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Forest Green Rovers ready for League One adventure as they travel to Bristol Rovers

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Thursday, 28th July 2022, 12:00

Forest Green Rovers travel to Bristol Rovers on Saturday Forest Green Rovers travel to Bristol Rovers on Saturday

The incredible story that is Forest Green Rovers begins another new chapter on Saturday.

That’s when this remarkable football club, located in the heart of the Stroud Valley, begin their League One adventure with a short trip down the road to play Bristol Rovers.

They are now officially one of the top 68 clubs in the Football League and while there is plenty of realism around the club as they look ahead to the new season – they were, after all, still playing in the Hellenic League in the early 1980s – there is plenty of optimism too.

“The aim is to sustain our position in the division,” said Forest Green vice-chairman Phil Butterworth, who has been a big supporter of the club since the mid-1990s.

“If we can do that it would be incredible. We know it won’t be easy, there are some monster clubs in the division – Derby, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich – but it’s something we believe we can achieve.”

And that inner belief, so important at any club, has been a huge part of what Forest Green have been about for so long now.

“It’s been a phenomenal 50 years,” said Butterworth. “We were still a County League club in the 1970s but we’ve grown and grown. We spent 19 seasons in the top division in non-league football before getting promoted to League Two and this is only our sixth season in the Football League.

“We found it really tough when we first got promoted but we stayed up and we’ve kicked on since then, we like a challenge.

“Looking at League One, there are six, eight or 10 teams I think we can give a good match to. The first priority is to stay out of the bottom four and then we can try to push up into the middle third.”

That’s easier said than done, of course, especially as the club’s first home game a week on Saturday is against Ipswich Town, one of the big hitters in the division.

“They sold out their allocation of 1,200 tickets in something like 15 minutes,” said Butterworth. “It will be a fantastic day, hopefully we’ll have a crowd approaching 4,000, it’s very exciting.”

That game will be the first home league test for new head coach Ian Burchnall, who joined the club in the summer from Notts County after Rob Edwards left to join Watford following last season’s League Two title win.

It’s a big challenge facing the 39-year-old but Butterworth, who has been vice-chairman since 2017, is confident that he is the right man for the job.

“He’s highly motivated and has a lot of strengths,” he said. “He did well when he was coaching in Scandinavia and had a good record at Notts County.

“His style of football is very pleasing on the eye and he has a good rapport with the players. We’ve made some decent signings, mainly young players, it’s an exciting project.

“Players enjoy playing for us and a good number of them go on to bigger and better things, it’s the same with our managers. We’ve got a great family atmosphere, people want to come here to improve.”

The evidence suggests that is very much the case, of course, and Butterworth is confident that the good times are here to stay.

“I’m very passionate about what this club have achieved both on and off the pitch and I believe that success will continue,” he said.

That success has been driven in large part by Forest Green owner and chairman Dale Vince, the founder of green energy firm Ecotricity and the man who has transformed Forest Green into a vegan and carbon-neutral club.

“The green agenda is very important, I’m a big supporter,” said Butterworth. “We’re not just a football club, our mission is absolutely to try to save the planet. The message is getting to more and more people, our vegan food sales have quadrupled in recent years.

“But Dale still has a huge interest in the football, he wants us to do well and play in an attractive style.”

And that attractive style of football which is so popular with the supporters will be just a little bit more accessible to the club’s travelling fans, including Butterworth, this season.

“We’ve got so many clubs in this division who are close to us geographically – Oxford, Bristol Rovers, Cheltenham, Exeter,” he said. “I think this season will be the fewest miles we’ll have to travel since we were in the County League!

“We’ve got to go to Morecambe, Fleetwood and Ipswich but there are no trips to places like Barrow, I think about a dozen clubs who we play this season are within 100 miles of us.”

That makes it easier for fans of rival clubs heading to Nailsworth, of course, although Nailsworth may not be Forest Green’s home for much longer because the club have big plans to build the world’s greenest stadium just up the road in Eastington, near junction 13 of the M5.

“It sends shivers up your spine, it will be a fantastic gateway to Stroud, away fans will love coming to us,” said Butterworth. “The new ground will hold 5,000 but there is the possibility that it could be extended to hold 10,000 or 11,000.

“We’re hoping the training pitches will be ready for use towards the end of next season which will mean the men, women and the academy all playing at the same place. That will be a big step forward.

“As far as the stadium itself, I think the start of the 2026/27 season is a realistic target.”

That day, when it happens, will be another stunning chapter in the Forest Green story, of course.  

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Forest Green Rovers vice-chairman Phil Butterworth

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