It’s one of last season’s most heart-warming stories, the rise of plucky village side Forest Green. Hailing from Nailsworth, a town with as many inhabitants as we have season tickets holders, they’ve become the newest Football League club and brief darlings of the national media. Forget Lincoln in the cup quarter-final, here are a real-life pub team turned professional outfit. It was billed as a fairy-tale by some of the media, although if you could hear my sarcastic tone over the first two lines, you know I do not share that view.
I’ll confess at first my hatred of FGR was born of nothing more than basic jealousy. They had money to burn at a time when we did not, and aside from whatever principled view I harboured, I was jealous. As we tottered around mid table hoping to strike gold with our collection of hastily assembled misfits and cast-offs, they tried (and failed) time and again to win promotion by buying it, at any cost. When one manager failed, rather than build a legacy or consistency, they simply threw money at another one. Dave Hockaday spent and failed, Ady Pennock did the same and had it not been for a poor Tranmere showing at Wembley, Mark Cooper would have failed too.
He didn’t though, they battled through to win at Wembley and immediately owner Dale Vince began mouthing off about how much easier League Two would be, whilst Cooper smugly criticised ‘long ball’ Lincoln, and hailed the eventual triumph of his swashbuckling, free-flowing Forest Green.
That wasn’t really the truth though, was it? Yes we went direct at times, but watching the goals from last season again we scored some real belters. We passed, we pressed and we battled in equal measure, whereas from what I saw Forest Green lacked the stomach for a proper fight. Two defeats at our hands showed they were far from the best footballing side in the division, and they were fortunate to face an off-colour Tranmere.
Even worse was the turnover of players. Mark Cooper is not a popular man amongst some his squad, and a mass exodus after Christmas was glossed over by simply buying in more players. In a normal team if the manager lost the dressing room so spectacularly, he’d be gone. At ‘little old’ Forest Green, he just spends more of Uncle Dale’s money, money which has been earned on the back of green energy. The Telegraph revealed how the eco-warrior is slowly making green energy unaffordable, showing perhaps that his scraggly pony tail and moth-bitten home made gloves are probably the only things he still has linking him to his New Age Traveller background. Behind all the falafel and lentils there’s a company owner charging the public high prices to fund his obsession. At least at Billericay Glenn Tamplin isn’t masquerading as a man of the people, he’s a balls-out showman who has no false façade to his decadence.
So after that brief catch up, we come to today. Notts County have been pursuing Liam Noble, their former midfielder and current FGR captain. It’s been one of the League Two transfer sagas of the summer, but today it blew up out of all proportion. Forest Green issued a statement accusing County of lying about bids, making up stories about how much Noble would cost and even tapping up their player. They’re Forest Green, a member of the Football League ‘family’. I noted with interest the use of the word ‘family’ there, somewhere a clever media person has dropped that in so we identify FGR as a ‘family’ club, I’m sure. Anyway, whether they’re a family club or a member of the Football league, they do things the right way according to their statement.
Hang on, what? They do things the ‘right’ way? Just eleven months ago Vince hit out at local press reports claiming Elliott Frear had been the subject of bids from Cheltenham and Tranmere, releasing yet another rambling statement via the club’s website. The saga rumbled on, Cheltenham believed they had agreed a fee for Frear but they pursued other avenues after deciding against signing the player. Vince argued no fee had been agreed and that Cheltenham were ‘having fantasies’ about signing Frear. They later reported Cheltenham to the FA after seeing reports that Frear was ‘close to agreeing a deal’ with the Robins. I wonder if they saw it on a Twitter account with the handle ’24 hour transfer news’ or something?
So we’ve ascertained they have form for this sort of thing, but having a situation repeat itself twelve months later isn’t complete proof that FGR are full of the brown stuff. It might be both Cheltenham and Notts County have tried to do over the little family club of vegans from the Gloucestershire hills, maybe they are the victim of bigger clubs trying to cherry pick their stars. After all, FGR wouldn’t do that, would they?
Well, yes they would. Ricky Miller was very much a sought after player last season, and at one point it appeared as though Lincoln City were in the hunt for his signature. It is understood we enquired to his availability and told he was not for sale, and you may recall that caused much consternation from Crabble. I seem to recall it also caused an FGR media comment about how much they thought he was worth, but sadly I can’t find that on the internet now. I remember it because I got mad that they were interfering in our transfer business. Not long after FGR pursued the player for themselves, with news breaking in their local media before any bids had been tabled. Even their own fans questioned how their pursuit of Miller through the media was any different to that of Cheltenham’s chase of Elliott Frear.
It may be a small point, but the comments about Notts County smack of the same hypocritical nonsense spouted by Dover last season. It seems what is good for the goose is not okay for the gander in the Forest Green family.
It seems another summer of FGR moaning about people trying to buy their players is upon us, and once again they’re hoping Notts County come out of this in the same way as Cheltenham last season, morally bereft and acting inappropriately. Personally, given what we know about FGR and their methods I tend to err towards County being the truthful party. I’d be interested to know what the players thoughts are, whether he fancies another season plying his trade in front of 1500 under the tactically inept Mark Cooper, or if he wanted a return to Meadow Lane to play under an up and coming young manager in Kevin Nolan, watched by four or five thousand.
Also, I can’t recall Notts County releasing ridiculous statements when their manager Mark Cooper left last year, only to rock up at FGR in a suspiciously short amount of time. Did they do things ‘the right way’ back then? The only statement Notts County released was one saying Cooper had handed in his written notice amidst speculation FGR were interested. I’m sorry, but that does not sound like things were done the right way.
Sources also informed me that after the dismissal of Ady Pennock they approached Danny and Nicky to take over at FGR just for the play-offs, to leave Braintree there and then and take the helm at the New Lawn. Of course, that isn’t how DC an NC operate, but it shows again that the ‘little club’ that do things ‘the right way’ only adhere to their code of ethics when they’re the so-called victims. They refused, but Mark Cooper didn’t, whether he was in the employ of the Magpies or not.
The fairy-tale rumbles on though, the fairy tale that loses £2m per year and is propped up by ever-increasing prices of eco-energy. The cost of saving the world is going up in order to fund the cost of pushing a village team into League Two and beyond, is that the right way to go about things? There’s only going to be a finite amount of time before those who believe in the fairy tale of Forest Green wake up to the fact it is nothing more than a mask, and lurking behind the bright shirts, eco message and so-called morals is nothing more than a massive capitalist company who somewhere, somehow, lost sight of what they used to stand for.