You may remember an article we published talking about the first vegan football club, Forest Green Rovers. Now, with the changes a huge success, The Independent interviewed Dale Vince, the chairman, to get his take on the changes.
“Personally I’m vegan and have very strong views on the environment, animal welfare and human health,” Vince explains.
“I couldn’t be involved in something that was catering that kind of menu, but rather than do it in one go we went on a journey with our fans.”
And it turned out the fans were surprisingly OK with the decision.
“A few got a bit angry and thought we were dictating to them what they could and couldn’t eat,” Dale Vince says. “But we just explained that we were changing the menu according to our principals.”
Despite traditional football match fare consisting of burgers and beers, there was relatively little backlash to the decision, but it was the initial removal of red meat from the menu that garnered the biggest reaction.
“Typically football food is hideous,” Vince believes. “Burgers are really awful. They’re the most awful parts of an animal and are really unappealing products that are cheap as dirt. We’ve replaced them with really high quality plant-based food.”
Considering home games are just two hours once a fortnight, it’s not too much to ask of even the biggest meat-eater. “For those that are really bothered they can bring their own ham sandwiches,” Vince suggests.
He was simply trying to introduce a new kind of food to football that most fans hadn’t tried before. “We didn’t focus on what was not in the food but the food itself and how good it tastes,” Vince explains.
Forest Green Rovers fans can now expect to enjoy veggie burgers (“our fans have really taken to them”), wraps and falafel when they come to matches.
There are still pies too – one of Vince’s favourites is a vegan Quorn pie encased in vegan pastry, served on a bed of mashed potato, surrounded by peas and topped with fried, shredded leeks and gravy. “It’s the most amazing dish,” he says.
Some FGR fans have even become vegetarians since the club took meat off the menu, which Vince is obviously thrilled about: “They’ve told us it’s changed their lives,” he says.
But what about the players? Could vegan fare give them enough sustenance to run around a football pitch?
According to Vince, after being convinced of the performance benefit of eating vegan before a match, the players were “completely on board.”
It was a surprising move though: “It’s fairly widely known that red meat is bad for performance and it isn’t uncommon for top athletes to avoid it, but it’s less common in football and particularly at the level Forest Green is at, in the fifth league,” he explains.
Before Dale Vince arrived, no one had put much thought into the players’ diets. Now, however, the footballers are given a simple, carb-heavy meal two to three hours before a match – a pasta dish or jacket potatoes with baked beans, for example.
Vince accepts that it’s hard to quantify how much of an impact the diet change has had on the team’s performance because there are so many factors at play – they’ve had zero injuries this season though, which is unusual.
He believes the players are definitely benefitting from going vegan though, and points out that Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero credits his success with turning vegetarian.
Vince is thrilled that the club’s fortunes haven’t been affected by the new menu: “People thought we’d kill the non-football side of the club and no one would book conferences or events, we’d lose sponsors and fans would stop coming but none of that happened.”
In fact, he says the people that were most vocal against the change are now the ones who are the biggest advocates of the new food.