LIKE most football fans, for years I’ve loved tucking into a juicy beef burger or meat pie at half-time.
But since Dale Vince took over at Forest Green Rovers nine years ago, their fans have had to do without.
First he banned red meat. Then white meat and fish were off limits.
And, finally, nearly four years ago, the club went vegan.
Fans were up in arms. Some threatened to commission a burger van to sell their favourites outside the stadium.
That never happened and the League Two club is now serving up some of the best and healthiest football grub in the land. And the fans love it.
I asked the Rovers chairman if he would entertain an intrigued reporter with a Come Dine With Me experience at The New Lawn. I wanted to see if I could enjoy eating vegan alternatives.
He insisted I could still have a burger, pie or even a sausage roll — and that I would love it.
It started well with Dale buying me a pint. “It’s vegan beer,” he announced as he saw me taking my first few sips.
Surely all beer is vegan? Lager does not contain animal or dairy products, does it?
A variety of different vegan foods sold at Forest Green Rovers[/caption]
The burger is served in a vegan brioche bun on a bed of cos lettuce and onion relish[/caption]
Dale explained: “Most beers — and wines for that matter — use fish bladder. It’s a fining agent to make it appear clear and bright.”
The beer is ice cold, full of flavour and refreshing.
Dale opted for a Green Cola and told me: “It’s sugar free, made from a sweetener called stevia. It’s less acidic than normal coke with less caffeine. They make it from green coffee beans.
“We sell normal coke but brought in this to tell people there are good, healthy alternatives.”
We are sat inside the club’s Carole Embrey Suite and I am about to become the first person to sample the club’s new vegan burger.
The Devil’s Kitchen — a vegan food company set up by Forest Green to produce healthy school dinners — has produced the burger.
It looks like a burger, feels like a burger and tastes like a burger too.
It is served in a vegan brioche bun on a bed of cos lettuce and onion relish.
It also comes with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, gherkins and vegan mayo.
It is nothing like those awful Linda McCartney veggie ones I once tried.
I would have happily scoffed another had it not been for the fact I had to save room for other food.
Dale explained: “It’s not just plant-based or vegan.
“It’s also free from the 14 food allergies such as nuts, seeds, wheat and gluten, that sort of stuff.
“Lots of meats are flavoured or accompanied by sauces, because on its own the taste is bland.
“But you get a variety of tastes from beans and plant pulses. Leaving meat behind opens up a world of new tastes.
“We’re finding fans and local people are embracing it.
“In nearby Nailsworth, there are more vegan restaurants per head than anywhere else in the world.”
A waitress brings to our table a plate of three football classics — a pie, a ‘sausage’ roll and a pasty.
The Sos Roll, as they call it, is made from soya protein and puff pastry.
It is good — full of herbs and everything you expect from a sausage roll.
The pasty is full of with cauliflower bhajee. It is curry-flavoured heaven. The club’s famed Q-Pie is filled with Quorn, leek and bechamel sauce.
It is so popular it won the silver award at the Football Pie of the Year Awards in 2016. It certainly hit the spot.
I was also able to make room for dishes on offer for VIP diners, who pay £58 each for a buffet dinner, half-time snacks and a match ticket.
On the menu is a caramelised onion and asparagus puff pastry tart with balsamic vinegar glaze.
Then there are Quorn Cumberland sausages — not my favourite, but that’s my personal taste.
My favourite from the buffet was the Dauphinoise potatoes, made with sunflower spread, oatley cream, oat milk, vegan mild cheddar cheese and garlic. There are also Cajun-spiced fried green beans, which were lovely — and good old fashioned skinny fries and a variety of salads.
It is clear to me there is more than enough food on offer to satisfy even the most ardent meat-loving fan.
And if you absolutely cannot do without meat, Dale is fine with that.
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He said: “We’re just telling fans ‘Come to a game once a fortnight or whatever and try something different.
But if you don’t want to — or don’t like it — you’re more than welcome to make yourself a ham sandwich and bring it along’.”
You cannot say fairer than that.
If you absolutely cannot do without meat, Dale is fine with that[/caption]