Forest Green Rovers, owned by the founder of energy firm Ecotricity, are aiming to be the world's first eco-soccer club. Matthew Stock reports.
Nestled in the rolling hills of the English countryside, Forest Green Rovers are team with ambition. Not just to win promotion from soccer's lower division, but to be the 'greenest' club in world. It's the vision of chairman Dale Vince, owner of green energy firm Ecotricity, who stepped in when the club was in dire straits in 2010. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DALE VINCE, CHAIRMAN OF FOREST GREEN ROVERS AND FOUNDER OF ECOTRICITY, SAYING: "We thought, you know what, what we can do with this is actually bring our message to a new world, the world of football -- relatively untouched by eco stuff... So we decided to dive in, rescue the club, create the greenest football club perhaps in the world and use that as a way to reach a totally different audience." A week before the new season kicks off, the finishing touches were being applied their organic pitch -- a world first according to the club. To keep the turf lush and green, they use rain water and a natural spring, with no irrigation coming from the water main. And to help cut it - a robotic lawnmower they've dubbed the 'mow-bot'. It's powered by the energy harvested from 180 roof-mounted solar panels, which supply 10 percent of their electricity needs, including several car-charging stations. But perhaps their boldest green initiative is going vegan. Gone are the burgers, sausages and meat-pies. In comes seasonal and fresh food... and even organic beer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DALE VINCE, CHAIRMAN OF FOREST GREEN ROVERS AND FOUNDER OF ECOTRICITY, SAYING: "I think football has a bad rep for rubbish food. It deserves it, I think, on the whole. So I think that other clubs can learn from that. Why can't we have great food at a football game?" The move away from meat has been controversial among some supporters. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NICHOLAS ALLAN, PROPRIETOR OF STAR ANISE ARTS CAFE WHO CATER FOR FORREST GREEN ROVERS, SAYING: "If we can just keep the food tasting delicious and really do something that's exciting - the flavours are robust - I think they'll come round. People will miss their meat - but it's only for the game." And the players are on-side too. SOUNDBITE) (English) ROB SINCLAIR, MIDFIELD, FOREST GREEN ROVERS, SAYING: "You're obviously going to get the odd one making a joke of it, like "where's the chicken?" and that. But no, we all respect the chairman's views and we get on with it." Younger fans, however, may take a bit more convincing. SOUNDBITE) (English) JAMES AND SAM, FOREST GREEN ROVERS SUPPORTERS, SAYING: (REPORTERS ASKS: "WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE FOOD?") JAMES SAYS: "Um, no. I would prefer burgers but obviously, no. But you might be able to just nip down to the 'chippie' at half time just to go get a burger or something." Despite the odd grumble about the food, the eco revolution will likely continue to generate as much interest as the action on the pitch. Forest Green Rovers may have some way to go before they can rise up the ranks of English soccer. But with their raft of eco innovation, they may well have a future that will make other teams green with envy.