Today, Club 25 is able to realize a long-held ambition by finally hosting a Forest Green Rovers Football Club shirt on the site. Where initially we wanted to tell the story of this remarkable vegan and carbon neutral EFL member and tick them off our ‘Doing the 92’ Challenge list, we are now also privy to documenting FGR’s struggle with negligent suppliers hummel and their subsequent teaming up with PlayerLayer. Buckle up and strap yourself in, because this is gonna be some story;
(Take note that, since this article went live, we’ve also covered the 2019-2021 FGR home top right here)
(We’ve since also added an incredibly rare matchworn top worn between 2014 and 2016)
Usually, Club 25 sources its kits from second hand markets, charity auctions, kind donations by affiliates and clubs themselves, and all other manner of procurement methods to ensure we can keep this electic website up and running with fresh content on the regular without having to remortgage our HQ. This stands in stark contrast with this brand new Forest Green Rovers home kit, which we ordered at full price in the club’s Online Store, a decision we made so as to ensure we could bring you coverage of this unique lime green and black top as quickly as possible. A smart move in hindsight, considering stock sold out in no time flat.
The store’s stock of these tops being depleted might be in no small part due to the prolonged suffering Forest Green’s fans were put through by hummel, the Danish company who signed on to be kit supplier after the club’s contract with previous technical partner Puma ran out. The announcement came hot on the heels of hummel enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the United Kingdom’s football market, with high profile contracts including the likes of Glasgow Rangers, Middlesbrough, and Charlton Athletic amongst others seeing the brand’s famed chevrons reappear in the Football League following years of absence. A behemoth of the late 80’s and early 90’s with customers like Spurs, Aston Villa, and Watford, hummel fizzled out in the early 00’s and shifted their focus to continental markets.
Image courtesy of Forest Green Rovers FC
Following their return to the UK and with their factories churning out product for their partner teams in the Championship and League 1, the Danes went ahead and revealed the bespoke kits they were to supply Forest Green Rovers with. This was all well and good, with a modern collar being the highlight of the new home shirt whilst subtle horizontal lines across the body livened up the tasteful away shirt, until hummel started missing deadlines; even though standard teamwear like training gear and the like was reaching The New Lawn (FGR’s 5,140 capacity stadium), the bespoke kits were nowhere in sight as pre-season rolled around. Instead, Mark Cooper’s squad was forced to play in hastily arranged all-green shirts (based on a standard catalogue design which only needed to have the crest and sponsors stapled on) throughout all friendly matches they played during the summer.
Image courtesy of Bristol Rovers FC
If you have a vague recollection of seeing these hummel shirts in orange previously, you are probably a loyal reader of this site as we’ve previously covered these tops when they were used as the 2017 home shirts for Albirex Niigata Singapore! We got our hands on the Albirex shirt back in early 2017, which just goes to show hummel’s desperation; they tossed year old shirts at Forest Green Rovers to cover their own failures as a manufacturing business. If the shirts alone weren’t enough to show this, one only needs to look at the terrible state of the socks they provided, which appear as though they had white tape attached so as to (badly) mimick the trademark hummel chevrons.
Image courtesy of Forest Green Rovers FC
As pre-season slowly gave way to the start of the actual League 2 campaign, which was to be Forest Green’s sophomore season in the Football League after surviving their maiden voyage with a 21nd place finish in 2017/2018 (ahead of Morecambe and condemning Chesterfield and Barnet to relegation), hummel remained unable to ship the bespoke shirts they had promised the club. If officials at the New Lawn were annoyed already, they would have been irate at this stage as official league games come with official kit rules as per the EFL charter; clubs must register a home and away kit prior to the start of the season, with the possibility to also file a third/alternative shirt to pad available options for as long as the strips are not comprised of the same colours as the first choice strip.
With the lime green standard shirts used as a temporary solution being too similar to the home kit, hummel hatched a plan that would allow them to sidestep the manufacturing issues for a while longer; another standard design was pulled out of the catalogue, this time in light blue, supplied with a crest and sponsors, and pressed into service as a third kit. This would certainly have been suitable for away games, but the absence of the promised home kit meant that Forest Green were forced to play in light blue for their home matches in August (versus Oldham, Stevenage, and Swindon) and early September (Port Vale). Embarassingly, the aforementioned Albirex Niigata Singapore used the exact same shirt for their 2018 Cup campaign.
