In beating Tranmere Rovers at Wembley in last weekend’s National League play-off final, Forest Green became the latest club to be promoted to the Football League for the first time.
Goals from Kaiyne Woolery (2) and Christian Doidge secured the 3-1 win for Mark Cooper’s side, who have ended their 19-year stay in the division.
But the team’s promotion has divided fans of opposing clubs, some of which are vehemently against not only the club’s transfer policies and the money being pumped into the club, but also their insistence on serving vegan food at matches.
The bizarre, yet admittedly admirable, blanket ban on all red meats was introduced after green energy tycoon and Ecotricity owner, Dale Vince, took over in 2010, and by 2011 he had stopped the club from serving red meats at the club.
The club officially launched as an ‘all vegan club’ in 2015, and they stopped selling fish, meat and cow’s milk officially in February of the same year.
Vince’s policies off the pitch go much further than his thoughts on healthy and ethical foods though. He has also invested heavily in the team on and off the pitch in a bid to reach the Football League, a bid that has finally paid off after seven years in waiting.
Keanu Marsh-Brown, Dale Bennett, Liam Noble and Rhys Murphy are all players who could undoubtedly play at a level higher than the National League, but were attracted to the town of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire. With a population of just 5,800, it is now the lowest populated town with a club in the Football League.
Each player signing for the club in previous seasons have immediately mentioned the owner’s vision, and plans to expand and build the club – they have planning permission for a new £100million stadium, which would include an all-seater stadium, 4G pitches, state-of-the-art facilities and a sports science hub.
The prospective new facility is being dubbed ‘Eco Park’, and has a green technology centre incorporated in the plans. The stadium will also seat the entire population of Nailsworth, with the capabilities to expand and double that capacity.
A £100million stadium with state-of-the-art facilities would have been quite the step up on other club’s facilities in the National League if they had stuck around long enough to build it, but Vince’s side have much higher aspirations of themselves, they’re looking to be playing in the Championship in the next decade or so.
So is this really the ‘rags to riches’ fairytale that we, as football fans, are so ready to believe?
Bournemouth’s meteoric rise to the Premier League, as well as Leicester’s return there, were both labelled as rags to riches stories, but both sides spent disproportionately large sums of money in the lower division before winning promotion.
To answer whether Forest Green’s promotion is a ‘fairytale’, or if it’s just another example of a rich business tycoon buying the league, it boils down to what constitutes a fairytale in footballing terms.
It must be a small club, that much is certain, but does the finance firepower of the club matter? Bournemouth’s promotion to the Premier League was dubbed a fairytale despite their expenditure, so should Forest Green’s be the same, but on a much lesser scale?
They have the financial means to blow other teams out of the water in the National League, which they have done by signing higher quality players on presumably extensive wages and submitting plans for a £100million stadium, but Vince’s own plans for the club make it abundantly clear he has much higher ambitions than simply making it into the Football League, they want to thrive there.
And now, thanks to him, they can.
Comment below and let us know what you think. Do you think Forest Green should be dubbed a rags to riches fairytale, or do you feel they’re now just another in the long list of examples of business tycoon’s buying the league?