Forest Green Rovers’ move from The New Lawn to Eco Park is a slow process, but there are now spades in the ground.
Forest Green’s future ground – based near Stonehouse on Junction 13 of the M5 – was approved by Stroud District Council in December 2019, but work on the site only began at the start of 2022.
Rovers have only played at The New Lawn in Nailsworth – their current home – for 16 years, but the club believe they have outgrown the stadium, and a seven-mile move is on the horizon.
It’s all part of Dale Vince’s vision to get the club to the Championship.
One of the reasons for Forest Green’s move to Eco Park is to help the club grow. Despite having arguably their best ever season, sitting top of League Two, Rovers have the fourth lowest average attendance in the Football League. Their current average of just over 2,500 is less than their first season in League Two, when they narrowly avoided relegation back to non-league.
The location of The New Lawn – on top of a steep hill in a sleepy village in Gloucestershire – makes it difficult to grow the match-attending fanbase. Transport links, road access and parking are poor – which puts off potential new supporters.
The hope – and indeed expectation – is that attendances at Eco Park will grow, with plans to expand the capacity of the ground to 10,000.
Rovers vice-chairman Phil Butterworth watched the club when crowds were still regularly in three digits, but he believes that a move to Eco Park will see Forest Green regularly hitting the 3,500 mark.
“I think there’s huge potential with the new ground,” says Butterworth. “If you look at all the new Quedgeley houses, all of the new developments around Upton – I think we’re going to be pulling a lot of people in.
“If we’re a solid League One team once we move into Eco Park, I think it’ll be 3,500 easily. I remember when people talked about the potential of getting an average crowd of 2,000 – and people believed it simply couldn’t happen. I remember having conversations when we were getting 1,200 on average, and we kept saying that we should be consistently getting 2,000. Other people laughed at us.”
Eco Park mean that Rovers will be just 30 minutes north of Bristol, but it’ll also be far easier to get to from Gloucester and Cheltenham.
“Obviously, Gloucester City have got a new stadium, and for a National League North club, I think their gates are pretty impressive, but unless they start doing better on the field, I don’t think they will grow. There will be lots of interest in Forest Green and the new stadium.
“So, you’ve got Gloucester, even all the way down to South Gloucestershire, because they have no natural football club to support. The catchment area can definitely go all the way down to Bristol.”
It could still be several years down the line, but a move to Eco Park could see Forest Green Rovers take another sizeable step forward as a football club.