Even as he entered his mid-20s as a car salesman, Ali Forster was never truly able to let go of his boyhood dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Spending time on a daily basis in the company of his younger brother, Jordon, and watching proudly as he established himself as a Hibs first-team player over the last four years, ensured Ali’s craving for a piece of the action continued to burn inside.
However, having opted to enter the real world and get himself a job with Arnold Clark after stints in the youth ranks at St Johnstone and Alloa Athletic failed to deliver him a route into the game he loves, he had long since resigned himself to the probability that his chance of emulating his sibling had passed him by.
Not so, as it transpires. At 26 years old, Forster has just landed himself an unlikely and belated crack at full-time football with BK Forward, a reputable Swedish fourth-tier club based in Orebro who have launched the careers of three full Sweden internationalists – Jimmy Durmaz, Jiloan Hamad and Jacob Rinne – over the past decade.
Forster’s big chance arose from a recent tip-off from his friend Gary Cennerazzo, who is currently enjoying full-time football of his own in the Czech Republic’s second tier after years swirling around the part-time and non-league ranks in Scotland.
Discussing his move to Scandinavia with the Evening News from his apartment in Orebro, a city 120 miles west of Stockholm, Forster sounds like the cat that got the cream. “Gary put somebody in touch with me from Pro Soccer Consultancy (PSC) who had ties with BK Forward and they arranged a trial for me,” he explained. “I ended up coming over to Orebro for five days in February, trained full-time with them and played in a friendly. They liked what they saw and from that, the rest is history – I was offered a contract.”
Forster knew in his heart he was never going to turn it down, but commitments in Edinburgh – namely his fiancée Sarah, his mortgage and a steady, well-paid job – meant that he had plenty to ponder. Ultimately, an overpowering desire to try and forge a career as a footballer won the day.
“If you get a chance of playing full-time football, you bite the person’s hand off,” said Forster. “I’d always wanted to get back into it. I see Jordon after training every day and he’s always happy. He does something that he loves for a living and seeing that instilled in him, I’ve always wanted it as well. I thought my chance to be a footballer had gone, so as soon as this opportunity came up, I made up my mind straight away, although I had to get the go-ahead from Sarah first.
“I had a lot to think about because I’m getting married next year and me and Sarah have got a mortgage in Edinburgh. It’s been quite a big ordeal for her as well. With me leaving for a year, she’s a bit down about it, but we’ll try and see each other as much as possible. I was earning really good money with Arnold Clark so I’ve taken a bit of a hit financially to do this, but I feel it’s worthwhile in terms of trying to become a footballer.
“They were talking about a two-year contract but I just wanted one year because I wanted to see how it goes first. I’ve got my foot in the door and I’m viewing it as a potential stepping stone. I feel like I’ve got the right mentality for it. My mate Gary is doing very well in the Czech Republic and that came from nothing really after him having been at Spartans. He spoke to a few boys through PSC and it opened doors for him, so you never know, if I do well, there might be an opportunity to get another move.”
Remarkably, Forster doesn’t even have a solid recent football background in Scotland. He has had stints in the juniors with Arniston Rangers, Newtongrange Star and Musselburgh but has been unable to generate any sustained momentum due to work commitments. The Edinburgh boy believes the chance to channel all his efforts without distraction into his football will allow him to finally start fulfilling his potential as a high-energy central midfielder.
“When I was playing junior, I only trained twice a week but I felt I needed to get into the real world and concentrate on getting a mortgage and things like that,” said Forster. “I had moved into the car trade and I was working long hours and earning good money so I gave up football in 2014. I missed playing on a Saturday, and I missed the social side of it but I was just focused on working away to get a mortgage. Then I got a call from Calvin Shand who asked me to sign for Musselburgh. Again I tried to juggle that with work but it wasn’t really working out so I asked to get released.
“When you’re training twice a week in part-time football you don’t really have a proper chance to improve as a player. That was a massive thing for me in coming to Sweden. I want to improve as a player, and being around the boys in the dressing-room every day is absolutely brilliant.”
A self-proclaimed fitness freak who has been soaking up tips from Jordon on how to look after himself in the manner of a professional athlete, Forster has held his own since flying out to Sweden to embark on his new adventure at the start of this month. After training with his team-mates for the past two and a half weeks, his transfer was officially ratified by the Swedish FA on Monday. He is now working to ensure he is in peak condition in time for April 9, when BK Forward, who were relegated last season, kick off their bid to win promotion back to the third tier.