Whilst FGR’s players and fans were still waiting, hummel’s bigger customer teams, the aforementioned Rangers, Middlesbrough, and Charlton had long since received their playing and replica kit (although Charlton was also struck by slight delays that had since been remedied). The Nailsworth-based club weren’t the only team to be left in the cold by hummel, as National League side AFC Telford were also in want of their Danish-made kit, but the board at the New Lawn had had enough; with no firm date of delivery for the new strips in sight, chairman Dale Vince and his fellow board members tore up the contract with hummel, and turned all of the brand’s sponsor outings upside down in a clever tongue-in-cheek way of venting their frustration.
Pictured above is a screen grab taken from the club’s site in September, with hummel being placed at the end of FGR’s list of partners. Within days of the contract being torn up, the board was in a position to announce that Nottingham-based PlayerLayer had been commissioned to create the club’s new shirts, with the deal being inked on the 22nd of August and the brand new kit debuting just a month later on the 22nd of September versus Crawley Town. An achievement worthy of praise on the part of both Forest Green Rovers, who had moved swiftly to secure an alternate deal after giving hummel the benefit of the doubt, and PlayerLayer, who managed to design, produce, and supply the new kit in just a month’s time. Then, with the fans’ replicas being delivered halfway through October, this frustrating saga was capped off by a happy end.
Pondering the embroidered crest on the new shirts, one can consider hummel (or at least their UK office) to be the antithesis of Forest Green Rovers, who themselves have come to be known as a shining light of corporate responsibility and success on and off the pitch in recent years.
The club was founded as Forest Green by Reverend E.J.H. Peach in the eponymous Nailsworth hamlet of Forest Green in 1889, with Nailsworth becoming an official urban district just five years later ushering in a name change to Nailsworth AFC. This new monniker was not given a chance to stick as the club withdrew from competition in October 1896 before promptly being refounded just over a year later in 1898 bearing the Forest Green Rovers name. The first recorded kit used by the Rovers was a combination of white shirts, black knickerbockers, and black socks, although the club adopted red and white stripes just a year after refounding, in 1899.
Success eluded the club, which changed its name once more in 1911, this time to Nailsworth & Forest Green United with a snazzy new striped shirt in white and navy to go along with the change. This too was not meant to last, with the club finally settling on Forest Green Rovers in 1919; they registered their colours as being black and white stripes, which would remain in use for most of the club’s life. All the while, FGR continued play at the Lawn Ground, the pitch they had been using since 1890; as it was situated atop a hill overlooking much of Nailsworth, the quaint nickname ‘friendly club on the hill’ became popular when referencing the club.
Years of play in leagues such as the Hellenic Premier Division and the Southern Football League Midland Division culminated in the disastrous year of 1989, when a decided lack of financial means inspired the club to rename itself Stroud FC; rather than appeal to a larger market as the board had hoped, this only served to agitate the existing fanbase, with the old name coming back into use by 1992. Anoher three years later Forest Green switched to the Southern Division of the Southern Football League, from where two consecutive promotions rocketed the team right up into the Conference National.
Amazingly, Rovers would hold on to their membership of the highest non-league division for a whopping 19 seasons despite their modest history and means. This was in no small part due to extreme strokes of luck/misfortune, as the club finished in the relegation zone twice, in 2004/2005 and 2009/2010. Both times Forest Green was reprieved from actually going down by virtue of Northwich Victoria and Salisbury City being demoted respectively. In the intermittent years between the reprievals, the club had finished construction on the New Lawn, which was built a stone toss away from the old Lawn Ground.
Another financial crisis besieged the club in 2010, but rather than go for a name change as was attempted with Stroud FC in 1989, Forest Green instead turned to Dale Vince, who had achieved nationwide fame as the founder and owner of green energy supplier Ecotricity. A major shareholder at first, Vince became chairman in October of that year, and set about changing the club for the better, with his first measure to reach national headlines being the banning of red meat from players’ diets. Red meat was subsequently banned from the entire New Lawn Stadium, while free-range chicken and fish menus were introduced as half time consumables for fans to feast on.
