Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Forest Green Rovers - Another Way to Arrive

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…“ 
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Forest Green Rovers F.C. vs. Bristol Rovers F.C.

The New Lawn, Another Way (oh ha. yes ha ha. I get it.  ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  ok, enough now…), Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, GL6 0FG 

Conference Play-Off Semi-Final, 1st leg.                                  29th April 2015
Given that Nailsworth really is a small Cotswold market town (pop: 5,794 - I almost expected that to be written in red paint on an old piece of wood like a scene from 'High Plains Drifter') and that football fans always complain about (a) the congestion and limited parking around the top of the hill, and (b) the walk up the said hill, I decided to take the advice of Dale Vince’s brilliant punning and find ‘another way’ to arrive.  I am actually really fond of Mr. Vince (unconventional owner of Ecotricity and FGR), and it is a credit to him that this was the first ‘football by footpath’ I’d bothered to really think about and start writing up properly.

I’d never been to the ground before, having been in London on the August Bank Holiday in 2014 when we played our first ever match there and packed out two sides of the ground with 1,886 Gasheads (precisely 49.9% of the total crowd, and I bet a few who sneaked into the seats or hospitality unofficially pushed it over the 50% mark).

There are quite literally no pubs near the ground, with the nearest being down at the bottom of the hill, in the town itself.  Or are there…?  A brief reconnoitre down some steep side roads on the way back from my trip to utterly, totally, unashamedly blag the right to buy some tickets for the virtually empty ‘home’ terrace (the whole story is far too long to write down - 10 minutes of slightly unproductive duplicity hinged purely on two little words I threw into the mix) confirmed that there was a great parking spot and little old pub not that far from the ground, and certainly within a woodland walk that would suit ‘football by footpath‘.

But surely everyone else had also stopped whinging about pubs and parking by now and done a tad of searching on the internet as well?  Hadn’t they?  Obviously not, as our arrival there was greeted with the type of stares that suggested they had no idea a football ground has been within a 10-15 minute walk of them for the past 89 years.

The George Inn, Nailsworth - Circa 1997

The George Inn on the Newmarket Road (GL6 0RF / Tel - 01453 833228  / Map reference ST8411499653 apparently) is an amazing pub though, especially if you like history, good beer, and out of the way locations, with pleasant views across the Miry Brook towards Shortwood thrown in for free.  If you look carefully you can even see the new Wicker Man they are building over there.  I personally don’t mind the sight of an old one; it’s the new ones I worry about.  The three separate chimneys suggest the Inn was presumably three cottages knocked into one.  It apparently became a pub in 1820 and was renamed in 1910 to honour the incoming George V.  

View from the Inn

Considering its location up a dead end road it’s hardly surprising it seems a lot like a locals pub. Tough.  As long as the beer is ok I don’t really care that much.  They had two real ales on pump from the local Uley Brewery, plus one from the even closer Stroud Brewery, and Timothy Taylor’s classic ‘Landlord‘ from ‘up north‘.  I believe that they have Uley beers most of the time and most probably Stroud ones as well.

The gents toilet is in a separate old building in front of the pub.  We genuinely didn’t realise it was there when already ensconced inside the pub, and as the barman totally blanked me when I tried to ask (a point off for that matey!) I decided to use the Ladies which was clearly signposted next to where we were sitting.  It is upstairs though and presumably is also the bathroom for B&B guests or live-in staff as it contained shaving materials, shower gel, and everything you would need for a bath and ablutions.  Or maybe they shave the locals here, or even worse, the outsiders.  My friends (a Canary and a Bluebird) remarked about a quirk in the bath itself, which drained from an exit in the middle of the tub.  Well, they do do things a bit funny like in Gloucestershire.  BTW - I am legally allowed to make such jokes by the West Country Bumpkin Act of 1752 as I was born within 800 metres of the Gloucestershire / Somersetshire / Wiltshire ’Three Shires’ border crossing, near Colerne, and have had an identity crisis ever since. 

The 'Three Shires' Stones

When you come out of The George head to your right, up the main road.  Ignore any roads to your left and right, until you come to a clear fork in the narrow road.  Stay right (the appropriately entitled Wood End Lane), carry on until the road finishes and you‘ll find a little footpath that leads you onto the dirt path that heads up through High Wood and to the back of the ground.  If for any reason you accidentally veered left at the fork, you will simply reach the end of that particular road, and after a few minutes will join up with the same public footpaths that lead up the hill.  Basically all paths lead up the steep hill (a 65 metre elevation from the pub), and straight to the ground.  You can’t really go that wrong.  Honestly.  It may seem disconcerting to the average football fan, but trust me, I am a ticket blagging liar who will pretend my father was an FGR fan from Coaley in order to get tickets.  Just keep on going up and up!

At this point I am reminded of the ‘turtle‘ story.  Its origin dates back to at least the mid 19th Century, and although versions now wildly vary about who tells the story, all versions go along the same lines.   After a talk on cosmology and the structure of the solar system by a clever academic, a little old lady in the hall approaches the learned lecturer and informs him that his theory of the solar order is completely wrong, and that the Earth in fact rests on the back of a huge turtle.  ‘But, my dear lady‘, the Professor asks, as politely as possible, ‘what holds up the turtle?’.  ‘Ah‘, she replies, ‘that's easy to answer. He is standing on the back of another turtle‘. ‘Oh, I see‘, said the Professor, trying to bite his tongue, ‘But would you be so good as to tell me what holds up the second turtle?’. ‘It's no use, Professor‘, said the old lady, realising he was trying to lead her into a logical trap, ‘It's turtles all the way down!’

With FGR it is hills and hills all the way up. 

The scramble up through High Wood was charming, through swathes of wild garlic, although the slide back down in the pitch black was strangely more difficult.  A practical man in our party had said he would bring a torch, but he clearly wasn’t that practical as he failed to do so and was also still in his slick soled office flippers.  He might as well have worn shoes stolen from a Ten Pin Bowling alley, or blocks of pure pig lard on his feet (Gloucester Old Spot anyone?).  I bet Ray Mears doesn’t have this problem, but then again Ray has no friends.  Nor would you if you ate snake poo for breakfast.  I rescued the day with a bright mobile phone light and Tour de France cries of ‘Allez, Allez‘. 

Once at the top of the ascent the back of the home terrace can be spotted through a fence (this was the Trevor Horsley stand at the old Lawn before being dragged 400 metres and re-erected at the new stadium).  After climbing through a broken section and emerging like three urchins from a Victorian chimney an old boy stewarding in the car park jokingly asked us, ‘where have you lot come from?’.  Well I assumed he was joking - it was certainly not your average way to emerge into the confines of a new-ish football ground for an important play-off match.

If you prefer to avoid an ungainly scramble through a broken fence, you can play safe and follow the fence around the west side of the ground (this also is a public footpath).  This leads you up and over the famous hill where you can see part of the pitch for free, and then around to the main road and the front of the stadium.

Well Dale, thanks for giving my quirky challenge a bit of a push.  In equal measures I do and I don’t look forward to a return trip.  If such an occasion arises just make sure it’s in the Football League yeah?


Martin Bull became a Gashead [Bristol Rovers fan] in 1989 and immediately fell in love with Twerton Park, standing near G pillar.  In 2006 he wrote, photographed and published the first independent book about the work of the artist Banksy.  Having been exiled for much of his past, away games have always been special for him, with 67 of the 92 League clubs so far conquered, and he recently edited and published an acclaimed new book, 'Away The Gas', which focuses on them - www.awaythegas.org.uk

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