By Matthew J. Stock
STROUD, England (Reuters) - In the battle for promotion from English soccer's fifth tier, every result is key for title contenders Forest Green Rovers but one victory in particular would have a significant impact on the future of the eco-friendly club.
Rovers, based in the southwest county of Gloucestershire, are awaiting planning permission to build the world's first modern-age wooden soccer stadium, incorporating a host of sustainable, eco-positive features.
The 5,000 capacity venue, designed by the award-winning Zaha Hadid Architects, will be the centre-piece for Eco Park, a 100 million pound ($125 million) sports and green technology business park in Stroud featuring training pitches and a sport science hub.
"The really big deal is the fact that it's all made out of wood, minimum use of concrete," Dale Vince, Forest Green Rovers' chairman and founder of British green energy suppliers Ecotricity, told Reuters.
"An awful lot of thought has gone into it. So it's eco but it's going to be aesthetic and also a great experience to be in, playing and watching," he said.
The proposed stadium will feature a translucent, sloping roof to reduce shadows on the pitch and aid grass growth, with venue walkways carefully designed to allow better ventilation and maintenance of the field.
Modern fire-retardant treatments on timber make wood safe to use, said the long-haired, earring-wearing Vince, who has some bold long-term goals for the club.
"We've got ambitions to get from where we are which is tier five of English football to tier two - the Championship," he said.
The 55-year-old broadened his eco philosophy to soccer in 2010 when he took over the lowly English club and instigated a 'Green Revolution', removing red meat from the menu and turning the club vegan among a raft of initiatives.
He also installed solar panels and laid an organic pitch at their current New Lawn stadium in Nailsworth where a robotic lawnmower is employed to cut the grass.
That venue will be redeveloped into a number of sustainable, eco-homes should planning permission be granted for Eco Park, which will also be home to the headquarters of Ecotricity.
These changes appear to agree with Rovers, who sit third in the English National League, four points behind leaders Lincoln City in the race for the one guaranteed promotion place to League Two, a division the club have never played in.
The club have 16 games left to win promotion, but Vince said the stadium move is necessary for sustainable success.
"We've found the perfect location we think to build something that's going to be really 'out there' in terms of its environment design and infrastructure," he said.
"It'll be eco by name and by nature as you might imagine."
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in LONDON; Editing by Hugh Lawson)