“It’s been brilliant so far,” he said. “I used to work long days with Arnold Clark, so it’s been a big adjustment going to being a full-time footballer. Instead of selling cars, I’m training every day and I’ve got a bit of spare time on my hands. I’d say fitness-wise, I’m about ten per cent behind my team-mates because they’ve been in doing pre-season since February and I got here on the 3rd of March. Before I came here, I had been going to the gym every day with Jordon after his training. He passes on what he’s doing in the gym at Hibs. I was doing the high-intensity training on the treadmill and a bit of weights, so my fitness is good.
“I played my first 90 minutes in a friendly against a second-tier side [Degerfors] on Saturday and I felt good. I still need to get a bit of sharpness on the football side, but I felt I played well. I was tiring a bit in the last 15 minutes but I got through it.”
BK Forward are likely to attract three-figure crowds to their matches this season, but, although they live in the shadow of their top-flight neighbours Orebro SK, Forster is adamant they are no small-fry outfit. He feels he has joined a club that can give him a genuine chance of flourishing as a footballer. “They have been absolutely brilliant – they’ve done everything you’d expect from a professional club,” he said. “The president has been really good with me. They’re an established club who have a very good youth academy. Most of the teams in the league are full-time. I don’t know why there are so many full-time teams in the fourth tier – you wouldn’t get that in Scotland, but that’s why I came here. The facilities are great. We’ve got our own training centre and that leads on to the stadium. The stadium is probably a bit similar to Alloa’s with two fairly small stands.
“Most of the squad are established players who have been full-time for years. We’ve got five boys who have come up through the academy this season and I’m one of three new players who have just signed. There’s one from America and another from England. We’ve been in training most days since I got here and we’ve got a three-day tour in the south of Sweden this weekend. We have a few double sessions a week, so there’s a really good chance to get fit. My body’s a bit sore because of the transition to training every day, but they’ve got a good physio and medical team here so they look after you.”
Forster is missing his loved ones, but nothing can dilute his pride at finally being able to live life as a professional footballer. “I’m living out on here on my own and Jordon had the exact same experience when he was away at Plymouth for five months last year, so he gave me a few words of advice about how to approach it,” he said. “I’m missing my fiancee, my mum, dad and my little brother. Jordon’s my best mate – he’s the best man at my wedding. I’m missing them all loads but when you get a chance like this, you can’t really turn it down. To go in and do something you love every day, you can’t beat that. I’ve seen two sides of the coin and I like this side better.”
• Jordon Forster believes his big brother Ali can take inspiration from his Hibs team-mate Darren McGregor as he bids to make the most of his big chance in Sweden.
The 26-year-old has just landed himself a crack at full-time football with fourth-tier side BK Forward after five years as a car salesman.
His move bears similarities to that of McGregor, who worked in a clothes shop before earning a crack at full-time football with St Mirren just before his 25th birthday. The centre-back has gone on to play for Rangers and Hibs, where he won the Scottish Cup last season, and is still going strong at 31.
Forster is hopeful that his brother, two years and ten months his senior, can also prove to be a late bloomer.
“It’s not often you hear of guys getting a chance of full-time football at 26 years old, so I’m delighted for Ali,” Jordon told the Evening News.
“Daz is a great example of what can happen.
“He got picked up by St Mirren at a similar age and went on to do very well.
“I’m not saying my brother will go on and emulate that level of success but he’ll be playing full-time football at a decent standard.”
Forster believes the fact Ali – who, like McGregor, once played for Arniston Rangers – has had a significant period of working in the real world will provide additional motivation.
“A lot of footballers sign at a club at 16 and play football all their lives, so don’t get a chance to see the other side of life,” said Jordon.
“We are privileged in what we do so I don’t know if we all truly get to see what the other side of life is liked. Ali’s already dealt with that, working 12-hour shifts and things like that, so now that this has come about he’ll be so grateful for it and determined to make the most of it.
“It’ll be nice to see how he handles it. I’m really proud of him for coming across this chance and going to Sweden and try and progress.”
Jordon, who trained occasionally with Ali at North Merchiston Boys Club, intends to visit him when Hibs’ season finishes.
“I’m hoping to get out to see him play and shout some abuse at him,” he laughed.