By Niall Houston
Why more Scottish football clubs should adopt the same sustainable approach as Forest Green Rovers.
If one were to saunter up to you on Buchanan Street and shout about the greenest team in the world, who are currently sitting top of the table, looking extremely comfortable with a plethora of fans supporting the cause they stand for, your initial reaction must surely be of course the famous Forest Green Rovers? No?
To quote the words of Boris Johnson (or Kermit the Frog; admittedly it is hard to differentiate between the two): “It ain’t easy being green.” Well to counter-argue that point, my dear muppet, my dear Prime Minister, Forest Green Rovers certainly makes it look like a walk in the park – if you will pardon the pun – for a football club to be entirely sustainable.
For those unacquainted with the side, Forest Green Rovers (FGR) are a team based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, England. The team competes in the EFL league two and are currently sitting well clear at the top of the table.
One might presume there is nothing significant about this. However, FGR are the first and only vegan club in football, and the first ever club to be certified by FIFA as carbon neutral. The entire club is powered by 100% green energy from Ecotricity; they play on an organic pitch bereft of any pesticides and weed killers; rainwater is captured and used to water their pitch; their strips are made from recycled coffee beans; they provide charging points for electric cars around their ground; and they are currently building a brand-new sustainable stadium using wood and sustainable material. The list goes on.
What truly shocks me, however, is that the club achieves this with a turnover of around £6.5 million, according to their annual report. To put this into perspective, in Manchester City’s 2020-2021 report, England’s top division club saw an eye-watering increase of total revenues up to £569.8 million, that could perhaps just be waiting to be spent towards carbon-neutrality.
The differences are stark. Yet all of England’s top-tier sides have similar amounts of funding. Scotland’s top-tier sides also have a significant amount of total revenues. Celtic, in their plc interim report in 2021, saw their revenue increase to £52.9 million, with a net cash profit of £25.6 million. Like the other Scottish clubs at the top, this money is available to spend millions on new players, new sponsorship deals, training facilities and new kits. Yet surely this outstanding amount of capital should also be going to a better cause? If Scotland truly is a pioneer in renewable, recyclable energy like wave and wind power – why are we not adopting these same resources in our most popular sport?
My most recent trip to a football stadium had me questioning what could be done better. Every live football game is a wonder, a theatre, a breath-taking, heart-thumping, palm-sweating, 90-minute barrage of furious and exciting emotions – and that is precisely why we love the game. Yet as I looked around my feet, there were countless plastic water bottles, plastic straws, empty crisp packets and discarded teas, coffees and pies. Outside of the stadium were hundreds of big, petrol-guzzling cars and buses.
Believe me: in no way am I putting any patronising blame on any of the fans of football. If the correct infrastructure was in place in these stadiums, then you would see more recyclable stations, more eco-friendly food being served, a more environmentally friendly travel scheme to the stadiums. Just something. You wouldn’t pin the blame on the shopper in the supermarket if he bought vegetables in plastic packaging – that is the supermarkets fault for using it and having no alternative. Yes, you may go to greengrocers and more environmentally friendly shops, but football fans simply cannot change the team they support. I truly believe that football fans will happily buy into more sustainability present within their club if there was something in place to buy into.
So I ask, why on earth are directors, chairmen, vice-chairmen, CEO’s, CIO’s and those at the most senior level of clubs not taking radical steps to help decarbonise the football culture. Why are they not adopting models like FGR to help with the global struggle against the rapidly changing climate? Why is a league two side in England leading the way, and not the biggest clubs in world football? For the love of humanity, Scotland is the rainiest, windiest and most dreich country in the world for weather. Surely, like FGR, the clubs could use that weather to their advantage?
But, alas! I have this creeping feeling, most of the world will still blame the fans for buying plastic straws when actually, there are no recyclable ones sold inside the stadiums.