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LYING sixth in League Two and just a point off automatic promotion, the atmosphere at Gloucestershire Forest Green Rovers (FGR) is one of exhilaration. And it’s just got even headier.
The club have had plans for their new 5,000-capacity stadium finally approved by Stroud District Council, which is run by a politically innovative co-operative alliance of Labour, Green and LibDem after overcoming local Tories’ procrastinating opposition. Ominously, perhaps, an appeal against this decision is due to be heard next month.
Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) it will be the world’s first timber football stadium. ZHA succeeded where very few architects do with an exciting, high on wow-factor outer shell that will stand favourable comparison with Renzo Piano’s San Nicola in Bari and will certainly put in the shadow the dog’s dinner of the new White Hart Lane.
FGR chairman Dale Vince believes it will take five years to complete: “We see a great opportunity to create a truly sustainable football club and demonstrate sustainable thinking and technology to a new and passionate audience,” he says.
The Rovers are already the world’s first UN-certified carbon-neutral football club. Their pitch’s grass is free from pesticides and herbicides and it’s cut by a GPS-directed electric lawnmower, powered by energy harnessed from the sun. Furthermore, FGR collect rainwater from beneath the pitch to use for pitch irrigation so they don’t have to use mains water.
If this were not enough, FGR are the first professional club to switch to impact resistant and anti-microbial bamboo shin pads replacing the current ones made of plastic.
ZHA’s counter-levered transparent roof employs the rhythm of the potent structural, vertical and dynamically angled, wooden beams in an reassuring almost musical pattern — Ravel’s Bolero springs to mind.
The timber’s natural warmth and “softness” touches a chord of ancient familiarity that cannot be matched by concrete nor steel.
And then there is the visual magnificence of the beams themselves basking in the shifting daylight of the vast space they demarcate and support. The giant ribs of the stand, whose outer and inner expanses are separated by the membrane, are like a nave in a Gothic cathedral.
Equally important is that FGR have brought a breath of fresh air into the putrid atmosphere of malversation and abuse of club ownership. They have amply demonstrated that local football clubs can be run prudently, with a long-term progressive vision and for the benefit and participation of the local community. Long may it continue.
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