Forest Green Rovers brought the climate and ecological crisis into sharp focus by taking the unprecedented step of using their pitchside advertising hoardings to display real-time facts and figures about fossil fuels, plastic waste, and other critical issues during their League Two game at home to Swindon. The 2-0 defeat, televised by Sky Sports, was broadcast across 120 countries.
Forest Green’s “pitchside intervention” was planned by their artistic director, Massive Attack’s Robert del Naja, also known as 3D, in collaboration with the chairman of the club, Dale Vince, who acknowledged the bold move was controversial and could create a backlash. The messages were shown on the LED advertising four minutes into the game at the New Lawn, raising awareness of key world issues in a thought-provoking manner.
One centred on how many tons of glacial ice had melted so far on Saturday alone and others focused on waste, with another declaring how many plastic bottles of water had been sold since kick-off, plus the “time left to the end of oil”. The number of animals slaughtered for food since kick-off was also highlighted. In 2015, Forest Green became the world’s first vegan football club.
“We’re bringing something new to pitchside messaging – football fans tend to get bombarded by messages during games telling them to buy stuff – we’re showing them what’s happening when they do buy stuff like fossil fuels, fast food, flights,” said Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, a renewable energy supplier. “Our spending decisions drive the climate, ecological and health crises we face.”
The move is a typically bold one by Forest Green, a club which have taken a number of significant eco-friendly steps in recent years. In 2018 they became the first United Nations certified carbon-neutral club in the world and in April are set to become the first club in the country to travel to a game on a zero-emission electric coach.
They are awaiting detailed planning permission to build an all-wooden 5,000-seat stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Forest Green are also recognised by Fifa, the governing body, as the “greenest football club in the world” and last year Arsenal’s Héctor Bellerín became the club’s second-largest shareholder in an effort to raise “the environmental agenda in football”.
Digital aesthetics are synonymous with Massive Attack live performances. Del Naja, whose association with the club began last year, stressed the numbers are “not opinion or argument” and Forest Green said it was important for supporters to be given information outside “gambling odds, fast food, debt opportunities or consumer nudges”.
Vince added: “Some people might not like what they are seeing, but these are not adverts, just facts. And if you really don’t like it, change how you live – don’t be angry at the reality.”