Forest Green owner says he would 'never swap principles for money'

Dale Vince has transformed Forest Green Rovers into the world’s first carbon neutral football club while masterminding their journey to League One… the energy tycoon is a self-proclaimed ‘contrarian’ who insists he would ‘never swap principles for money’

  • Dale Vince has guided Forest Green Rovers from non-league to League One
  • The Ecotricity boss is also capable for making them the ‘world’s greenest club’
  • He has introduced several green changes, including vegan-only food menus
  • Vince funded the Just Oil protests when activists tied themselves to goalposts
  • But financial and social sustainability are also of importance to the Forest chief 
  • He is also calling for English football to move itself away from self-regulation  

Dale Vince says he doesn’t really feel pride. It’s not the way the Forest Green Rovers owner and renewable energy tycoon is wired. He prefers, he says, to look forwards rather than back.

It’s an outlook that’s shaped most of his life. From leaving home at 15 to spend a decade as a New Age Traveller, living in an old fire engine – later exchanged for an ambulance – powered by a home-made wind turbine, to launching his own green energy company Ecotricity, building the UK’s first electric supercar, creating diamonds out of thin air, and turning Forest Green Rovers into the world’s first carbon neutral football club.

‘I’ve always been a contrarian, I guess, and a bit of a rebel,’ Vince tells The Mail on Sunday. ‘I’ve never pursued money, I’m not interested in that. I pursue change.’

Energy tycoon Dale Vince has guided Forest Green Rovers from non-league to League One

So, it’s a shame, perhaps, as there seems plenty to feel proud about. Not least because he’s steered Rovers, a club from a town of 6,000 on a hill in the middle of Gloucestershire, into the Football League and, following their draw with Bristol Rovers last weekend, promotion to League One.

They might even win League Two on the final day next weekend, although a 3-1 defeat to Harrogate on Saturday was unhelpful to the cause.

If they can secure it, if not pride, what will he feel? ‘There will be a big smile on my face and in my heart and I will feel pleased that we’ve made that big step,’ says the 60-year-old. ‘I’ll be looking to firstly survival in League One and then progress up the leagues and hopefully competing for the championship soon.’

You see, always looking forward. And Vince and Rovers have done so while pursuing change off the pitch, too. Since Vince took over in 2010, he’s turned Rovers into, as FIFA describe them, ‘the greenest club in the world’. Vegan-only menu for players and fans, shirts made from coffee grounds, pitches irrigated from collected rain water and cut by an electric robot mower.

The energy chief’s club could even win League Two on the last day of the season next weekend

But Vince has also transformed Forest Green into the world’s first ever carbon neutral club

They made headlines by travelling away to Bristol Rovers in a £420,000 electric coach

Vince says he’s seeing more and more players and fans adopting those values into their own lives. They’ve come a long way from opposition fans turning up in butcher’s aprons and singing ‘you dirty vegan bastard, you’re eating our grass!’

Rovers made headlines again – ‘we’re used to it now’ – when they travelled to Bristol Rovers in a £420,000 electric coach. Vince, looking ahead, plans to buy one and thinks the team could use it to get to half of their League One away games next season. He also wants to swap out all of the club’s mowers’ motors for electric ones.

And there’s the small matter of a proposed new stadium called Eco Park, still a few years away, which will be made entirely of wood. Vince, meanwhile, plans to sell Ecotricity for a move into politics. He has previously donated to the Labour Party.

It was Vince, too, who funded the Just Stop Oil protests last month when activists cabled-tied themselves to goalposts during Premier League matches. He didn’t know that was how they would protest when he handed them £10,000 but would have done anyway. ‘There’s some things that transcend everything, including football.’

Sustainability runs through everything. And when you are an owner of a football club, in an industry where so many edge close to financial ruin, it’s not just about sustaining the environment.

The Forest owner funded the Just Oil protests which saw fans tie themselves to goalposts last month, although he wasn’t aware of how they would campaign

Vince is interested in financial and social sustainability as well as preserving the environment

‘Sustainability is a broad issue,’ says Vince. ‘It’s also about financial sustainability and social sustainability. You’ve got to have social justice in anything that you do. Without it, you can’t have true sustainability.’

It’s fitting, then, that we’re speaking around the year anniversary of the proposed Super League when the six biggest clubs attempted to break away, only to be shut down by widespread protest.

‘It crystallized the issue of what actually is it we expect from football as an industry in our country. It turns out we expect more than rampant money-making. And then you’ve got a Government saying that, actually, the free market can’t fix this. So we’re going to have some good old state intervention.’

The Government confirmed last week that it will create an independent football regulator, following the recommendations of a fan-led review, to stop unscrupulous owners from buying clubs and running them into the ground. The Premier League say they accept the need for reform but that a regulator ‘is not necessary’.

He is not convinced that football should be regulated on his previous experience in energy

‘It’s a real interesting question because my main day job is in the energy business which has a regulator, and that has been a fucking disaster,’ says Vince. ‘So, I’m hesitant to say, yes, we should regulate football based on experience.

‘But football needs something done to it because there are so many clubs every year that run so close to the edge. That’s harmful for communities. Self-regulation isn’t working. The fit and proper owner’s test is a breach of the trade description’s act.

‘Money rules the roost in football, which is all kinds of wrong. It’s like a Wild West version of capitalism. It needs control. I found it really interesting that the government in their report said that the free market can’t solve the problems of football. This is a Conservative government that thinks the free market can solve all problems. I was surprised to read that.’

If it’s been a disaster in the energy industry, could it have the same effect on football?

‘Well, it could, it absolutely could because you tend in a regulator to get a lot of theoretical people and, you know, they are not in touch with what’s really needed.

But he insists football needs to change its ways as too many clubs are ‘run so close to the edge’

‘It might be simpler in football. It should be straightforward. They need to, obviously, make sure there’s more money coming out of the Premier League into the lower leagues. That would be a very socialist thing to do. I’m loving this new socialist approach to football.

‘And I would look at a look at wage caps. The Premier League won’t want one, and maybe they can be an exception, but I think they do a lot of good in lower leagues.’

Meanwhile, Forest Green keep working their way up them. And, regardless of temptation, Vince will not sacrifice what he believes in to get there. Not even if he had to trade a rasher of meat on the menu for a place in the Premier League.

‘No way. Absolutely not. I would never swap principles for money. I think the worst thing anybody could do.’

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