THEY do things differently at Forest Green Rovers.
So differently it once led to head groundsman Adam Witchell facing some turf questioning from his puzzled partner Emma — about exactly what he was getting up to in the middle of the night!
The Football League’s newest club are Green by name, green by nature and are proud of the fact they are the UK’s first 100 per cent vegan football club and fanatically eco-friendly.
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Forest Green Rovers boast an entirely vegan menu (which extends to the snack bars for away supporters) – an organic pitch – solar panels on the stadium roofs – a solar powered lawnmower and a fleet of electric cars, with Ecotricity eco-pumps handily situated in the club’s 250-place car park.
Owner Dale Vince, dubbed the £100million Hippy due to his New Age travelling past, founded Green-energy giants Ecotricity in the 90’s.
Now his thriving eco-firm sponsor the world’s greenest football club where every last detail is designed to conserve energy and is environmentally friendly – right down to mowing the grass at the appropriately named New Lawn Stadium.
Club PR Officer Max Boon explained: “We have a solar powered lawnmower which is officially called an ET Mow – but we just call it our Mowbot!
“During the day it has a couple of solar panels which gather energy and charge it up. Then in the middle of the night it sets off with the help of a microchip map of our pitch, which allows it to cut every blade of grass on the pitch.”
That does away with the need for an army of ground-staff revving up a fleet of petrol-guzzling lawnmowers at the end of every game, as happens at other clubs – it also saves the neighbours from suffering any noise pollution as it silently traverses the pitch.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one crucial glitch in the system.
“The Mowbot is so smart if it encounters an unforeseen problem – such as something left lying on the pitch – it automatically texts our head groundsman Andy to ask for advice,” said Max.
“The biggest problem occurred when Andy’s partner got a bit suspicious and demanded to know who kept secretly texting him in the early hours of the morning!
“Try explaining: ‘It’s the lawnmower …. honestly!’
Forest Green Rovers are 128 years old and were longest serving member of the Football Conference until they beat Tranmere Rovers 3-1 at Wembley on Sunday to finally win promotion to League Two.
When they take their bow next season they will officially become the smallest “village club,” to stage Football League football.
I took a trip to the leafy Cotswolds to visit Nailsworth, population 5,974 and find out what all the fuss was about – only there wasn’t much fussing going on in the sleepy Gloucestershire hamlet just off the M5.
If the locals had been hit by Wembley fever on Sunday, then 24 hours later someone had clearly discovered the perfect cure!
Scotland fans flock to Trafalgar Square when they make their pilgrimages to Wembley.
AC and Inter Milan fans head for Il Duomo Square to celebrate their finest hours and Real Madrid fans head for Plaza Cibeles after every European Cup success.
A staggering one million French fans brought the Champs-Elysees to a standstill when France won the World Cup in 1998.
But in Nailsworth’s Cosack Square there was no open-top bus parade or congregation of fans to greet manager Mark Cooper and his bleary-eyed boys back to base. Perhaps that is just as well as the Steppes Residential Care Home is just across the road, caring for the elderly.
In fact it was so eerily quiet I found just one solitary flag flying in town – outside Joya Unique Gifts (famous for its Bamboo socks) – which had been triumphantly planted there by owner Sara Wilce.
“I put it on display because when I came back from Wembley last night there was nothing to suggest we had just achieved our greatest triumph in 128 years – promotion to the Football League,” she said.
“I’ve been to Wembley four times now for FA Vase finals and play-offs but this was the best. I’m proud to fly the club colours.”
Maybe the residents were just sleeping off the excitement but I somehow doubt it.
Even the lambs and sheep grazing on the hillside which overlooks New Lawn Stadium at the top of a huge hill – beside the chocolate box cottages of the Cotswolds – couldn’t raise a gallop.
Asparagasm, the Nailsworth’s famous Vegetarian restaurant was closed – apparently it doesn’t open at nights either!
A trip to the austere former house of George Fox, founder of the Quakers, did little to set the pulse racing either.
Yet next season Coventry City, Swindon Town and Notts County fans will be among those rolling up in gas-guzzling coaches, cracking Quorny jokes about Forest Green’s Quorn and Leek pies.
They could always pay a visit to the local Tourist Information Centre to find out how to pass a spare hour or two in Nailsworth if they don’t fancy dropping into the Britannia Inn or the Nailsworth Social Club.
Volunteer worker Maureen Embrey told me: “Walkers Bakers is very popular and has won a lot of awards for its pies.
“But otherwise, people who come here tend to come for the walks in the beautiful countryside. It’s a Ramblers’ paradise.”