LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Forest Green Rovers

New age dawns at The New Lawn for football’s eco warriors

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Only members of The 92 since 2017, Forest Green Rovers gained plenty of attention even before League Two football came to this hilltop retreat in rural Gloucestershire.

The play-off win over Tranmere at Wembley in May 2017 may have ended two decades in the fifth flight for the club from Nailsworth, south of Stroud, but the real story started when eco millionaire Dale Vince arrived in 2010.

Founder of Stroud-based green-energy company ecotricity, the former New Age traveller not only brought to the table vegan food and solar power but also the kinds of salaries previously out of reach here. Ex-Chelsea UEFA Youth League goalkeeper Bradley Collins, former Ivory Coast U-20 international midfielder Drissa Traoré and one-time England C winger Keanu Marsh-Brown helped manager Mark Cooper, son of Leeds and England legend Terry, find his feet in League football.

Since then, FGR have twice made the play-offs, knocking on the door of League One while staying true to their green credentials.

The New Lawn/Peterjon Cresswell

Forest Green were one of the nearly 20 clubs Cooper junior ran out for as a midfielder, back in the days of the three-figure crowds at the Lawn Ground. The predecessor to today’s New Lawn, this basic field wasn’t equipped with a stand until 1996, still with its signature watermill behind it.

The football team of the hilltop hamlet of Forest Green had been formed in 1889, by the Reverend EJH Peach. The one constant in an early history of name changes and football in the Gloucestershire regional to Stroud district leagues was, in fact, the Lawn Ground. Going up the hill for the match became ingrained in the rural fabric.

Integrating Nailsworth into the fold, and occasionally Stroud, the club stepped up a gear and expanded its horizons under Peter Goring, manager at the Lawn Ground through the 1970s. An FA Cup winner and First Division champion with Arsenal as a player 20 years before, Goring led Forest Green into the Hellenic League, whose clubs came from far away as Greater London and Northamptonshire.

The Green Man/Peterjon Cresswell

A more worldly-wise Forest Green won through to the FA Vase final at Wembley in 1982, beating Rainworth Miners Welfare. A decade later, well travelled Geordie Frank Gregan took Rovers up to the fifth-flight Conference and another major final at Wembley, defeat in the FA Trophy to Kingstonian.

Shortly afterwards, later manager Mark Cooper became club captain at Forest Green, under Nigel Spink, the goalkeeping hero of Aston Villa’s 1982 European Cup Final triumph. In only a short managerial career, Spink took Forest Green to his old stomping ground of Villa Park for another FA Trophy final, and another defeat, in 2001 to Canvey Island.

While Rovers clung on in the Conference, the club sold the Lawn Ground for real estate and built the New Lawn nearby. Crowds still hovered around the 1,000 mark, except during two runs in the FA Cup. Nearly 5,000 gathered for the visit of Derby County in the Third Round of 2008, a ding-dong tie that finished with a 4-3 win for the Midlands side after Forest Green went 2-0, then 3-2, up. An away game at the same stage a year later attracted a 4,000-plus gate at Notts County.

Despite the extra income, the club struggled. Saved from relegation on a technicality in 2010, Forest Green welcomed the arrival of eco magnate Dale Vince.

Forest Green Rovers shop/Peterjon Cresswell

Changing black-and-white striped shirts for lime ones, Vince set about his green revolution at the New Lawn without making too many waves on the playing side. Keeping faith with Dave Hockaday as manager, he saw Rovers mired in mid-table until bringing in former Gillingham centre-back Adrian Pennock in 2013.

Taking Rovers to the Conference play-offs in his first full season, Pennock then achieved long strings of consecutive wins in 2015-16 before being dismissed shortly before the play-off semi-final with Dover. Caretaker coach Scott Bartlett steadied the ship, with Mark Cooper brought in on the eve of the Wembley play-off final with Grimsby.

Both were on the bench to witness a superb Marsh-Brown strike half Grimsby’s lead, but it wasn’t enough.

Motivating his men to achieve play-off qualification again in 2017, Cooper could prepare for Wembley after another vital Marsh-Brown goal sent Forest Green into the final. A brace from on-loan winger Kaiyne Woolery set up a famous victory over Tranmere, Dale Vince celebrating with Cooper and the players as the enormity of their achievement sank in.

The New Lawn/Peterjon Cresswell

Since then, few teams have relished a trek to the top of the hill. While Vince conceived plans for a new stadium made almost entirely out of wood,  the Eco Park, FGR held on to League status in their debut campaign before picking up steam in 2018-19.

