What is a creative director at a football club? We’re not sure, and Dale Vince isn’t either, which is part of the reason why they’re so interesting…
Forest Green Rovers, as you will know by now, are not your average football club. And Dale Vince is not your average football club chairman.
As can be proven by his interview with The Totally Football League Show, which quickly turns to discussion of the club’s latest collaboration with Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja from Massive Attack, who recently became RGR’s artistic director.
What does that mean at a football club? No idea. And Vince doesn’t entirely know either.
“Yes, that was an interesting one,” he says. “I got to know Robert a year ago when he got in touch over the zero carbon gig that Massive Attack were planning in Liverpool, which is a really brilliant idea.
Off the back of that, they intended to create a blueprint for other gigs and events to follow. A few weeks ago, he said he like to buy some shares in the club. And I just said, look, don’t just do that – why don’t you join us? Because I think actually we could do some stuff together.
I’ve seen the work he’s doing, you know, engages people, is climate-themed and it’s innovative. He’s a big football fan as well as a fan of FGR. And so I just had the idea: why not be our artistic director? Because I think there will be some considerable overlaps between his world and our world, and together, we can kind of push new boundaries within football.
“What it exactly means, we don’t know, and for me that’s part of the excitement. It’s like an exploration. The idea of an artistic director in football is entirely new, but I feel sure there are there are big things we can do together.”
Del Naja is of course not the only big name to get involved with FGR recently, following Hector Bellerin who became the club’s second-biggest shareholder in September.
“He reached out via his agent a few months ago and just said he liked what we were doing and he wanted to be ‘a part of the family’, in his own words,” Vince says.
“We started a conversation about how that could work. We landed eventually on the idea of him being a shareholder as a starting place where we explore other things that we can do together. He’s got a few off-field activities going on in the ecosphere, we have some as well, and we’re looking at things we can collaborate on. He’s really cool guy, I like what he’s doing and I like the way he’s using his platform.”
Is Bellerin an outlier, or does this fit with the idea of footballers becoming more socially conscious and involved with projects beyond the game?
“Can I say both? Because I think he is at once a bit of an outlier, but also a sign of the direction of travel of football, which itself just reflects the direction of travel of society I would say. We’re all becoming more aware, more conscious of the issues and keener to do something about them. So I think football’s been changing in the same way that life in general has been changing as we come to grips with the idea that we are facing a climate crisis.”
We spoke to Vince the day after ‘Project Big Picture’ was leaked to an unsuspecting public, which has caused some consternation at the top end of the game, but what do the proposals look like for someone who runs a League Two club?
“I’m pretty positive about it, actually. I read about it last night on the internet and I was quite excited because I think it grapples with some of the biggest issues in football, the distribution of cash from the top end down through the pyramid, the distorting impact of parachute payments.
“Those are the two big issues for me, and it deals with them. It obviously comes with some downsides, something that’s been characterised as a power grab by the big six Premier League clubs in terms of voting rights. But I imagine that it’s a basis for negotiation and that could be amended.”
Sustainability is one of the key words associated with FGR, which not only applies to their environmental focus, but also their approach to football: manager Mark Cooper has been at the club since 2016, a relative age these days and makes hi the fourth-longest serving manager in the EFL.
Is it a philosophical choice to give managers more of a chance, or is it simply that Cooper has done a good job and they haven’t needed to make a change?
“I think it’s a bit of both, actually. This is the way we roll as a football club. I’ve been in charge of 10 years and in that time I’ve just appointed two managers. It’s because I guess I take a different view to to a lot of other club owners or chairmen.
“What I’m looking to create is a sustainable platform. I think managers like players have to learn and develop their game. And if you give them space to do that, then you can create something more long-term and sustainable than than a kind of hire and fire mentality will get you.”
You can hear the full interview on The Totally Football League Show. Listen ad-free on The Athletic – subscribe for £1/month here.
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