Arsenal’s vice-captain has become the second largest shareholder at the League Two club and explained why it felt like the right decision to make.
A pre-season friendly in August 2014 between an Arsenal youth team and a then-Conference National club might not seem the most auspicious stage for a future relationship that stands out as unique in English football. And yet when Hector Bellerin took to the field at the New Lawn Stadium six years ago it set the stage for a relationship from afar.
Eventually it would lead to the 25-year-old putting his own money into Forest Green Rovers, a club as unique among their peers as Bellerin is among him.
The reasons for this bond are obvious. Forest Green Rovers’ eco-credentials are long since proven. In 2018 the League Two side became the first and so far only football club to be accredited as carbon neutral by the United Nations.
Solar panels on the stadium’s roof generate some of the power to run the New Lawn on matchday, rain water is collected to irrigate the pitch and their staff, players and matchday crowd are fuelled by freshly made vegan food.
Bellerin has been no less a vocal advocate of such causes. When the Premier League returned to action he vowed to plant 3,000 trees in the Amazon rainforest for each game Arsenal won. They picked up seven victories in that period and later this year 58,617 new trees will take their place along the banks of the Rio Araguaia in Brazil.
Forest Green Rovers and Bellerin are a natural pairing but that doesn’t mean their union is anything less than extraordinary.
Footballers have begun taking stakes in clubs before their career is out but generally in more far flung locales. Eden Hazard and Demba Ba invested in the North American Soccer League club San Diego 1904, thousands of miles from where they play their football.
For Forest Green Rovers’ new investor it will be just a few hours from Colney to the Cotswalds and only a couple of steps down the English footballing ladder, at least unless his move to Paris transpires.
When Bellerin heads to the New Lawn for his first match as an owner – he has yet to visit the ground on matchday – it may just serve as a reminder for him of how far he has come. From the young gun who couldn’t get on the pitch ahead of Glen Kamara, Semi Ajayi and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill to more than just a footballer, to pilfer the title of his podcast.
” I actually played a friendly against them when I was really young so the name always stuck with me over the years as we both progressed,” Bellerin tells.
“Then when I started to see all the good stuff, like becoming the greenest club in the world, it made me want to reach out and look to build a relationship with the guys.
” I don’t think it’s just about the football club, it’s investing in something that is right. Something that shares a lot of similar beliefs to you and something you can believe in.”
Bellerin’s stake has been allowed by the FA because it sits below any threshold that would see it deemed a conflict of interest. He insists the process was not that difficult, “as soon as I said I wanted to be involved and it was something I wanted to be part of, the guys at Forest Green were really positive so it moved forward very quickly.”
“It feels good to be part of the club.”
But it is notable that few other current footballers have tried to untangle the knots that come with playing for one team and owning another.
Bellerin has been welcomed with open arms by Forest Green Rovers and their chairman Dale Vince, who said on the announcement of the deal: “I like Hector’s approach, his personal journey and the things he’s trying to do – they make sense.”
The admiration is mutual.