Reaching the play-off semi-final, Rovers can feel hard done by, going a man down in each leg against Tranmere, the red card in the first game coming after only 15 minutes. Making the same stage two years later, in 2021, FGR had first shocked many by sacking Mark Cooper after five years, bringing in youth coach Jimmy Ball – son of another England legend, 1966 hero Alan. Going down 2-0 at Newport in the first leg, Rovers had levelled the aggregate within eight minutes of the home tie. Then going 3-0 up, the home side saw their lead reduced in a pulsating semi-final, eventually decided by a last-gasp Newport goal as penalties beckoned.

For 2021-22, Ball was replaced by former Welsh international centre-back Rob Edwards, prolific young striker Matty Stevens picking up awards as Rovers recorded a string of league wins.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

With one all-seated main East Candriam Stand, The New Lawn is a neat, compact ground of just over 5,000 capacity. Famously partly powered by solar energy – you’ll see the panels by the main entrance as you come in – the ground remains FGR’s home until a proposed new venue at Eastington is built.

For the time being, supporters still make their way to the top of the hill. Away supporters are allocated the West Stand, accessed through gates 9 and 10, mainly terrace with two seated sectors opposite. Home fans occupy standing areas at both ends, adults in the EESI South Stand, families, school groups and members of junior teams in the Community North Stand.

The Green Man bar and main reception are behind the East Stand, the ticket outlet and club shop on the corner of the East and North Stands.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

From outside Vue Cinemas by Merrywalks shopping and leisure centre in Stroud, Stagecoach bus 63 leaves twice an hour for Nailsworth, to terminate at Forest Green Primary School near the main entrance of The New Lawn. Services run until 8pm (Sundays hourly until 4.30pm). Journey time is about 25mins. Most buses set off from and run all the way to Gloucester 70mins away.

In Nailsworth, the bus sets down at the Old Market close to the Village Inn pub, before climbing up Spring Hill, leading to equally steep Nympsfield Road. Walking to the ground from here is doable for the fit and the intrepid. Although services finish by the time evening games are over, the walk back down the hill is a pleasant one.

The sat nav code for The New Lawn is GL6 0FG. The nearest car park, just across from the entrance to the stadium, is at Nailsworth Primary School on Nympsfield Road (GL6 0BJ), where a limited number of spaces are available (£5, card only). The club has a P&R arrangement with Renishaw on Stroud/Bath Road (GL5 5HA, £3, card only). Buses take about 10mins. 

There are various free parking options around Nailsworth – such as at the Old Market (GL6 0DU), where you can pick up the 63 bus up the hill – but most have 2hr maximum stays. Nearly all, however, have no restrictions after 6pm.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Advance tickets can be normally purchased in person from the main reception (usual opening hours Mon-Fri 9am-3pm) behind the East Stand, over the phone (UK only 0333  123 1889, Mon-Tue, Thur-Fri 9am-3pm) or online. For all enquiries, contact reception@fgr.co.uk.

On match days, ticket windows operate just inside the main entrance. All payments are cashless.

Prices are £23 for the best seats in the centre of the main East Stand, £18 for over-65s, £12 for under-21s, £8 for under-16s and £3 for under-11s. In the wings for home and away fans, it’s £21, then discounted categories at £16, £10 and £7, with under-11s being admitted free. For the home terrace ends, it’s £17, then £13, £8 and £5, under-11s free. On match days, it’s £1-£2 extra across the board, again with under-11s free.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

During the week, you can buy Forest Green souvenirs from the main reception (usual opening hours Mon-Fri 9am-3pm) behind the East Stand.

On match days, a pop-up shop also operates. First-team shirts of green with zebra stripes are made from 50% bamboo – there are also signed ones manufactured from coffee grounds and recycled plastic for £90 (!). Away tops are white with zebra stripes, third kit different shades of blue in zebra patterns. The green devil logo features on T-shirts, pin badges and lunch boxes.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The only pub in the vicinity, used by some Rovers fans pre-, and certainly post-, match, is revered hostelry, the George Inn. Tucked away on New Market Road parallel to Nympsfield Road, it’s a fair stretch from both town and ground but one that many make willingly. Expect lively chatter, a bit of live music and the odd spontaneous sing-song, certainly of a Saturday night. Open all day weekends, and from 4pm during the week. If a rowdy following is feared of a Saturday afternoon, then they may only open at 6pm, depending on the opposition.

At the ground, the Green Man is open match days only, and usually just for home fans. Beers by the local Stroud Brewery (‘Don’t panic, we’re organic!’) are supped in a large space embellished by an enlarged photocopy of the Stroud Journal from 1889, providing news of the formation of a football team in Forest Green.

Back in the Conference/National era, away fans were welcome for pre-match drinks – these days, they are provided with a marquee serving drinks near the away entrance.

Naturally, snacks around the ground are meat-free, including the famous Q-Pie with quorn. Despite near general disapproval from carnivorous visiting supporters on principle, the curry and chips option always goes down well. Note that all transactions are cashless.

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