The first change in image for Forest Green then came in 2011/2012, as the club’s crest was redesigned; the old emblem, featuring Saint George’s Cross and a patch of dark green, was dropped in favour of the current crest, which introduced a lion and unicorn whilst retaining the ball, stripes, and initials from the previous crest, as well as the positioning of the club’s name. Lime green was introduced as accent colour, and was a sign of things to come as the next season saw the abolishment of the traditional white and black stripes in favour of lime green tops with black detailing, with Ecotricity (whose corporate colours also happen to be lime green and black) making its debut as main sponsor. This was part of a larger effort to revitalize the club and position it as a force of positive change in football and the world at large.
The mostly lime green shirts stayed in use for just two seasons as the club decided to add broad black hoops to its image in 2014, which was accompanied by an uptick in fortunes; having finished in tenth place in each of the previous three seasons, Forest Green defied expectations to finish fifth in 2014/2015, with Bristol Rovers besting the team in the semi-final of the play-offs. 2015/2016 saw FGR finish second behind champions Cheltenham Town, with the club improving their play-off record by reaching the Final where they were bested by Grimsby Town. Finally, in 2016/2017, wearing lime green and black shirts made by Puma, FGR finished third, clinched a spot in the play-off Final, and beat their namesakes from Tranmere to reach the Football League. A brilliant success for the club and its fans, and a milestone for Nailsworth as it became the smallest town to have ever hosted a Football League team.
All the while, the club had a delightful sustainability policy in place which mandated that playing kit must be retained for two seasons, which makes Rovers one of the select few Football League clubs to abstain from milking fans by releasing two/three new kits every year (the others being Accrington Stanley, Exeter City, Gillingham, Mansfield Town, and AFC Wimbledon). This shirt, however, will be an exception as the necessary move from hummel to PlayerLayer disallowed the implementation of sustainable fabrics. To make up for it, the club has promised ‘something special’ for 2019/2020 and beyond….
This ethos of sustainability also extends to matters off the pitch, as the club is wholly vegan (free range chicken and fish was quickly phased out in favour of quinoa and other animal-friendly foodstuffs) and certified as carbon neutral by the United Nations. Forest Green Rovers is unique in both these regards, as no team anywhere else on the globe has managed to achieve the same accolades and make the same dedication to greening up football.
How pleasing, then, is it for this particular club to have signed a deal with PlayerLayer? A young brand from Nottingham, PlayerLayer made its first inroads into football in 2016/2017, when Barrow AFC became the first football club to wear PlayerLayer-made strips. The company was initially known for providing athletes with high quality baselayers (a historic note that is still espoused by the firm’s name), but has since diversified its product range and has now made its debut in the Football League with Forest Green Rovers.
Believers in minimalism, PlayerLayer resisted the temptation of loading the new shirts with their own branding gimmicks; rather, the brand’s PL-shield logo graces the right chest, with its name in full making an appearance on the right sleeve below the area where League patches will usually be placed. The rest of the shirt is a restrained affair with three broad black hoops across the front and black cuffs on the sleeves providing a good representation of Forest Green’s unique look.
The collar is simple, in contrast with the flappy effort by Puma worn during 2016/2017 and 2017/2018, and reveals simple PlayerLayer branding on its inside. The brand typically uses orange and black for its name and logo, as it did on the shirts it produced for Barrow AFC, but pleasingly left the orange out on FGR’s kits as this would have made a bit of a clash in colours with the green (‘the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen’, as per the classic song).
This shirt will remain in use for the rest of the 2018/2019 season, but with PlayerLayer currently offering products made from recycled water bottles, it may not be wholly unexpected to see a similar sustainable approach being taken to Forest Green Rovers’ 2019/2020 shirts if the club’s contract with PlayerLayer is extended beyond its initial runtime.
The back of the shirt is, unfortunately, devoid of the broad black hoops that define the front, although this is understandable given the regulations regarding player names and numbers. Nonetheless, it would be pleasing to see future shirts continue the hoops on the back, with them being broken up to accommodate league-standard lettering (for a good example of how this can be done, refer to our recent review of the Scottish Queen’s Park home shirt).
Of note is that we ordered and received a Large size shirt; with most tops, Large fits our Editor-in-Chief perfectly (typically a loose fit that is long enough with him standing at 194 centimeters/6 foot 4 inches), but this particular one is a bit on the overly large size. Hardly a problem, but do ensure you take a good look at the sizing information before ordering your own copy.
