FOREST Green Rovers’ promotion to the Football League could mean a big boost for Stroud’s economy – and chairman Dale Vince says he’s not ruling out the club one day reaching the Premier League.
Rovers’ win in the play-off final on Sunday secured a place in the Football League for the first time in the club’s history, and the step up means more fans from both the home and away teams visiting the district for games.
For chairman Dale Vince, achieving promotion gives extra credibility to his plans for Forest Green to move to a new 5,000-seater stadium at the ‘Eco Park’ business and sports hub he wants to build off junction 13 of the M5, near Eastington.
“Winning on Sunday makes the whole thing more real,” he told the SNJ. “Some people said ‘why do Forest Green need this?’ but now we do.
“Our average gate has been just shy of 1,800 this season and we will have around 2,500 to 3,000 next year – that’s just my feeling.
“We will have these massive derbies – around six which could be called derbies. A lot of people are going to come to Forest Green next season.”
He added: “As the club grows with success, there will be more jobs. There’s not a lot of room at New Lawn so moving to Eco Park is key.
“The new stadium will have a 5,000 capacity initially and by the time we move there, if it happens, we will have gates reaching 5,000. The stadium is designed to be expandable without engineering work and could take 12-13,000 eventually.”
Stroud District Council had been expected to make a decision on the planning application for Eco Park – which would include a new base for Ecotricity and other green business and technology companies as well as sporting facilities, beside the FGR stadium – this spring, but a verdict is now due in September.
Dale said: “We are hoping for outline consent from the council in September now. The hold-up has been the traffic assessments, but the data looks positive.
“If they give us a positive decision in September, we will then apply for detailed consent which would take another year. Building the stadium could take another year. So it would be around three years from now that the stadium would be ready.”
Reaching the Football League is a huge achievement for ‘the little club on the hill’ in Nailsworth, and the success story has been covered all over the world, even making the news in New Zealand.
But just being part of English football’s fourth tier is far from the extent of Dale’s ambitions for Forest Green – he believes the club could climb all the way to the top division, the Premier League.
“We think we can be sustainable in the Championship (the second division) but I would not rule out going further eventually,” he said. “There are people here who think we could reach the Premier League.”
He added: “Part of our thinking is that there’s a football gap between Bristol and Birmingham and we can attract those fans.
“We might not be their first club straight away, they may have a Premier League team as their first club, but we could be their second club and they’ll come to watch us on a Saturday afternoon.”
The leader of Stroud District Council said Forest Green’s promotion on Sunday would have “a direct effect” on the local economy.
Cllr Steve Lydon told the SNJ: “There is the direct effect of more visitors to the area and the spend they will bring.
“There is also the feel-good factor of more people and businesses getting to know what a great place Stroud is to invest and do business in.
“By promoting healthy eating and lifestyle choices, FGR is a great role model for other local employers.”
Cllr Lydon, a Forest Green fan, added: “I look forward to local derbies with the old enemy Cheltenham Town, and welcoming fans from far and wide.
“FGR deserve every credit for all they have done and the promise of the future and great things to come. They are a credit to Nailsworth and the whole district of Stroud.”