Last year, Shoreham FC did something remarkable. The Southern Combination Division One side, known as “The Musselmen”, decided to take on climate change.

Following the lead of Forest Green Rovers and Arsenal, they became the first non-league club to sign up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. In doing so, they proved that teams throughout the football pyramid can take meaningful climate action.

I caught up with co-chairman Stuart Slaney, the man behind the commitment, to find out how it all happened.

How did you first get involved with Shoreham FC?

“Shoreham didn’t have any youth teams and I was looking for a club for my son, who was 8 at the time. So I just got in touch and asked if I could start an under 9s team, and they agreed. I had the opportunity to start some more age groups and soon ended up becoming the Youth Chairman! 

The Club Chairman at the time was thinking about selling up, but this is such an important community club and I couldn’t let it disappear. So I offered to take over! I went home and told my wife, she wasn’t very happy, but that was it.”

How’s it been going on the pitch?

“We established a 5 year plan to reach the Isthmian, stupidly we achieved that within 3 years. We were promoted by default, finishing second, but the winners had fielded an ineligible player against us and were docked points. Unfortunately that was a long process to get resolved and so we struggled to get the right quality of players to commit to signing for us, when we were not sure which tier we’d be playing in. In the end the quality shows and we got relegated twice in consecutive seasons.

So that’s where we are now. In the league that we’re in, the top 4 teams get promoted and we’re sitting in the promotion positions. But the season could be voided, which is frustrating.”

What was it that led Shoreham FC to take on climate change?

“Beyond coronavirus, I see extreme weather as the biggest problem we face as a football club. Last season, we had endless matches cancelled through the winter, home and away, and the summer was arid. The groundsmen have their work cut out trying to recover the pitch. Not everyone makes the link to climate change, but I do, and that’s a problem not just for football but all winter sports.

Climate change wasn’t really something I knew much about, but it was my son at home who started telling me how important it was and what we should be doing. Luckily I do have an open mind and the intelligence to listen and I started to realise actually, yes this is important!

On Twitter, I saw an article about Forest Green Rovers, about everything they’re doing on climate change and I read about the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Before I read that, I didn’t even know there was anything like that we could sign up for as football clubs.

I suggested it to our club committee, some of the coaches and supporters, and basically everyone wanted to go for it and just wanted to know what they could do to help. It was only really the senior players who weren’t too sure what it was all about and thought it was a bit of a gimmick! But even they’re on board now too.”

Stuart Slaney, co-chairman at Shoreham FC

What were the first steps that you took?

“We received the letter of confirmation from the UN, which details the working groups you can join up with, and put the announcement on our website. It was covered on the back pages in local news and we got lots of positive support.

One of the main issues though at the moment is without supporters coming to the games, it is hard to engage and really get them on board. We’ve spread the word online and through social media but it’s not quite the same as having fans here.”

What sort of changes have you made so far?

“One of the first things we’ve done is a complete refit of all of our lighting throughout the club with low energy LEDs. We’ve made changes to the catering too, not using single-use plastics or polystyrene containers for the food and using biodegradables instead. It basically costs nothing extra, so why wouldn’t you?

We’ve also reduced the amount of red meat we sell by bringing in a vegan burger, which has gone down a treat! You wonder at first about people being put off by the changes, but it doesn’t happen.

For the players, we’ve banned them using plastic water bottles so they have reusable bottles instead. And the same for disposable face masks, they’re banned and we gave them all one of our club masks, which they reuse.”

What more are you hoping to do this year?

“This year we’re looking at changing our floodlights over to LED, that’s a big project that we’ll need to find funding for. It will make a difference for light pollution too; I think you can see our halo from central London! We want to reduce electricity but we’re also changing our supplier, so that we get 100% renewables from wind and solar.

We’re offsetting carbon too by planting 30 trees every month, which we’ll announce on Twitter to remind people of the work we’re doing.

When football starts to return, we’re going to ask supporters, home and away, if they’ve got to the game by sustainable means like walking, cycling, public transport or electric vehicles. Then when they show us on the gate, we’ll take a percentage of their ticket price to add to our carbon offsetting fund, so that we can plant even more.”

What message would you send to other football clubs?

“Not everyone is receptive to messages about climate change, or being told that you need to be doing things differently. Some people already have certain perspectives on that and that will be the case throughout football.

But clubs will have experienced the extreme weather over recent years, making games unplayable through the winter, to a greater extent than it has been in the past. So coming at it from that angle, what we can all do about that direct impact, I think is the way to do it.

Forest Green are a great example and if there was some way we could come together, all the way from Arsenal and Liverpool to Shoreham and Hanwell Town, to show what we are all doing and why it’s important, even inspiring just a few more clubs to do their bit, it all makes a difference.”

You can find out more about Shoreham FC’s climate change commitments here.

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