It seems strange that three weeks after we secured the National League title, for some the season is still in full swing. Whilst our boys have been off sunning themselves in warmer climates, some of our potential League Two rivals are preparing for crucial games.
The so-called big one for us is Tranmere and Forest Green, kicking off tomorrow 3pm at Wembley. For some of the season we would have taken an appearance at the National Stadium, but we’re in the unusual position of looking at that game as the booby prize that we did well to avoid. 23 other teams we faced this season would probably give anything to be there.
It does look as if it is going one way, and one way only. Even Dale Vine said this week in the news that Football League promotion is ‘inevitable’ for his team of eco-warrior. Whether it is this season or not though is up for debate.
“It’s just a question of when. If it doesn’t happen this Sunday, we’ll have another shot next year. It’s part of the long-term vision for the club. We’re going to have a great day on Sunday and see what comes.”
Essentially there is a day out in London for them to look forward too, no pressure of course. It was only twelve months ago we were hearing similar rhetoric from Vince, he was stating they’d be champions this season. Twelve months on and they didn’t even finish second.
The problem at Forest Green is for all of the money that he has, they simply don’t have the level of support necessary to drive his League One ideal. I’ve heard that they’ve sold around 2,800 tickets for the match on Sunday. Contrast that with their opponents Tranmere, they’ve shifted 15,000. For every one paying FGR customer, Tranmere have five.
Fans do not buy you wins, granted. They can perhaps help turn a 1-0 deficit (against Torquay for instance) into a 2-1 win, but they don’t win you the matches, goals do. Therefore at present it is all well and good Dale putting his money into Forest Green. I don’t like it, but I suppose it is his money and he can waste it all he wants.
What happens if the ‘inevitable’ occurs, and he finds himself in League One? He’ll need more than that reported £2.5m he keeps ploughing in every season to be competitive there, where will that money come from? Will he keep bankrolling them, because one thing is for sure, they won’t make the money on ST sales. The embarrassing fact of life for Forest Green is that over the course of the last week we have had more fans willing to commit to watching us for a full season than they have had commit to a single trip to Wembley.
This isn’t me gloating about us being a bigger club, far from it. Forest Green have a decent attendance if you take into consideration the surrounding population, and with Accrington only averaging 1,700 in League Two I guess that could get by in the Football League, but what happens when Vince has had enough? What happens when he either gets bored or passes away? What you are then left with is a fantastically unsupportable business model floundering desperately out of its depth. Forest Green in League Two with 1,300 fans and no financial backing would mean administration on the horizon. Back to back relegations maybe, falling attendances and eventually, the club dies. You may think I’m being dramatic, but look at Rushden and Diamonds. It was all well and good when Max Griggs was pumping cash in, but once that all went what were you left with? The bulldozers at Nene Park tell the story, and the New Lawn, the even Newer Lawn or whatever they’re playing in by then would simply be knocked down for retail outlets. The hippy dream fades as those pesky capitalists build something that isn’t just eco-friendly on his dream, but financially viable as well.
It was the summer of 2010 when Vince first entered the FGR picture. They had already had 12 years as an average Conference Premier team, and in 2009/10 they were finally relegated after losing their last match to Grays Athletic. Fortunately Salisbury were expelled from the division for financial irregularities, and Forest Green were offered a reprieve. Chairman Trevor Horsley, revealed the club was in serious debt and told that the club was in crisis. Enter Super-Vegan to save the day.
Dale Vince took control of FGR in August 2010, meaning he has now had seven years chasing his dream. It was 2014/15 by the time they finally achieved a play-off finish after consecutive years in a record 10th place. All the time money was being spent at an astounding rate. We had Jon Parkin on trial, but it was FGR that found the money to buy him. They also managed to afford the environmentally friendly Lee Hughes for a season, a player who embodied everything so very wholesome about the game. Somewhat dubiously we were roped into a little slice of their history, our match with them on November 1st 2014 was the first ever ‘all vegan’ football game. It was our last ever ‘Gary Simpson managed’ game as well.
Vince hasn’t just changed their non-league fortunes though, he’s changed their ground too, and he plans to do it again. He even changed their kit in 2012, moving away from the traditional black and white stripes to the garish lime green outfit they currently wear. He’s planning on moving them to an all-wooden stadium where everyone can sit around in sandals and self-knitted pashminas singing kum-ba-yah eating berries and grass. Forest Green Rovers, the team that won the FA Vase in 1982 and fought bravely against relegation from the Conference for 12 years has all but gone. The name remains and I imagine some of the fans, but that is your lot.
The last two seasons have seen them battling in the play-offs, firstly they lost the semi-final against eventual winners Bristol Rovers, and last season they lost the final against Grimsby Town. This year it is Tranmere that stand between them and promotion, and they may be confident. After all they defeated Tranmere just a couple of weeks ago, at Prenton Park. That result was thought to have gotten the monkey of their back, their inability to beat the bigger teams. It remains to be seen if that is the case come Sunday.
I don’t really care who wins tomorrow, I don’t care which of them come to Sincil Bank next season. Part of me should just want Tranmere to come up because they are, for want of a better word, a proper club. However, Forest Green would get a short, sharp shock in the Football League, they bottle the big occasions more often than not, and there are far less non-league feeling clubs for them to outspend in the Football League. If they wither in front of a packed Sincil Bank, how would they fair at the Ricoh Arena, or even Meadow Lane? How long before Vince realises that his investment needs to double if he is simply to hold his own amongst the 92?
For a man who has made millions promoting sustainable energy and environmentally friendly ways of life, he does seem hell-bent on pouring his money into a non-sustainable football club. I’m sure the irony would be lost on him, but it certainly isn’t on me.
As for Tranmere, they know exactly what it takes to be Football League, and in reality a team of their size should never have suffered the indignity of relegation in the first place. If they win it will be a restoration of the ‘natural order’, it will be the expected outcome. The main surprise on the Wirral is that they’ve had to battle through the play-offs at all, but that is what you get if you lose home and away to the Champions I’m afraid. They will have no funding worries should they get promoted, and if their chairman moves on in three years time there is no issue with staying afloat at all. That said I think it would be incredibly amusing for some of their smug, expectant fans to have to visit Fylde and Maidenhead next season.
Will I be watching tomorrow? No, I have far better things to do, like clean the kitchen or maybe mow the lawn. I’ll keep an eye out for the result though, and I will glean a tiny bit of satisfaction from either side losing. I’d cherish another picture of a glum-faced Mark Cooper to go with all of the others, but similarly I’d enjoy flicking through the National League Banter page to see what that ‘Super White Army’ think about a trip to Fylde. It won’t matter one bit because we are Football League.