I play for the greenest football club in the world

By Chris McLaughlin
BBC Scotland sports news correspondent

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Image caption,
Nicky Cadden says he did not think much about climate change until he moved to Forest Green

In the picturesque Cotswolds, a footballer from Bellshill in Lanarkshire is plying his trade with a club recognised by the United Nations as the greenest in the world.

A strange mix, but one that's working for both parties in more ways than one.

A burning passion for sporting sustainability wasn't the reason for Nicky Cadden making the switch last year from Greenock Morton, in the Scottish Championship, to Forest Green Rovers in English League Two - but it's a way of life he is now embracing.

"It has made me think about what I'm eating and what I'm putting into my body - I'm not a full on vegan but I'm definitely eating more tofu as a substitute for meat," the 25-year-old winger says.

"To be honest, I'm not sure I could live without cheese and milk."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Nicky Cadden moved to Forest Green last year

His new club is fully vegan, though - everything from the half-time pies, to the players pre-match meals is completely plant based - no exceptions.

"I've actually done a lot more research about it since I've been down here," Cadden says.

"I never thought climate change was such a big deal until I started looking into it - it's massive.

"We've only got one planet if we don't look after it, then what?" says the former Livingston and Airdrie player.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Electrical vehicle charging points outside the main grandstand at New Lawn Stadium, home of Forest Green Rovers

Forest Green is a football club where net zero is every bit as important as netting goals.

Power for the club's stadium comes from a solar panels stretched across the roof of the stands; the team's strips are made from bamboo; the pitch is completely organic; electric power points for cars can be found around the stadium - even the electronic advertisement boards are powered by wind.

It's the first, Fifa recognised, carbon neutral club in the world and with that, comes global media attention, especially in the weeks before COP26.

In the past few weeks alone, camera crews have arrived to tell the Forest Green story from Germany, Mexico and the USA.

"It's turning people's heads and making a name for the club," said Cadden.

"Hopefully we can progress up the leagues and take the message with us."

Even if they progress no further, Forest Green are already the footballing benchmark when it comes to sustainability.

Image caption,
Owner, and former new age traveller, Dale Vince

Owner, and former new age traveller, Dale Vince speaks regularly to clubs from across the world who call to ask what they can learn.

With Fifa and the English Premier League now committed to carbon neutrality by 2040, his phone is going to be very busy.

"It's been going on for a long time, to be fair," he says.

"It's just that the level of interest has been increasing every year.

"The idea is to engage the entire world of sport and through them, reach the entire world of sports fans, billions of people, and engage them in the fight against the climate crisis."

Sport's global carbon footprint is understood to be roughly the same size as countries such as Poland or Spain - not insignificant but experts say sport's secret weapon in the climate change battle is its ability to raise awareness.

"What sport can do is transform the public conversation about carbon zero politics," said David Goldblatt, who is the chairman of Football for the Future.

"Sport reaches a demography and numbers of people that no other popular cultural phenomena reaches.

"In a world where cynicism towards politicians and scientists is rife, sport retains a kind of strange authenticity."

Image caption,
Forest Green play at the New Lawn Stadium in Nailsworth

Cadden's climate change journey may well have been an accidental one but he's also enjoying his football at a club that has captured the attention of their opponents as well as the wider world.

Being heard on climate change is easier when you sit top of your league and can show that football and sustainability can happily exist together.

"It's been a big change for me, being the first time I've moved away from the family, but I've settled in really well and I'm loving my football here," said Cadden.

"Everyone knows how huge football is in this country and if I can do my bit to play well and raise awareness at the same time, then I'm happy."

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