In the post-match conference at Wembley after the National League play-off victory over Tranmere Rovers, Mark Cooper insisted Forest Green Rovers will surprise many next year
Mark Cooper was quick to highlight supporters in League Two will need to pre-pack ham sandwiches when they visit next year due to the club’s no meat policy.
Forest Green Rover, the first vegan club, created history as they became the smallest town to host a Football League side, after two goals from Kaiyne Woolery and a Christian Doidge strike gave the side a 3-1 victory over Tranmere Rovers.
The club took 4,000 fans to Wembley, almost the population of the entire town of 5, 800 people. In the past three years Forest Green have reached the play-offs but were convincingly beaten by local rivals Bristol City and last year by Grimsby Town.
Forest Green have been given the nickname as the “Friendly Club on the Hill”. This friendly attitude and recognition of being an underdog has been an issue on the pitch, even with the financial backing of green energy millionaire Dale Vince.
As the club make the transition from National League to Football League, Cooper is adamant the team will not be there for other teams to gain an easy three points. “We’re not going there to just make the numbers up.
“Knowing what the chairman’s like, he will want us to be a threat in that league. This [National League] is the hardest league to get out of. There are so many big teams, it’s a graveyard and only one team can gain automatic and one via the play-offs. Next year we might not be the favourites every week and a bit of pressure comes off us.”
Midway through the season Forest Green lost a two-goal lead to eventual champions Lincoln City and went on to lose 3-2 on the day. This result brought with it a reputation that as long as the opposition could score against them, there was always a chance Forest Green would buckle under the pressure.
This was illustrated by Brighton loanee Jordan Maguire-Drew as he said in an interview before the Dagenham and Redbridge second-leg play-off match that “we know Forest Green will crumble”. But as the season came to a close they finished unbeaten against second-placed Tranmere Rovers and beat third-placed Dagenham 3-1 on aggregate to reach Wembley.
“It is an unbelievable achievement to put a village team into the Football League.“
Cooper said the club are moving in the right direction and stated that money isn’t everything and Forest Green have proved their worth this season. “People probably say Forest Green have got a bit of a soft underbelly, we showed over the last few weeks that’s not strictly the case and we dug in when we had to,” he says.
“I’ve won a couple of times now here [Wembley] and lost once with Swindon. I’m just pleased this group of people will go down in history as the ones that got them in the Football League. It is a massive achievement. The chairman’s going to build a new stadium, right on the M5, it will be state of the art, an unbelievable facility and as we grow, we will gradually attract more supporters and become even more sustainable.”
“It is an unbelievable achievement to put a village team into the Football League. Other people talk about money, we’ve got this money and that money, when you’re on the outside you think that everyone is earning £10,000 a week. When you get on the inside you realise that’s not strictly true,” explains Cooper.
“We have to pay a little bit more to attract players because of where we are. We have a competitive budget but that doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
As the opposition clubs for next season are listed to Cooper he simply signed off with what clubs can expect when they make the journey to the town of Nailsworth. “Don’t expect any meat when you come to Forest Green. No listen, we’ve got some big games, Newport, Swindon and Coventry with some big crowds. It’ll be fun trying to get them all up that hill.”
The warning to League Two teams next season is to expect the unexpected when they travel to the New Lawn, home to the unconventional but fierce Forest Green Rovers.