Coopers Were The Kings Of The Hill In Battle Of The Rovers

By Sam Elliott

A Wembley Promotion Final is a pressure cooker for any player. Those who can’t stand the heat must exit the kitchen, and quickly.

Just imagine for a moment walking out as a wide-eyed teenager. While most of us were still guzzling Pot Noodle sandwiches at that time of life, the weight of a whole season’s work is surely too heavy for a boy.

Then add in the fact that your dad is the manager and you get a sense of what Charlie Cooper was up against.

The then-Forest Green Rovers midfielder clearly has no fear and ice in his veins.

Known as the 'little club on the hill', they reached new heights by winning promotion to the Football League for the first time three years ago.

The 2017 final saw Rovers win convincingly against a club who had spent nearly all of their life there.

Trampling all over Tranmere 3-1, the Coopers claimed a family promotion. Sunday dinner would never have tasted better.

But old man Mark clearly isn’t as good at keeping his word to his son as he is at setting out his side on a Saturday afternoon.

“I remember he promised me something if we won promotion,” Charlie, now at FC Halifax Town, told us.

“This will sound strange, I can’t actually remember what it was - but he promised me something!

“He didn’t give me whatever it was, that’s all you need to know. He’s just lucky I had a really good holiday booked as I would have been after one of those!”

Many footballers won’t play for their fathers, and it’s not hard to see why.

“I get why some aren’t keen,” he added. “If things aren’t going well there you are the main culprit.

“It could become uncomfortable and really quickly, especially if you have joined and the results weren’t there. But when I signed for Forest Green on loan from Birmingham the club has suffered a dip in form.

“It wasn’t too difficult to say yes, it was an easy decision for me to sign.

“I wanted to play men’s football. I didn’t really want to go back and play U23. You want to play for points.

“When I got the call, I didn’t hesitate - it was then about proving a point. I just wanted to go for it.

“It was great playing for him. I knew inside a week it would be fine and I’m really glad we got the chance to work together.”

Forest Green completed their journey from the Stroud League to the EFL in a worthy way.

The better side in all three play-off games, the final was the perfect way to say goodbye to the National League after 19 straight seasons as a member club.

All the goals came in the first half, Kaiyne Woolery gave Rovers the perfect start but Connor Jennings soon levelled things up.

The closing stages of the first 45 proved decisive.

Christian Doidge and Woolery again put Forest Green 3-1 up, a storming last four minutes enough before the break to see the village with a population of 5,794 into League Two.

But for 19-year-old Cooper, it wasn’t the first time he had played at Wembley.

He added: “Not many people believe this but that was actually my second taste of the stadium.

“I played at Wembley for my district when I was 11 or 12.

“This is even stranger but the crowd that day was actually bigger than the Tranmere game!

“We played before a match, I was too young to remember what game, but there was a massive crowd in there.

“We only used half the pitch, but it still counts!”

Charlie says Forest Green were “absolutely superb” in their 3-1 battle of the Rovers win.

“It was an incredible day, for a teenager to be a part of that was fantastic,” he added.

“It was a career highlight, and we performed so well. I think we deserved it - in all of the three play of games we really produced.

“It was really good to play a part in probably the biggest day in the club’s history.”

His dad found it hard to disagree.

"It is an unbelievable achievement to put a village team in the Football League," manager Mark - still Rovers manager today - said after the final.

"People talk about us having a lack of fans but you've got to remember we're on the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere!

“Scottish seaweed helps fertilise the pitch, a solar-powered lawnmower cuts it and we’re vegan. It's always good to be different! The chairman is certainly different, his ethos and what he believes in.

"There's no right way or wrong way, but we've had success doing it, so he's been vindicated in what he's done.”

Where next?

Dates Confirmed For The National League Play-Offs The dates for The National League play-off period have been confirmed.
Wembley Stadium to Host Vanarama National League Promotion Final The National League can confirm the 2019/20 Vanarama National League Promotion Final will take place at Wembley Stadium.