Kicking-off The Vegan Society’s 70th Anniversary year, and in celebration of World Vegan Day (November 1st), our local Gloucestershire-based football club Forest Green Rovers hosted a very special event: the world’s first vegan football match.
While football and veganism may sound like an unlikely combination, Forest Green FC made the headlines in 2012 when – inspired by vegan Chairperson Dale Vince – it chose to take all meat products off of the menu. Dale, who heads Stroud-based green energy company Ecotricity explains how his decision to make Forest Green Rovers into a vegetarian club is based on environmental sustainability and health; “We took some flak for it but red meat is bad for us. It’s also unsustainable. And it takes 10 grammes of vegetable protein to produce a gramme of beef. You have diminishing returns. The rough analysis is that you can feed 10 vegetarians or one meat-eater.”
As all of the food served in the club’s hospitality areas was vegan on November 1st, (it’s usually veggie with vegan options) we arrived before the game to tuck into a fantastic vegan buffet. The spread was delicious, and a great example of how appealing a vegan buffet can be. There were sweet potato & mushroom burgers, gorgeous crispy polenta chips with tomato relish, grilled courgette and fennel wraps, and much more lovely fresh (and animal-free) food.
There was a buzzing pre-match atmosphere in the club’s Carol Embrey suite, with fellow Vegan Society members, staff, and Forest Green fans mingling and chatting excitedly about the game. The match was against Lincoln City, who are ranked lower in the league than Forest Green, but were fresh from a 5-1 win against Alfreton. In one corner was a huge vegan cake, baked by Leicestershire company The Vegan Cakery, to celebrate The Vegan Society’s 70th Anniversary. It was in the shape of a football, adorned with icing sunflowers and football boots. This epic cake was flanked on either side by a sea of cupcakes bearing either The Vegan Society’s logo or the Forest Green Rovers emblem. In the other corner was the FA Cup, which was on tour, and a steady stream of people having their photo taken with this iconic football trophy.
It was great to see fellow Glos Vegans there, and also to meet the Vegan Society Staff. I especially loved chatting the the Forest Green fans about the game to come, what to chant; “Green Army!”, and what they made of the vegetarian menu; “…it doesn’t matter whether it’s vegetarian, so long as it’s tasty”.
The game itself was a thriller, with goals being scored down to the final whistle. Lincoln were lucky to begin with several good chances and raced to a 3-0 lead. The final of these three goals was scored after Forest Green’s heroic goalkeeper Sam Russell, clad in fluorescent pink kit, managed to save a penalty, and a rebounding shot, but was eventually overwhelmed by the sheer number of Lincoln players in the Forest Green box.
The half-time talk was given by The Vegan Society’s guest of honour Neil Robinson, the first ever vegan professional footballer. Now retired, Neil signed to Everton in 1973, and later played for Swansea City, Grimsby Town and Darlington. He spoke about how he scored the first ever “vegan goal” and about the importance of veganism for animals, and the environment. He also talked about the benefits of vegan nutrition to health for professional athletes. It was moving to see someone speak so proudly and clearly about veganism to a large crowd of assembled football fans, attributing his vegan diet to strong fitness and health.
After half time, Forest had a radical change of outlook, and the attacking tempo went up several notches. With Rovers being awarded a penalty after Elliot Frear was taken down in the Lincoln box, James Norwood took a spot-kick sending Lincoln’s the wrong way, and the ball to the back of the net. This goal marked the beginning of Rover’s remarkable revival, with Norwood scoring another amazing goal only a few minutes later. The show-stopping equaliser came from Forest Green in the final minutes of added time, a great pass from the ‘man of the match’ James Norwood to Dean Bennett who scored. We leapt to our feet to applaud this amazing come-back. It was a hugely entertaining game, and we will definately be back to support our favourite local vegan-friendly club in action.
Watch the highlights of the match:
A great short film made of the day by HubStroud
Thanks to Forest Green Rovers and The Vegan Society for a great day out, and a momentous day for veganism.