OPINION: Frank Gregan, former Forest Green manager.
Would you believe it? The “little club on top of the hill” is now one of the elite 92 in English football.
I sought out a friend of mine last night called Jeff just so I could use the phrase “unbelievable Jeff” in the right context.
The truth is, it’s not unbelievable, it’s been plausible for the last six years or so and although the success of the club can be traced back to many people who have in someway played their part, there are three men that stand out.
Trevor Horsley: The man who started it all, when it really was a little club on top of the hill, his vision transformed the club into a top tier non-league side. He did a remarkable job, a lot of which has gone unnoticed.
I remember when I wanted to set up the academy there was a lot of dissent in the boardroom. I did my presentation but knew we didn’t have the votes to get the project started.
Somehow he convinced the board to back me and the academy was born and look what it has become - something to be very proud of. He transformed the old Lawn and then decided that wasn’t enough so he built the New Lawn.
He guided the club through some very dark days when there was little investment except his own and managed to keep the club in the top tier even when the records show it finished in the relegation zone.
He was instrumental in getting Dale Vince involved at the club and having had a long association with Mark Cooper from his playing days, I’m sure he played a role in the manager’s recruitment. His achievements may have been in the past but without them Forest Green Rovers would never have made it into the Football League.
Dale Vince: If ever there was a case of someone ‘putting their money where their mouth is” this is a classic example.
I’ve only met Mr Vince twice, the first time was five years ago and I must have made a great impression on him because when I met him again last week he’d forgot we’d ever met! He exudes confidence and must be inspirational to work for.
After the second leg victory against Dagenham, the tension was written on everyone’s face except two people, one of those was Dale’s. He told me that he thought they would win the final but if they didn’t it would happen next year or the year after. That’s exactly what he had told me five years ago and you can’t help but believe him when he says the club is Championship bound.
This is a long term project for him and marries with his wider principles of sustainability. The club is in a great place now because of his investment and commitment.
Mark Cooper: Forget all the jibes about buying promotion, jealously clouds people’s judgement. Having the resources makes success possible, when you have a patient Chairman like Dale Vince it becomes semi-probable, but you still need a manager that can deliver.
Others have tried and failed but Mark has won promotion for the club in his first season, a tremendous achievement.
I’ve been fortunate to work for football clubs from non- league up to the Premier League and I’ve met enough managers to know a very good one when I meet one. His was the other face that wasn’t showing apprehension after the semi final win.
He was calm, professional and focussed and everything he said to me after the game suggested that he was fully aware of what he would be facing against Tranmere but was confident that he and his team would prevail.
He’s getting the best from his players, individually and collectively and they are doing it in style. His stock will continue to rise but with the ambition being shown by his Chairman hopefully he will stay at the club for a very long time.
So take a bow gentlemen, congratulations on a job very well done. Make no mistake, there is no “little club on the hill,” but there is a highly professional, superbly managed Football League club up there!