Three weeks ago today, Jordon Forster was preparing to play for Cheltenham Town in a televised EFL Cup tie at home to West Ham United.
Everything was going swimmingly for the former Hibs defender after he defected to the English League Two side in the summer in search of a fresh start and a chance to reignite his stalled career. Forster was revelling in his role as a regular once more after starting in each of Cheltenham’s first three league games. Off the pitch, meanwhile, his partner and her son, who had moved to Gloucestershire with him, were settling into new jobs and school respectively.
The 23-year-old Hibs academy graduate was beginning sense an upturn in fortunes following a frustrating final three years at Easter Road in which he was hindered by a string of relatively minor injuries and a lack of game time under Alan Stubbs and Neil Lennon. “Then bang!” he says, ruefully, as he reflects on the moment he was placed at the lowest point of his football career to date. Just three days after the buzz of playing his part in a gallant 2-0 defeat by a West Ham side featuring several Premier League regulars, Forster’s world caved in when, 70 minutes into a league match at home to Exeter City – which was poised at 2-2 at the time – he felt an explosion in his foot while attempting a routine headed clearance.
“A ball came in towards the back post, I took a couple of steps backwards to jump for the header and as I went to push off, my Achilles snapped,” he told the Evening News. “Anybody who has done it before will know what it feels like – it’s like a gun shot going off in the bottom of your foot. It was really loud. I knew straight away it was something bad. I originally thought someone had landed on the back of my Achilles. I immediately had about four or five seconds of really bad pain and then it went away so I tried to stand up. As soon as I tried to put my foot down, I could feel it banging, so I rolled back down and had to get stretchered off. I went straight to hospital and they put my leg in a cast.”
Scans confirmed Forster’s worst fears that he had ruptured his Achilles and that a season which had started so promisingly for him was as good as over. The defender underwent successful surgery on September 1 – six days after sustaining the injury – but is barely mobile and at a low ebb as he contemplates the long and arduous road to recovery. The prognosis is for anything between six and nine months on the sidelines.
“It’s been soul-destroying,” he said. “I came down here to get games, to try and better my career and get my name out there again after a frustrating few years at Hibs. Everything was looking up. The start of the season was going well, I was playing every week, we’d settled into a new house and we were coming off a really good performance against West Ham. We were really proud of the way we had played in that game, so to go from being on a high like that on the Wednesday night to sitting with my leg in a plaster on the Saturday night is really hard to take. I still don’t think it’s completely sunk in yet.
“I’m preparing myself for a long time out and there’s nothing I can do about it. After my cast comes off, I’ll be in a moon boot for four to six weeks. When I’m able to walk again and get back and do some rehab and proper hard work, I think it’ll become a bit easier to deal with mentally. But right now, honestly, it’s just a case of sitting in the house and not doing much at all. I’ve become very reliant on my partner. I find I’m getting quite irritable and frustrated very easily, so something like this puts a real stress on a lot of things, not just your football. In that regard, the next month or two of doing very little will be the hardest part for me. After that, at least I’ll be able to get my head down and work. If I didn’t have my girlfriend and the wee man down here with me, I’m telling you now, I’d be in deep water. I’ve been a bit of a pain to live with since it happened but they’re helping me massively.
“Everything was going perfectly well on and off the pitch. My girlfriend had started her job, we’d got the wee man sorted out with a school, the house was all up and running and decorated and all that. Everything was going almost too well. That’s what makes it even more frustrating.
“The surgeon said it’s a freak thing to happen for someone of my age so after everything that happened in the last few years at Hibs, it really makes me wonder about my luck. I keep telling myself that there’s millions of people in the world a lot worse off than me. That’s the only way I can look at it right now.”
Although Forster had some frustrating injury lay-offs to contend with during his last three years at Hibs, nothing compares in magnitude to the one he is currently enduring. “Three years ago, when Alan Stubbs first came in, I played about 15 games in a row and then I broke my foot,” he said. “After I came back from that, I got appendicitis. That was the only season when I was really plagued by injury. Over the last couple of seasons it’s only been minor niggles which a lot of the time have come from the fact I wasn’t playing regularly. Before this, the broken foot that kept me out for two months was my most serious injury. This is definitely going to be the worst. It’s going to be as hard mentally as it will be physically. There’s nothing I can do about it, though – it’s happened, and I just need to get on with it.”
Forster’s former Hibs team-mate Farid El Alagui suffered the same injury three years ago and saw his first season at Easter Road effectively written off. The defender has had his spirits lifted by some words of encouragement from Hearts player John Souttar, who returned to action in July, just under six months after rupturing his Achilles at Celtic Park. “I’m not friends with John – I’d never spoke to him much before – but he got in contact with me and said if there was anything I needed or if I had any questions he’d be happy to help me because he’s been through it before and it’s a tough injury to get over,” Forster explained. “That was really nice of him and I appreciate all the help he’s given me. It’s nice for someone to offer a hand to try and help you. When you first get injured and someone tells you that you could be looking at nine months out, you get things in your head that you don’t want to be thinking about. But speaking to John made me feel slightly better because he’s been in my position and has just come back from that injury after six months and played again.”
Forster, who has just returned to Cheltenham after spending part of last week in Edinburgh visiting his parents in an attempt to brighten his mood, has set himself a target of returning to action within seven months. “I’m realistic enough to know I might not play again this season but my aim, all going well, is to try and get back around the start of April and play four or five games before the end of the season,” he said. “That would be really good.”