Going back to the design itself, PlayerLayer did take care to place a single stripe of black along the shoulders on the back, angled on both sides of the shirt to create an upside down chevron (does that remind you of a certain supplier who failed to live up to the terms of their contract?) that terminates at the back of the collar. Still, and you must pardon the pun, the back of the shirt has been making waves for entirely different reasons.
The emblem from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s flag (not their logo, mind you) makes an appearance at the bottom of the shirt’s back. A non-profit marine conservation initiative, Sea Shepherd is (in)famous for their daring, high-profile fight versus corporations and governments who threaten the continued existence of marine life. Although Sea Shepherd is a strong force in raising awareness and educating the public about the plight of the seas, they are mostly known for the direct action they have been involved in (especially their continued battles against the Japanese government regarding whaling).
Sea Shepherd does not pay for its inclusion on the shirt; rather, it has been included by Forest Green Rovers out of the club’s own accord to show its support to other sustainable initiatives. Coupled with the fact that Sea Shepherd is a charity, we find this to be a tasteful inclusion which sets an example to other clubs (with most clubs easily being able to include a charity partner on their shirts, it pays to consider enforcing league-wide regulations that require clubs to explore the possibilities in this area).
With Sea Shepherd no stranger to controversy, one needn’t be surprised that Forest Green Rovers itself is also quite adept at stirring up a headline or two in the media. In fact, what is only a small design element that was first debuted with the ill-fated hummel kits already became the proverbial talk of the town before a single shirt had been sold (or indeed produced, as we do not know how many non-prototype shirts hummel managed to manufacture before the FGR contract was torn up).
As stated by chairman Dale Vince, Forest Green Rovers ambition was to progress from playing in the National League to achieving a spot in the Football League Championship. To do so, three promotions would need to be clinched; from the National League to League 2, from League 2 to League 1, and finally, from League 1 to the Championship. With Rovers managing to clinch the first promotion necessary, the club devised a visual reminder of its ambition and achievements; the club’s initials, with three stars set on top. As can be seen, the leftmost star has been coloured in, with the other two still gray; these represent the promotion from the National League, which has been achieved in 2016/2017, as well as the two further promotions that FGR is now working towards.
The inclusion of these stars has prompted a flurry of criticism online, with many punters quite happy to ridicule Rovers, but one has to wonder whether this controversy was really necessary; after all, a great many clubs have lofty ambitions, yet most fail to achieve them in quite a spectacular fashion. With Forest Green Rovers already well on their way to realizing theirs (sitting in the play-off spots of League 2 at the time of writing), it’s refreshing to see a club put their money where their mouth is and solidify their ambitions like this, rather than talk a big game without backing it up. If anything, the inclusion of the stars may well be vindicated in the future, although it is no great loss if the club takes a few years to further progress up the Leagues or hits its competitive ceiling; after all, the story of Forest Green Rovers is already one of admirable ethics, amazing achievements from humble beginnings, and of overcoming adversity to achieve greatness. Even if this last element can be as simple as getting a brilliant PlayerLayer shirt out of a previous deal botched by a former kit supplier.
Liam Shephard celebrating another FGR victory, image courtesy of Forest Green Rovers FC
With the 2018/2019 season well under way, Rovers are performing far above expectations, and Club 25 will be keeping an eye on their results as the club pursues a second promotion on their way to spreading their honorable message of sustainability.
Meanwhile, we will be continuing our own efforts to keep bringing you intriguing football shirts and stories on par with the tale of two manufacturers, frustration, and elation that is encompassed in today’s shirt. We are quite happy to recommend you to get your own copy, although they seem to have sold out on the club’s Online Shop. As an alternative, you can get in touch with the club via their official site to see when the next shipment from PlayerLayer will be coming in (UPDATE; shirts are back in stock).
Whilst we will be back next week with a brand new shirt (signed and matchworn, so look out for that article!), we are left with one question mark; what happened to the light blue hummel shirts that the FGR team wore during their first league matches? Nabbing one of those would be a real coup, and an even more poignant reminder of the hubris and subsequent faillings of the shortest kit deal in Forest Green history.
We would like to thank you for taking the time to read our article, which is just the latest but far from the last we will add to the site. If you do feel so inclined, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, maybe send us tips on how to do better via the Contact Us section, and be sure to check out the somewhat cluttered Shirt Archive, which we hope to update and streamline in the very near future. Club 25 strives to publish one article every week, so be sure to check back soon for a new shirt to be added to the site!