Forest Green first really came to my attention a decade ago when they burst onto the Conference scene, and I was in attendance to see them lose 0-1 to Kingstonian in the FA Trophy final of 1999. At the time I expected they would hang around in the top level of non-league football for a couple of years. In fact if you had asked me then which club would still be in the Conference ten years later I would have said Kingstonian. How glad I am to be proved wrong, as over a decade later FGR are still here, having moved into their new stadium just in time (well, a couple of years in advance anyway) for a first visit by a Wimbledon team next season.
For a club sometimes referred to as The Little Club On The Hill (which sounds a bit patronising to me, either that or the title of the worlds first football/horror movie), its unlikely FGR will be phased by the arrival of the Womble hoards. After all, they had the pleasure of welcoming Derby in the third round of the FA Cup last year, and have become used to large travelling support in the form of clubs like Oxford in recent years.
FGR hit the headlines towards the end of the season following those match fixing allegations over the Grays match – fortunately I documented the incident on the much lamented Control>Shoot blog, which can be found here http://controlshoot.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/the-great-blue-square-match-fixing-scandal/
Forest Green Rovers have been in existence since 1889 (a good year to form a football team!), playing in a variety of local leagues. From the very beginning they played at The Lawn, their ground until 2006, which was only properly enclosed in 1926. Prior to this they had an interesting couple of seasons in the early twenties, picking up four league titles and six cups in only two seasons (the club playing in two separate leagues simultaneously a la the Old Centrals Clapham League and Herald League victories in our early days).
From then on Forest Green began their initially slow progress, via founder membership of the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League in 1922, then the Gloucester County League in 1968 (the year their supporters club built their own social club). They then moved to the Hellenic League in 1975, which saw a spectacular League and FA Vase double achieved in the 1981/82 campaign, which saw the club earn promotion to the Southern League.
The club knocked around in the Southern League Midland Division for a while, until a change of name (what we would probably call a ‘rebranding’ these days) saw them become Stroud FC for a few seasons. The attempt to appeal to the larger settlement four miles to the north only succeeded in alienating long time Forest Green fans. After their name reverted back to FGR in 1992, the village proved they could stand on their own in the following year.
Frank Gregan was the manager that took them to back-to-back promotions through the Southern League in 1997 and 1998, making it to the Conference. Continually confounding what would appear a logical assumption that the side would struggle in the national game, they became the first club to reach Wembley in the Vase and Trophy in 1999 (the aforementioned Kingstonian game), also reaching the final in 2001, losing this time to Canvey Island at Villa Park.
Relegation battles had been an all too regular occurrence at The Lawn in the last decade, but stability seems to have come from their move to The New Lawn, only a few hundred yards from the old Lawn, paid for by the sale of their former home for housing (a ground originally purchased for £120 at auction in 1936).
An end of season finish of 18th probably made the season look a lot worse than it actually was, they effectively guaranteed themselves Conference Premier football with a February/March run which saw them lose only twice, culminating in an impressive 1-0 win at eventual playoff finalists Cambridge. They only managed to win one of their last seven though, albeit a 4-0 win over Rushden, which contributed to their low placing.
The season will be remembered by FGR fans for their cup exploits. The only managed to make the quarter-finals of the Trophy, but went all the way in the Setanta Shield, losing on penalties to AFC Telford at the New Lawn. But the moment everyone will remember was their first appearance in the FA Cup Third Round at home to Derby. They must have enjoyed their moment in the limelight, although we must have all had a chuckle at the moment a national journalist, sent down to scout out the Forest Green players, showed his ignorance of the lower leagues by asking manager Jim Harvey what his players did for a living, apparently surprised to find the answer was ‘footballers’. FGR managed to lead 2-0 and 3-2 before succumbing 4-3 to the Championship outfit.
As I mentioned previously, Forest Green Rovers are one of the many fully professional sides in the BSP, as of course we will be ourselves in a couple of years time. Their top scorer Andrew Mangan had an interesting season, winning the Conference Premier golden boot with 26 goals (pay attention Mainy, Keds and Luke!), scoring three hat-tricks in the process, before finishing up being investigated for match fixing for the second time in two years. A negative verdict from his perspective is probably the only thing that can stop him repeating the trick this term, as he has signed up for another season at The New Lawn.
Much as Wimbledon fans converged on Kingsmeadow a couple of weeks ago for a clean-up weekend, Forest Green fans take pleasure in repainting their ground every summer, a tradition they have carried over from The Lawn to The New Lawn. This sort of help is undertaken by fans of clubs up and down the country over the summer, but in FGR’s case I would imagine it is essential in keeping the close bond that exists between small clubs and their local supporters over the summer.
Another newbie for Dons fans to take in this season, and a very nice one it is too. Built only two years ago it features its own pub (don’t expect Dons fans to be allowed in unless we get a Tuesday visit in November…). The away section is seated and holds 500 which may not be enough for a Saturday trip there, but there is overspill in the adjacent terrace to the left if required.
Out of interest the two end stands were both imported from the old Lawn ground (or at least the roofs were), which must have cut costs in constructing the ground. The main stand holds about 2,000, which means FGR don’t have to worry about lacking ambition, although survival and midtable are the priorities right now should they one day find their way to promotion, their ground would only require minor alterations to cope with the League.
(Dons home admission in brackets for comparison)
TERRACE – £13 (£12) Conc £8 (£6) U16 £5 (£2)
SEATS – £15 (£14-16) Conc £10 (£7-8) U16 £7 (£3-4)
Forest Green charge a lot more for concessions and youths than we do, however its worth remembering they don’t have 3,000 people through the gates every week to subsidise these prices.
AFC Era – None
All time Wimbledon – None
Another first timer for the Dons, as we look to make new friends in the village for the first time.
Forest Green Rovers O/S – http://www.forestgreenroversfc.com/
Forest Green Rovers Trust – http://www.fgrtrust.com/
Forest Green MAD – http://www.forestgreenrovers-mad.co.uk/