Jordon Forster was thrilled to see boyhood pals Danny Handling and Sammy Stanton earn Scotland Under-21 call-ups this week, but the big defender admitted to a tinge of disappointment that there weren’t even more Hibs players included in Billy Stark’s squad.
As one of the more experienced players eligible for selection, the 20-year-old was quietly confident of earning a maiden call into the international set-up for next week’s friendly against Hungary at Tannadice. Despite his frustration at being overlooked, Forster has endeavoured to take inspiration from Stanton and Handling as he bids to follow them into the squad in the near future.
“I’m very happy for Danny and Sammy – both of them deserve it,” he told the Evening News. “They’ve been working hard and I’m delighted for them because they’re both good friends. I’m a bit disappointed not to get called up myself. I thought Boozy [Alex Harris] might have snuck in as well but he’s obviously just back from his injury and getting back to fitness.
“I thought I had a chance because I’ve played about the last 17 games for Hibs. It’s not happened, though, so I just need to keep working hard and hopefully it will happen in the future. I’d be really happy if I got called up. It whets your appetite when you see your mates getting called up because you think ‘I want that to be me.’ It gives you that extra edge to go and work that bit harder to try and get in next time.”
Forster is philosophical about his perceived snub, accepting that, because so many clubs in Scotland are now giving youngsters regular first-team exposure, there will be plenty others who also feel they might have merited inclusion. “A lot of teams are playing a lot of youngsters now which makes it even harder to get into the Under-21 squad,” he acknowledged. “Hibs alone have got about five or six young players in the first team and a lot of good players in the 20s as well. Every week in the first team it seems like we’re coming up against boys I played against in the 20s. There are lots of good young players in the Under-20 league and they’re now getting their chances in first teams in the Premiership and the Championship. I know first-hand the talent we’ve got here at Hibs alone and it’s going to beneficial for Scotland as a nation going forward.”
Forster, with a Scottish Cup final appearance to his name, has had to look on enviously as 17-year-old pair Jordan McGhee and John Souttar were selected ahead of him, along with a trio of relatively inexperienced Celtic defenders in Joe Chalmers, Stuart Findlay and Marcus Fraser. The Hibs player is level-headed enough to acknowledge that Stark has a dilemma to contend with in terms of whether to select young Celtic players who have routinely been the best in the Under-20 league or those who have been fortunate enough to make the step up to their respective first teams. “I know a few of the boys at Celtic and they have got a lot of good youngsters,” admitted Forster. “They might not have as much first-team experience as the boys at other clubs because it’s hard to get a game for Celtic but they’re all quality players. I know a few of them who have gone out on loan and they’re doing well.”
The fact Forster is even talking in terms of being disappointed at not getting an international call-up is testament to the progress he has made over the past year. As a teenager, he was farmed out for loan spells at Berwick Rangers and East Fife and was rarely talked about as one of those leading the way for a first-team breakthrough. Since being handed a surprise debut by Pat Fenlon in an Edinburgh derby victory at Tynecastle almost ten months ago, however, he has barely looked back, aside for a three-month period at the start of this season when a combination of suspension and injury contrived to see his progress temporarily stall.
“There was never a time when I thought I would never make it but there were times when I was really low,” he said of the early days spent battling to make the grade at Hibs. “When you’re young and you get put out on loan, you start to wonder if the club don’t want you, but looking back now, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I maybe didn’t see it at the time, but going out on loan and playing ten or 12 games at Berwick and East Fife benefited me massively. It’s stood me in good stead to come in and do quite well in the first team. At times I did think maybe this isn’t going to work out, but I kept working hard and now I’m getting my reward.
“The past year has been great year for me, there’s no doubt about that. I was disappointed at the start of the season because I was suspended and then [Michael] Nelson and [Paul] Hanlon developed a good partnership so I sat out about ten games. But I got back in and I think I’ve done okay. Over the last year, there have been a lot of highs and a couple of low points but it’s been a very good year overall.”
This dream year included Forster, in December, being handed the security of a new contract which will keep him at Easter Road until 2016. Without getting ahead of himself, he now feels part of the first-team fabric after a daunting few weeks when he first made the jump from the youth team last spring. “As soon as you start training or playing with the first team, you develop massively,” he said of the step up. “I feel much more mature as a player. I wouldn’t say I’m experienced but I’m now a lot more comfortable. When you first break through, you’re a bit nervous because you look up to the first-team players for three or four years when you’re coming through at youth level, then, all of a sudden, you’re playing and training with them. After a few weeks of being part of it, I remember I really started to enjoy it and embrace it instead of being nervous or worried about it. Once that happens, you then really start to improve because you need to up your game, get fitter and get sharper when you’re playing with better players.”
Forster is primarily a centre-back who has been shoehorned into the right-back berth in recent months in order to fill a problem position for manager Terry Butcher. Despite his craving to play centrally, he has no issue with being asked to play a role which was alien to him until recently. “I’ve developed massively playing in a new position,” he said. “Playing right-back is a real challenge because I’ve never hidden the fact I see centre-half as my preferred position, but it’s one I’m willing to embrace.
“I’m enjoying learning a new position and I can’t grumble because I’m playing every week. If I end up playing right-back for the rest of my career but I’m playing every week, I’ll have nothing to complain about. Going forward isn’t the strongest part of my game because I’ve been used to playing centre-half all my life but I’m learning and I’m getting more comfortable. Especially against Hearts, when we won 2-1, I felt everything fell into place for me. I was getting forward and getting balls into the box and I was loving it.
“A lot of centre-backs find they have to start out at right back until they get that bit of experience. You might break through into the first team at centre-half but, playing that position, one mistake can kill people’s confidence so sometimes managers prefer more experienced players in the middle.
“Hopefully I’ll be moved into centre-half at some point because that’s where I see myself playing for the rest of my career but right now I’m enjoying right-back and happy to get good game time under my belt.
“Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas were both defenders and they’re working with me every day, teaching me little things here and there about how to play my position, which is great.”
Having worked so hard to get a foothold in the Hibs first team, Forster has no intention of taking his foot off the gas. “When you’re 19, you’re seen as a young boy but as soon as you turn 20, you’re no longer a teenager and you start to feel older,” he said. “I’m at that stage now so I’m hoping to push on and establish myself even more in the team. I’m already looking forward to next season – I want to be a regular starter for Hibs. I feel if I keep playing and developing as I am at the moment, I’m confident that’ll happen.”