How the world’s greenest football club took veganism to the big league

‘Let me tell you this, Cheltenham, Swindon, Newport. You are going to eat Hummus next season because Forest Green Rovers are in the Football League.’ Nobody was left in any doubt: vegan football had arrived.

It’s Wembley, 2017, and Forest Green Rovers (FGR), a small team from Stroud, in rural England, take to the pitch and beat Tranmere Rovers, reaching the English Football League for the first time in their long history. Bob Hunt, of BBC Radio Gloucestershire and a long term FGR fan (known as the club’s Shakespeare) provided some immortal commentary, ‘Let me tell you this, Cheltenham, Swindon, Newport. You are going to eat Hummus next season because Forest Green Rovers are in the Football League.’ Nobody was left in any doubt: vegan football had arrived.

Forest Green Rovers is a club that breaks the mould. Firstly, the CEO is Helen Taylor, one of just three female bosses in British football. On match day, there she is with an engaging smile chatting ten to the dozen with fans as they arrive. She is big into community engagement. For the fans, the club is their club and they wear their scarves with additional pride. After all, their club has been declared by FIFA to be ‘the world’s greenest football club’. It’s quite a claim to fame.

It is also the UK’s only vegan football ground and it provides an invaluable lesson in sustainability. There are solar panels on the stand, the pitch is organic grass and there are definitely no meat pies. Whatever the score – and I’ve seen a win and a loss – the blades of a statuesque turbine continue to turn on the hill behind the stadium. This is a big clue to Forest Green Rovers’ ownership: Ecotricity, the renewable energy company founded by Dale Vince. In a market that increasingly includes green tariffs and somewhat tokenistic nods to renewable energy, Vince’s company is respected by environmentalists as the real deal. Over the last two decades he has painstakingly built capacity for renewables in the UK – as policy has continued to favour the Big Six operators. He has also installed a network of charging points for electric vehicles. In our film he explains with characteristic clarity that he turned the club vegan to avoid becoming part of the meat industry.

On one of our first visits to the club as part of filming for World Meat Free Week, FGR’s veganism prompted opposition chants from Braintree of ‘where’s your sausage rolls?’ throughout the first half. In the second half the chants had stopped. We didn’t have to ask why - the delicious vegan burgers have developed quite the reputation and tend to silence critics. Plus FGR were in the lead.

Watch the film here.

One meal for a healthier planet #WorldMeatFreeWeek

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