The Happiest Of Reunions
Rob’s Delight At Title Challenge
We started as a three but our numbers just grew and grew until a seven-strong Wolverhampton Wanderers representation was standing together in the dark on a draughty hillside in Gloucestershire.
It was a surreal end to our Tuesday afternoon and night out but no less enjoyable for that. Forest Green had just won for the third successive game and moved 12 points clear of fourth place in the race for a first promotion as a member of the big 92.
This was our chance not only to see where veganism, eco-friendliness and football meet but also to congratulate Rob Edwards on a brilliant first season to date in League management.
The 39-year-old former Wolves defender and coach succeeded Alan Ball’s son, Jimmy, in charge and has proved a revelation with a side who finished sixth and lost in the play-off semi-final last May.
Victories in his first five matches made Edwards League Two manager of the month for August and he received the award for a second and third time thanks to further surges in form in November and January. More important now, a month from the finish line, are the gaps separating them from second place and fourth.
We knew from his two spells with Wolves that this was an individual who would probably go far in his post-playing career.
Unfailingly polite, thoughtful and affable, he clearly had the people skills that would give him a head start in the dug-out. There had been some captaincy experience along the way, too, after calling time on a 111-game stay at Molineux by joining Blackpool in 2008.
We squeezed in a quick handshake and hello with him in between the round of post-match interviews and his chat with visiting Mansfield boss Nigel Clough – and received an invitation to make morning-after contact if our paths didn’t cross again. Not that we felt short of insight.
Kevin Foley, not long back from life as no 2 to another former Wolves team-mate, Neill Collins, at Tampa Bay Rowdies, has recently been adding to his coaching experience by helping out at what the United Nations recognises as the world’s first carbon-neutral football club and what FIFA have described as ‘the greenest team in the world.’
And also now on board as a part-time consultant is long-time former Wolves head of medical Phil Hayward, himself just back from the American game with Los Angeles Galaxy and also recently added to Andy Murray’s physio team.
So that adds up to three of the welcoming faces…. one to go. It wasn’t difficult spotting Sky Sports’ Matt Murray outside the dressing rooms, which FGR unusually situated in the corner diagonally opposite the technical areas. And there was no problem calling him out for a chat. Well, when you are travelling with Richard Skirrow – 20 years a Wolves secretary and well known to all of these individuals throughout their Molineux time – acquaintances are very happily renewed.
It was the most pleasant of post-match settings for Express & Star fan writer John Lalley and I to observe, even if the floodlights did suddenly go out and scupper any hopes of taking a ‘team photo’.
Like we three, the Forest Green trio remain resident in the West Midlands or Shropshire and had met, for the purpose of sharing a car, at a hotel just off the motorway in mid-afternoon. It would have been a happy trip home for them. Even if they won’t say it, promotion is close following this three-point confirmation that the side have left behind the shock of a seven-game late-winter run without a victory.
The quaintly named New Lawn and the 6,000-population town of Nailsworth – the smallest place ever to house a League club in England – could well be greeting the likes of Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland next season and a new, larger body of curious supporters will do the sort of research we did this week.
Yes, this is the club’s fifth season in League Two, yes, they played in black and white stripes until less than a decade ago and yes, Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin became their second largest shareholder in September, 2020.
It’s quite a story and thanks in no small way to the upwardly mobile head coach who turns 40 next Christmas Day and who had worked with England age-group teams after leaving Wolves in 2019 for the second time.
There is undoubtedly a ‘made at Molineux’ feel as the curve continues to go very much in the right direction for he, innovative owner-chairman Dale Vince and everyone around them.