCOURAGE FANS TO DO SO AT HOME

Earlier this season, perennial Premier League contender (this season? Not so much) Arsenal announced that Octopus Energy had signed on as their official energy partner. London-based Octopus, with over 220 solar farms, is the UK’s largest investor in solar. In fact, it is responsible for 40 percent of Britain’s large scale solar power. 

The partnership will help the club reach their sustainability targets, including helping to power the Emirates Stadium in North London using its solar resources. This is great, and typical of clean energy sponsorships at stadiums and arenas. 

But the Octopus-Arsenal deal goes beyond the typical to embrace classic (green) sports, loyalty marketing tactics. Arsenal fans who sign up with Octopus have the chance to win cool prizes, including behind the scenes VIP stadium tours, signed Arsenal shirts and autographed Arsenal footballs. And they are being offered the same clean energy rates for their homes as the club pays to power The Emirates. This represents a significant discount vs. the open or standard consumer price.

Given the incredible, hyper-local loyalty Premier League fans have for their clubs (the closest thing to it in US sports is the religious zeal of SEC college football fans), rewarding fans with Arsenal swag for making a choice for clean energy is a powerful (pun intended) way to go.

A great example of this is Kester (last name withheld for privacy reasons), winner of the Month for February of Octopus Energy’s Arsenal fan drawing. Per an interview on the Octopus website, Arsenal is clearly in his blood: “I’ve been supporting Arsenal my whole life. Ever since I was 4 years old, when I went down to Highbury^ for my first game. I’ve been hooked ever since. My family has supported Arsenal for decades”

Arsenal Octopus Feb Winner

Kester switched to Octopus Energy’s clean energy supply and, in the process, won this Arsenal jersey. (Photo credit: Octopus Energy)

 

The connection to his favorite football club made the difference for Kester when he went shopping for an energy provider: “I wanted to move energy providers, and I was on a comparison site looking for a green energy plan when I stumbled upon Octopus Energy. After a bit of research, I noticed on the Arsenal website that you guys had signed a deal to give fans their own energy plan, so I signed up. The Arsenal partnership was great as it meant I could support the club, and also be entered into the monthly prize draws.”

Octopus Energy will also have signage and other branding at all Premier League and FA Cup matches played at The Emirates as well as hospitality on some match days. In addition, they will be able to access Arsenal’s digital channels and run promotions featuring the club’s stars.

Arsenal Players

Arsenal players promote the club’s partnership with Octopus Energy, the UK’s largest investor in solar power. (Photo credit: Arsenal F.C.)

 

As a New York City-based fan of North London rival Tottenham Hotspur, it burns me up that Arsenal have beaten Spurs to the Green-Sports/clean energy punch. But, let’s cut Spurs a little slack here: They’re in their final campaign at the venerable White Hart Lane, will be a tenant next season at Wembley Stadium, the home of the English National Team, before moving into their new home in August 2018. At that time, hopefully Spurs fans will be able to win cool prizes by signing up with a clean energy provider.

In the meantime, let’s hope Spurs can finish ahead of Arsenal for the first time since 1996—as of this writing they’re six points ahead.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPERILS SWISS SKI RESORTS’ BUSINESS

Will humanity be able to keep average global surface temperature rise to at or below 2° C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century? That is, of course, the “will life on earth resemble what we’ve known it to be” question. 

In the grand scheme of things, the survival of the Swiss ski industry is far down the priority list as compared to, say, life itself. That said, the Alps, with Switzerland at its core, is the world’s biggest ski destination, accounting for 44 percent of world ski visitors. So it is significant when Robert McSweeney, writing in the February 16 edition of Carbon Briefreports on a new study that says the Swiss ski season will increasingly be curtailed by a lack of snow.

The research, published in The Cryosphere, suggests that the pristine Swiss slopes could see an average 70 percent reduction in the depth of snow cover by the end of the century if the 2° C threshold is breached. For ski resorts at lower elevations, this might mean no snow at all. On the other hand, declines in snow depth could be limited to 30 percent if global temperature rise does not break the 2° C barrier. Some consolation.

henri-oreiller

Henri Oreiller of France, en route to winning the Gold Medal in the downhill at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Hosting an Olympics in St. Moritz, located in the central portion of the country, towards the end of the 21st century might be impossible, given the effects of climate change, according to new research. (Photo credit: Bettmann/Corbis)

Using data collected from 82 weather stations and considering three different climate change scenarios, the researchers simulated snow cover in Central and Eastern Switzerland ski country through the 21st century.

In the first scenario, worldwide CO2 emissions are halved by the middle of the century and global temperature rise is likely to stay below 2° C. The other two scenarios assume no specific international effort to cut emissions, with global temperatures rising 2.2-4.9C or 2.5-5.9C compared to pre-industrial levels.

In the near-term (between now and 2035), the projected decline in the thickness of snow is similar for all three scenarios – at around 20-30 percent compared to recent years. However, as the projections extend into the middle and end of the century, the differences between the scenarios become stark. By 2070-99, for example, the projected snow changes in the two Swiss ski regions are around 30 percent for the low CO2 scenario, but nearer to 70 percent for the “business as usual” approaches. 

The driving force behind the deterioration of snow cover is increasing temperature, not drought. Even increases in precipitation won’t compensate for the impact of the warming, say the researchers, as that precipitation will increasingly fall as rain rather than snow, especially on the resorts in the lower altitudes. As the study says, “the most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1,200m (~4,000 ft), where the simulations show almost no snow towards the end of the century.” Around a quarter of Alpine ski resorts are located entirely below this altitude.

For resorts where there is still enough snow for skiing, the projections suggest the average season will be much shorter, dropping from a current 6.5 months at elevations of 1,500m and up, to just two months (mid-December to mid-February) by 2100.

All of this can be expected to lead to a devastating effect on the Swiss Alps’ economy. For some Alpine villages, as much as 90% of their economy depends on winter tourism.

So the ski industry will increasingly rely on artificial snow. In fact, it is already doing so— 36 percent of slopes in Switzerland and 66 percent in Austria. Problem is, it is a water and energy intensive —and expensive—process. That has to change if the ski industry in the Alps is to have a long term chance. As the report’s lead author Dr Christoph Marty, a research scientist at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Switzerland, told McSweeney, “The efficient production of technical snow will get even more important than today.”

davos

Davos, Switzerland ski slopes being pelted with artificial snow in 2014 (Photo credit: Getty Images)

 


^ Highbury was Arsenal’s home stadium from 1913-2006. The club moved into the Emirates Stadium for the 2006-2007 Premier League campaign.
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