Vegan Athletes

Football Going Vegan features the world’s greenest club Forest Green Rovers FC

BBC Sport investigation by Jermaine Jenas highlights a growing trend

Jermaine Jenas, the former Tottenham Hotspur and England footballer, now turned pundit documented a BBC Sport investigation into the trend in football towards veganism. The programme will air on BBC1 at 11.15 pm on Sunday 20th October 2019. 

He interviews Rhiannon Lambert, a Harley Street nutritionist, the chef Miguel Barclay, the Dirty Vegan dire in Camden Town in London, Earthling Ed and Manchester United defender Chris Smalling currently on loan at Roma. 

The greenest Football Club in the world

A large segment of the programme was devoted to Forest Green Rovers, the League Two side based in the Gloucestershire village of Nailsworth. The club is recognised as the greenest football team in the world by FIFA.

The club’s manager Mark Cooper when asked about the club’s green ethos remarks that the players just get on with it. The owner Dale Vince has a vision that the players have bought into. The biggest change he noticed since the players have adopted the vegan regime is in their recovery times after matches and in injury prevention. This adds fuel to the notion of vegan fitness.

The players have reported better sleep and more energy according to Tom Hulin, the club’s head nutritionist. There are he said many myths about protein for footballers. They need to be quick and agile, – they are not bodybuilders after all. The points were reinforced by Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, currently on loan with Roma, who had noticed the symptoms of the tendonitis in his knee becoming much improved as a vegan. 

Jenas commented that Juande Ramos, the former Tottenham manager had been very much ahead of his time in terms of the importance he had stressed on footballers’ diets. Jenas believed that most footballers would eat the foods they were told to, no matter what the taste, if they believed in the benefits that would follow. They “would buy into it” he says.

The programme then considered the only “vegan organic football pitch” in the world with Adam Witchell, the head groundsman. Most pitch treatment products contained animal products which were not used at the club. The pitch was full of seaweed sugars, complex teas and lots of bugs in the ground. “It’s like a zoo under there,” said Witchell. 

Dale Vince, chairman and owner of Forest Green told Jenas about the solar panels, electric car charging points and match day food points. Most chairmen of football clubs are driven by other things. For him the football and environmental issues “are symbiotic”. Their environmental initiatives have got great coverage around the world and reached 4 billion people in the last 12 months “which is mad but at the same time we have to be good on the pitch.” 

It is a new type of football club, creating a new type of fan as well. They plan to build a new ground – the first in the world to be built entirely by wood. It will be the lowest carbon football ground in the world since Roman times. 

Being a part-time vegan makes a difference

Vince stressed the inefficiency of the way we currently feed the world – “you can feed 10 vegans or 1 meat-eater with same resources”. Jenas described in the programme how inspired he had been to discover what veganism meant and what it offered. Though he did not feel able to go all the way, he was certainly interested in becoming a part-time vegan. He asked Vince if being a part-time vegan would make any difference to the world.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. 

“Going vegan part-time makes a big difference,” said Vince. “Even if it was one day a week or one meal a week I just don’t think it matters. I think that too often the absolutist approach gets in the way. People think if I can’t do it completely then it’s not worth doing and that’s a big mistake. Everything we can do makes a difference. It’s about taking steps on a journey, if you are vegan one day a week, you’ll feel the benefit of that and then maybe you’ll go to two or three days a week”.

Knowledge is Power

To get insight into how to deal with all of the hate and the vegan trolls, Jenas interviewed Ed Winters, otherwise known as Earthling Ed who was his usual articulate self. He pointed out that vegan activism challenges our culture, traditions identities, noting that people do not necessarily want to feel different. 

The key takeaway for Jenas was that the power is not in how good you can make a meat-free burger taste, but rather in the knowledge.

Knowledge is power and the food is merely a by-product. The challenge is to make the world a safer place in the future. He is not as passionate or as driven as Earthling Ed, but discovering the implications of veganism had been an eye-opening experience which had definitely made him think. The trend in football is going hand in hand with increasing numbers of vegan athletes in other sports.

The programme is currently available on iPlayer until 28th October as well as being aired on BBC1 at 23.15 on BBC1 next Sunday 20th October.

The segment with Earthling Ed is available on YouTube.

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Nicholas Orosz

Nicholas is a former City solicitor and Cambridge graduate. He has a long-standing interest in health & nutrition, the environmental movement, green politics & digital publishing. He has always loved crafting words. His transition to a vegan perspective has been gradual and an ongoing process of self-discovery. Contact: nicholas@vegansbethechange.com
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