Last October, after removing all meat and dairy items from its match day menu, Forest Green Rovers in Gloucestershire became the first vegan football club in the UK.
Forest Green Rovers Football Club are the longest-serving members of the National League. They also happen to be pioneers when it comes to living the vegan lifestyle.
Last October, after removing all meat and dairy products, the Gloucestershire club became the first football club in the UK to adopt a vegan match day menu. The club has been vegetarian since 2011 but the recent shunning of dairy, eggs, and honey is the last rung on the vegan ladder.
Fans attending games at the club's New Lawn Stadium no longer snack on the traditional meat pies and beer, but are now offered a choice of entirely plant-based veggie burgers, fajitas, and pizza made from locally sourced ingredients. There's even a vegan cider.
MUNCHIES spoke with Forest Green Rovers chairman Dale Vince, who took over the club in 2011 and is also the owner of green energy company Ecotricity about why he made the change and how it went down with the paying punters.
MUNCHIES: Hi Dale. Let me get this right, the club doesn't serve any meat at all? Dale Vince: No, we stopped all that about four seasons ago. We've been on a mission since then to introduce our fans to this new world—the world of plant-based food. It's been a big success. When you drop the meat and two veg approach, a whole new world of options opens up.
When did the club go vegan? We took the small step from vegetarian to vegan this season. We'd been vegetarian for some time before so it was just a case of removing a bit of cheese and milk. There are three main reasons for not eating meat and dairy: animal welfare, human health, and the environment. The meat and dairy industry is not only killing animals, it's killing us and the planet too.
Have you found that the club's financial standing has been damaged by the change? On the contrary, it's had the opposite effect. Food sales are up and the boost to our media profile has been incredible for the club. Our fans have come with us on the journey and so have our sponsors. There's nothing missing here. We're actually adding something different, something better to the menu. The food is so good it has a growing reputation and it's part of the match day attraction of FGR.
Are any of the players vegan? They are when we feed them. It's the same for the players as it is with everyone. When you come to the club, you eat something different—the food we believe in. What you do in your own time is up to you. Introducing people to this new world is what's important to us.
You serve vegan in your players' canteen, has this impacted the quality of fitness or play on the field? All the food we serve is vegan, whether for players, staff, or fans.
Fitness wise, I'd say we are one of, if not the, fittest team in the league, with a good habit of scoring late in games (often a sign of superior fitness). We set a European record at the start of this season by winning our first nine games and we've been virtually injury free all season.
Nutrition has a key role to play for athletes of any kind—I think it's fair to conclude that our players are not missing anything on that front.
Instead of a pie and a cup of milky tea, what do paying punters get at Forest Green Rovers' ground? All sorts of things. The Q-Pie, for example. A handmade pie on a bed of mashed potato with gravy, peas, and shredded fried leeks on top. It looks and tastes fantastic. We've also got fajitas, burgers, and chips. Something for everyone.
Football games are renowned as fairly male-dominated environments, where men stand on freezing terraces and drink Bovril. How did your fan base take to the vegan switch? After four years of an enforced vegetarian diet, they were too malnourished to put up much of a fight!
Fair enough. And how do opposition fans and teams take to it? Ever had any complaints? This is football. People always find something to shout about but it's important that we take away fans on the same journey and get them to try something new. On the whole, away fans have stopped worrying about what's not in the food and enjoy it for what is in it. And mostly that's the biggest issue, a preoccupation with what's not in the food—once someone actually tries it, we move on.
And again, this is football, the bar is not set very high on the food front, it's not hard to offer really great food. Some games away fans like to chant stuff about food, and I like that, it's good football banter—and usually it's when we're winning.
Thanks for talking with us, Dale!