Hearts coach Gordon Forrest recalls being targeted with bags of pee and needing armed guards during previous cup run
At 43, his coaching CV is already bulging. He is the least-known of Hearts’ three-man management team and rather likes it that way, but this is no water-carrier or cone-collector. Don’t mistake the relatively low profile for inexperience.
Forrest’s playing career pales in comparison to Robbie Neilson’s or Lee McCulloch’s. He turned out for Raith Rovers, Livingston, Leiftur of Iceland, East Fife and Berwick Rangers. He finished in his late 20s with a game for Burntisland Shipyard. “I was just helping a mate out,” he says.
As a coach, he has led a varied and eventful life, from Raith Under-11s to the Olympic Games to dodging bags of urine during Champions League ties in Central America.
That’s right, bags of urine. Running the gauntlet in places like Tigres and Honduras quickly teaches you how to handle unpredictable cup football. So Forrest is preparing for Sunday’s Scottish Cup final with Celtic in typically understated fashion.
“I stopped playing because I wanted coaching to be my career. It’s been quite a journey but I just get on with the job. It’s better that way.” He chuckles when we discuss how the more mental moments abroad shaped him.
After a spell as a Scottish Football Association youth development officer, the Fifer emigrated to New Zealand and became assistant coach with the country's women’s national team at the 2012 Olympics.
Then it was six years in Canada at Vancouver Whitecaps, four assisting manager Carl Robinson. They lifted the Canadian Cup so he already knows how to win a national knockout tournament ahead of this weekend.
The CONCACAF Champions League, in which the Whitecaps were 2016 semi-finalists, was less straightforward.
“We played teams in Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, places like that,” recalls Forrest. “In Honduras, they’re chucking bags of pee at you. You have to keep your head in the dugout to avoid it.
“We had two Hondurans playing for us so they were helping us prepare for what would happen. It was quite an experience.
“Tigres is a madhouse as well. You were walking into a lion’s den. You get armed guards straight from the plane to the hotel and they stay outside your hotel.
“The Mexican fans are there trying to keep the players up all night. It’s certainly a different challenge as a coach.”
After learning that Honduran fans would pee on you regardless of whether you’re on fire, Forrest is grateful to be back home. He worked with Neilson and McCulloch at Dundee United before all three defected to Tynecastle Park over the summer.
“When you’re playing Seattle Sounders and Atlanta in the MLS, there are 70,000 in the ground. The crowds there are different to Scotland, maybe slightly quieter,” says Forrest.
“I’m excited being back in Scotland and working at Hearts. Being involved in a Scottish Cup final ticks another box on the coaching career.
“Now it’s the opposite because you’re going into a quiet stadium with no fans. You need to generate your own passion and momentum.
“I’d been out of the country for eight years. It was a different experience in different tournaments but to come home and be involved in a Scottish Cup final is fantastic. It’s great to be at a club like Hearts preparing for this occasion.
“We know how much it means to the fans. We are trying to prepare for games without that noise and it’s very different, but the trophy means the same. I understand the opportunity of trying to win a huge trophy like the Scottish Cup.”
He received an early education in upsetting Celtic during that spell with Raith. The 1994 Coca-Cola League Cup final at Ibrox captivated the teenage Forrest.
“I was an apprentice, or YTS as it was called, at that time. You had duties on the day, being on the team bus, doing the boots, tidying up and all that kind of stuff. It was a great feeling as a 17-year-old.
“That was a long time ago but I remember it being a huge upset. Working under the manager, Jimmy Nicholl, was brilliant. He had me coaching even at that age. I took the under-11s and under-12s.
“I then went to Livingston and got involved in coaching there. Even playing in Iceland I was taking young players and reserve teams.
“Coaching has taken me all over the world, working at an Olympics and in a top league like the MLS. Then I’ve come back to big clubs like Dundee United and Hearts. It’s been brilliant working with big players and in big competitions.”
$30m training base
He has also sampled some of the most luxurious facilities football can offer. American and Canadian clubs don’t scrimp on amenities and the Whitecaps’ training ground at the University of British Columbia would do justice to a five-star hotel.
Hearts’ base at the Oriam Scotland complex on Edinburgh’s outskirts is of comparable standard, according to Forrest.
“We had a $30million training facility at Vancouver and a lot of the clubs have exactly the same. You are a bit spoiled but the facilities at Hearts match what you get out there completely,” he says.
“There’s a full-size indoor pitch, outdoor astroturf, grass pitches, strength and conditioning suites. The standard is fantastic, particularly for a Scottish club. Apart from Rangers and Celtic, it’s hard to match what we have at Hearts. It’s excellent.”