A footballing Forest. Nottingham ? Of course. Redbridge ? Possibly – they were a short lived incarnation of what is now Dagenham and Redbridge. Forest Green ? If you follow the Premier League or the Football League, they may just be a name to you in Saturday’s classified results, but look out. The club from Gloucestershire may not be “non league” much longer.
I make mention of their location – set as they are, high above the town of Nailsworth (population around 7,000) because one club, so the story goes, started heading to London when they drew Rovers in a cup fixture. Presumably the driver was thinking of Forest Gate.
The club’s current Chairman, Dale Vince, is the mastermind behind the green energy company, Ecotricity. One of his early ideas was to rename the road on which the ground is situated “Another Way”. You could argue that has been Rovers motto for the last 20 years, when they were going nowhere in a hurry in the Southern League in front of crowds of 100.
It was then that a big Yorkshireman, Trevor Horsley, got to grips with the club. It was a grip he held until Vince took the chair in the autumn of 2010. In Horsley’s time the club won two promotions and moved from their quaint but restrictive old ground called The Lawn to – er, The New Lawn, barely a couple of goal kicks from the old site.
Having got into the Conference, the expectation was they would struggle to survive, but survive they have, not once but for every year since 1999. Sometimes it’s been mighty close – even on the failure of others to keep their affairs in order, but every time, somehow, they beat the drop, although finishes in positions of comfort have been a rarity.
Having ploughed so much of his time and money into the club Horsley’s health was suffering, and no one man has bottomless pockets in terms of funding a football club – or so it seemed. Dale Vince, however, has re-written that myth too, at least to date.
His relationship with manager David Hockaday has seen the construction of a squad that is the envy of many teams in League 2, particularly when it comes to the length of contracts being offered. Three year deals are not unusual, and, if the rumour mill is to be believed, on good money too. The Welsh press suggested Wrexham striker Danny Wright left the Racecourse to join Rovers this summer because they were doubling his salary.
Since Hockaday and Vince joined forces Rovers have dodged relegation on the last day, finished 10th, and then last season, been firmly in play off contention until the last month of the season, when their form capitulated.
Some regular fans I know suggested the team needed a more experienced spine, and in the summer Hockday HAS recruited players with a few more miles behind them. To Wright add Kelly, Barnes-Homer, Mangan and,
on loan, Pilkington, although Mansfield’s programme on Saturday says his deal is with a view to a permanent move.
Only the injured Mangan didn’t feature in the opening day demolition of Hyde, who conceded eight after having a man sent off, so that’s almost worth an extra point already given the boost to the goal difference.
Some chairmen quickly get frustrated with managers when improvement is slow, but Vince and Hockaday clearly get on well, and the one trusts the other. Both will be aware that with the exception of Luton, Rovers don’t play any of the other fancied teams in their first dozen games – a real chance to build a strong platform.
When Vince came to Rovers, the fit seemed a neat one. Although born in Norfolk, he’s lived in the area for a long time and his green ethos was a marketing dream when you consider the club’s name. As usual, initial opinion was split on his motives but without his backing, Forest Green would not have stabilised let alone got to a position where the “project promotion” tag actually looks within reach.
What remains unclear is the club’s potential. Crowds remain modest – some home attendances last season were under 1,000 – but the catchment area is untapped. Vince is a bright businessman whose interest in football has become a passion. As long as he stays involved, the former FA Vase winners could become a second and rather more rural Forest in the Football League ranks.
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