When Forest Green Rovers Chairman Dale Vince offered Bolton Wanderers fans the chance to visit The New Lawn for the visit of Bury on Saturday 19th January, I jumped at the chance to go. In fact, there are six of us making the journey down to Gloucestershire next weekend. I can’t wait, and I hope to see scores of fellow Wanderers there.
Many Bolton fans have baulked at the idea of going to watch another team play - isn’t it a crime against football to support another side? Some form of sporting adultery?
No. Or at least I hope not.
First, Forest Green Rovers are out of pocket to the tune of nearly £1 million. The smallest town to ever host a Football League Side, a club experiencing just its second season in the top tiers of the sport, owed £1 million by a club two leagues, 23,000 stadium seats and more than 100 years of league football away.
This, I know, is not our fault as supporters. Us Wanderers fans haven’t fleeced Dale Vince’s Green Devils. We all know who has - I’m not going to give the name any more column inches than it has had recently. This isn’t about him. This is about real football fans making things right.
We Trotters have been on the receiving end of much sympathy from neutral followers of the game, though pity is an emotion you receive with distaste. There is no comfort in the well wishes of those looking from the outside-in. Forest Green Rovers don’t want our pity - they want the money owed to them, and it seems as though only legal action will provide it.
This is why we shouldn’t pity Forest Green for the shambles they have been dragged into. We should make things right - this is Bolton Wanderers fans taking a very different kind of stand to the one they will be taking two days later in front of the Sky Sports cameras. This is the chance for the fans of a club so downtrodden by a charlatan at the wheel to experience football away from the storm clouds of financial Armageddon.
This is the chance to put money into the pockets of a club much more deserving of it than by a man based in Monaco (not Switzerland, remember). It’s the chance to taste a vegan chicken balti pie, and cheer Christian Doidge on from the home stand. It’s the chance to repay the man who has brought our Chairman to public justice. Without Dale Vince, there’d be no protest against West Bromwich Albion at The Macron. We owe him one.
One of the finest moments of our season in League One was an August trip to AFC Wimbledon in 2016. Like Forest Green Rovers, the club had defied the odds to thrive in English league football. Pre-game, home and away fans conversed in local pubs, telling tales of the two side’s very different pasts. It was the chance to visit a “proper” football ground, its stands sprung up from the maze of streets surrounding it. Fans stood in the late summer sunshine, packed into the away terrace, rather than sparsely seated in a modern stadium fit for more spectators and devoid of atmosphere. It’s football as it was, how it still is, and how it should be.
And if that isn’t enough, former striker Christian Doidge has promised (possibly personally) each Bolton fan a pint - Lancashire lads will do anything for a free lager, won’t they? Good old crisp, refreshing, vegan lager.
To the Bury fans reading this desperate to see that we are traveling south to see a local side lose, this isn’t about you either. A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of a sheep. Sorry to disappoint, but you mean nothing to us.
If we really want to make He Who Must Not Be Named start to sweat, we must take our money out of the club. Don’t buy a ticket on match day, don’t buy merchandise from the club shop, don’t buy a pie or a pint or a programme at the match: don’t line his pockets. Where else better to put that money but into a proper football club, fully deserving of our hard earned money?
That, strangers of the internet, is why I am going to watch Forest Green Rovers on Saturday, and I hope to see many of you there too. Remember, Bolton shirts and club colours are welcome.
Whoever’s name is above the door,
Whoever holds the key.
They’ll never own our football club,
It belongs to you and me.