Forest Green Rovers 3 Guiseley 0 (10th Oct 2015)
The can be few approaches to the town of a club quite like the northern route into Nailsworth, home of Forest Green Rovers. Taking a road in to the west of Minchinhampton, I first found myself driving between large fields of grazing cattle, not a fence in sight. They could have wandered into the road at any point, and were all about half a mile east when I drove back.
If that felt a little disconcerting, a couple of hundred metres further on, I found myself ploughing through the middle of a links style golf course, expecting to see the sea and some American golfers cursing the British weather at any moment.
And once through the golf course, the road immediately broke into a series of hairpin bends climbing down the steep hill into Nailsworth itself. The 40 mph speed limit signs were wholly unnecessary, as beyond people with a death wish or extreme rally drivers, it’s hard to see anyone approaching anywhere near 40 and staying on the road.
The football ground was at the far side of Nailsworth, which meant another hill to navigate. This time upwards, chugging up through a narrow lane, all dry stone walls and Cotswolds limestone, and steep enough to make you think if they every put on public transport from the town centre to the ground, they could consider a ski lift or a funicular railway.
The ground marked the end of the town, but not quite the end of the hill, which continued further upwards on a single track country lane. From here there were views across the hills of the Cotswolds, and a farm included a field full of alpacas directly across the road from the ground.
If having a football club located smack in the middle of one of the most idyllic parts of the country wasn’t unusual enough, Forest Green Rovers are unusual in other ways too. For starters, the ownership has decided to put a massive emphasis on the club’s green credentials. With its sustainable energy shirt sponsorship, solar panels outside, electric car charging points in the car park, it isn’t just paying lip-service to the idea.
Even the most controversial and widely know measure at the club, going fully vegetarian (even to the extent of having soya rather than cow milk for tea and coffee) isn’t about a “meat is murder” student-activist ideal, but because of the impact of cow-farts (I kid you not) on the environment, apparently responsible for nearly 15% of worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions. Even the draught beer is vegan, even if less ethical or ecologically friendly brands are available in bottles.
I felt compelled to try one of the (in)famous veggie burgers before kick off. It was OK, even if a slight spiciness to it was something I’d rather have done without. There was only a passing resemblance to a real burger, but then again I frequented a lot of football tea bars into the 1980s and the taste was no further away from beef than what I often got served up back then. I further suspect the veggie burger’s beef content wasn’t actually that much lower either.
Maybe the more remarkable part of Forest Green’s story is that this village club – yesterday’s crowd 1749 is the equivalent of Kidderminster pulling in 17,000 – are looking like they could be a Football League club next season. They went into the game three points clear of 2nd placed Cheltenham, and would stretch the lead to five points by the end of the afternoon.
From a personal point of view, the least welcome part of this green eco drive is that the players took the pitch (an organic pitch, naturally) in green and black hoops. They used to play in black and white stripes until the eco ideas kicked in. My problem isn’t with green per se, but the shade of green. I think I’d call it “2001 lower division away kit green”. A kind of lurid fluorescent lime green that would burn your retina if stared at too long. And there were more in the stands than usual, with a special offer meaning a few hundred kids got a free shirt as part of a deal. Clearly damaging young minds, not to mention eyes, with such colours, doesn’t harm the environment.
In such a setting, any ground would struggle to not be a little disappointing, and “The New Lawn” (the old ground – The Lawn – was just a couple of hundred metres down the hill) does suffer from a bit of modern sterility. There’s a stand for about 2000 down one side, and reasonable covered terraces at either end. Maybe if the other side wasn’t just an open side with about half a dozen steps it would stop the place feeling so open and exposed. For some reason home fans were restricted to about a third of this side, with the rest left empty. It’s not as if the 60 Guiseley fans were about to spark a riot, although I think I heard them singing “all we want is a decent meat pie” at one point.
Food complaints aside, it wasn’t going to be a great afternoon for those fans or their team. They did comprehensively outsing the surprisingly quiet home fans, but that was as good as it got.
In fairness they were well in the game for the first 20 minutes, although neither side looked that likely to make a breakthough. Slack marking allowed the ball to be played into space on the far side of the Guiseley box to a lone Forest Green attacker. He had so much time to bring he ball down and steady himself that the lashed-in goal was almost a formality.
From there, Guiseley were always chasing the game, and never had quite the same belief. Coupled with the Forest Green defence being on top form, giving away a cheap penalty didn’t help matters. A ball from a corner wasn’t cleared, and with a Forest Green play trying to find an angle for a shot it the box, a careless attempt at poking the ball away saw a foot taken rather than the ball, and gifted the chance for 2-0.
Journeyman ex-League striker Jon Parkin stepped up for the kick. Not one for anything fancy, hit opted to put his weight behind it and leather it, and when you have Jon Parkin’s weight, that’s probably the best option. He’d had a header from a corner ruled out earlier for pushing/flattening a defender, and had missed a hatful at Aldershot in the week, so was understandably pleased.
Later in the game he picked up a knock, and was sat on the floor getting treatment. He’s no doubt well used to the odd comment about his weight, but I’m not sure how he’d have felt about the shout of “you’ll never refloat him” from one of his own fans.
He stayed on, but fellow attacker Kurtis Guthrie didn’t. It was an inspired substitution, as his replacement Aaron O’Connor sealed the win with his first touch of the game, firing into the top corner of the net from just inside the area.
The closing stages of the game were actually played during a power cut. I’d noticed the scoreboard fail, but not noticed the floodlights turn off as well. A powercut probably isn’t the best advert for the club sponsor’s sustainable energy business, but hey, a little less energy spent is a little more saving the planet, so along with the win, at Forest Green they were probably happy about that too.