He’s not long turned 20 and has barely ten first-team games to his name, yet Hibs kid Jordon Forster’s CV is already taking on the appearance of that of a gnarled veteran.
A derby victory at Tynecastle on his debut, a Scottish Cup final appearance and a Europa League double-header all within the space of just seven months is no mean achievement, but one which has prompted the Easter Road club to today extend a contract agreed as recently as April to the summer of 2016.
Forster, however, doesn’t see his new deal as evidence he has arrived. The centre-half insists that it is more an indication that he is on his way, determined that the next 30 months will see him realise the obvious potential contained within that strapping frame of his.
He said: “I seem to have crammed in an awful lot in a very short space of time. There’s obviously some results in there I would like to try to forget and some experiences that have not been great, but that just makes me want to make sure I don’t have them again. The great thing for me is that my appearances have not just been as a substitute, I’ve been starting games and I’m playing the entire 90 minutes of them.”
Self-confident, but far from arrogant, Forster is hoping new Hibs boss Terry Butcher sees a lot of his own early self reflected in the way he plays, although the Edinburgh-born defender was quick to outline his respect for a man who played 77 times for England. “I have a long way to go to be anywhere near as good as him,” he acknowledged.
Nevertheless, Forster sees himself as a similar, albeit more inexperienced, character to Butcher. He said: “Obviously I am a bit too young to be able to say I saw him play, but I’ve seen a few clips of him in action and everyone who played with him or saw him play speaks very highly of him. He was a very committed player, a leader, an organiser, someone you could totally rely on and I think he has shown that in the way he has come in here and maybe brought the squad that little bit closer together.
“He has already given me great confidence. I see myself as a bit of a talker, similar to him. I have a long way to go to be anywhere near as good as him, but I see myself as a similar sort of player. I like to defend – that’s my job – and with two clean sheets in the manager’s first two games, I am doing everything I can to stay in the starting XI.
“The two shut-outs against St Mirren and Ross County are good for me on a personal level, but, more importantly, for the team as we haven’t been keeping too many. I think when any new manager comes in there is a degree of uncertainty. It’s a case of ‘Will he like me or not, will he like my style of play?’ For those not playing it’s a fresh start, but for those in the team to keep their place, they have to keep doing the right things, working hard and showing the right attitude. We have a great dressing-room, a bunch of honest guys, but the new manager has come in and there’s a bit more belief about the place. And for a young defender, who better could you have than the gaffer and Maurice Malpas on the training ground?
“They both have huge experience of playing at the highest level both in club and international football. They’ve achieved things most players can only dream about, the finals of the World Cup and so on. For me personally, it’s been great, the things they can tell you, little things in games and in training, how to cope against big, physical centre forwards and little guys who drop off into the hole, get the ball, turn and face you up.”
As impressive reading as his early stats make, Forster has also tasted the other side of the game, missing the first 13 games of the domestic season following a one-match suspension carried over from last season, the result of a rash of bookings while on loan at East Fife combined with a solitary yellow card in a green-and-white shirt.
After playing both legs of the ill-fated Europa League clash with Malmo in July, the ban saw Forster sit out the opening-day Premiership defeat to Motherwell and, after the subsequent arrival of Michael Nelson, he found himself unable to force his way back into the side until earning a recall for the trip to Fir Park last month.
That suspension remains a bugbear to the youngster. He said: “I was actually lying by the pool on holiday when I heard and it was really disappointing. Who knows what would have happened had I been available for the first game. I might have played, I might not. No-one knows. It was a bit of a setback, but in football, as in life, you get setbacks. You just need to keep working hard. I’m a young player and I had to bide my time. The chance has come again and hopefully I continue playing.”
The door reopened for Forster due to an unfortunate combination of Nelson having his cheekbone shattered against Celtic in October and then James McPake, who was recalled to the starting XI ahead of Forster, being sent off in the League Cup defeat by Hearts.
McPake is now set for an extended lay-off as he prepares to undergo surgery on an ongoing back problem, but Forster’s confidence was given a further boost when he kept his starting place alongside Paul Hanlon for Saturday’s Scottish Cup victory at Ross County despite Nelson returning to the squad.
He said: “Big Nels was really unfortunate, it was a horrible injury he suffered. Like James, he has a lot of experience, he’s been around and knows the game inside out. It’s great for me to be able to train with them and learn from their experience. I’m not sure if Michael was 100 per cent for the cup tie at the weekend, but, again, it helped my confidence that he was in the squad, but on the bench, while I was on the pitch. It’s up to me now to keep playing well. If I can do that and be happy with my performances, then if I am not in the team I at least know I have tried my best. We’ll wait and see what happens, that’s up to the manager.”
Forster agrees, though, that his early experiences have given him that self-belief which every player needs, but despite having agreed a new contract, he’s taking nothing for granted. He said: “I was given a year-long deal in April to prove myself. It’s not just about how you play, but how you conduct yourself about the place, your attitude, how you approach training and live your life. I’m looking forward to the next two-and-a-half years, the facilities here are second to none and there’s a good feeling around the camp.”
The most immediate objective, however, is to ensure Butcher’s first home match, against Partick Thistle on Saturday, is a day to remember. Forster said: “The support we took to Paisley and then Dingwall was fantastic. I have to admit I was stunned against Ross County at how many fans were there and how noisy they were.
“They were absolutely magnificent and helped no end. Hopefully we’ll get a big crowd for the gaffer’s first game at Easter Road and put on a good performance, get the three points and keep them coming back. Our home form hasn’t been the greatest, but sometimes when things aren’t going too well, playing at home brings more pressure. The manager coming in has given us great confidence – the pressure isn’t there any more. We’ll take on whoever it might be head-on, aggressive, confident, hard-to-beat and hopefully the positive results will follow.”