Fraser Foster set to become the first North East England goalkeeper

Former Newcastle United goalkeeper Fraser Forster is on the brink of his England debut. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas charts his rise to the big stage

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images England goalkeeper Fraser Forster in action
England goalkeeper Fraser Forster in action

As luck would have it, Judge Brian Forster QC is sitting in London this afternoon.

As one of a small band of highly-ranked circuit judges, he is used to work taking him all over the country and away from the Quayside law courts he usually sits in. But with son Fraser set to become the first Newcastle-born goalkeeper ever to play for England against Chile tonight, being close to Wembley is a happy coincidence for a proud father set to see his 25-year-old progeny fulfil a lifetime’s ambition.

Forster will make history if – as expected – he becomes the 109th goalkeeper to pull on an England jersey tonight. Only a few from this region ever graduate into the England senior set-up and even less would have taken as circuitous route as Forster, who didn’t even have a school football team to play for when he first enrolled in the Royal Grammar School.

But that is part of the charm of Forster’s fairytale story – and also a big part of the reason why he is no ordinary England international.

The man dubbed ‘The Wall’ by the Spanish press for his incredible display for Celtic against Barcelona last season might come across as quite unassuming and polite when being interviewed but there is a steely determination that lies beneath the calm exterior and he deserves plenty of credit for bouncing back from the acute disappointment of leaving Newcastle before he got to play a first team game for the club.

From his family there is obvious pride. The judiciary take a dim view of Judges speaking on personal matters so others might have to do the talking for Judge Forster, who is from a generation of Newcastle United supporters who can be found in the North-West corner of the Leazes End when work commitments allow.

That was where Forster, now the leading contender to understudy for Joe Hart, first fell in love with Newcastle United – a club where he still thinks he has “unfinished business”.

Unlike the likes of Michael Carrick and Steve Stone, there could be no charge of carelessness or wrecklessness from the Magpies when it comes to Forster, though, they were just blessed with enough goalkeeping talent to edge out one of the best prospects to come through their Academy for many a year. To be fair to them, they could hardly miss the rangey youth who caught their eye playing for Newcastle City Schools and Northumberland’s representative sides after a childhood spent dipping his toe in other sports.

Before he joined Newcastle’s Academy Forster played rugby for Tynedale and cricket for Stocksfield – and might never have made the step up if RGS hadn’t set up a school football team around about the time he started there.

Asked to join United’s Academy as a 15-year-old, he continued to study after getting straight As at GCSE. After doing A-Levels part time, he got good enough grades to do Economics at university. By then, his career was beginning to take off.

It is a worthwhile example for others to note. For while other young, homegrown professionals veer off the correct path as soon as they get a sniff of fame and fortune, Forster’s dedication to his craft is part of what helped him get over the disappointment of leaving Newcastle.

It is often said that young English footballers don’t work as hard as those imported from overseas but anyone who knows Forster might argue differently. At Celtic, he is known for being the first in at 8am – a full two hours before training – and one of the last out. The two hours in the morning are usually spent either in the gym or doing yoga – adding a flexibility which is vital to a goalkeeper’s reflexes.

The question of whether Newcastle might have fought harder to keep Forster in the United set-up is an interesting one.

As was obvious last weekend, the Magpies can have no regrets about throwing their weight behind Tim Krul – who is one of the best young shot-stoppers in Europe.

But could they have made more of an effort to offer him reassurances about first team chances?

“It was frustrating for him in the end,” Harper said earlier this week.

“He was late to football and goalkeeping especially. It took him a long time to grow into his very substantial frame, but he made very, very quick progress in a short period of time.

“We might have given him the nickname Lurch because he looks like the character from the Addams Family, but he was brighter than any of us.

“He’s clever and driven, he saw his pathway was blocked and did something about it. Leaving was the best thing he could have done.”

In the summer of 2011, Alan Pardew offered Forster an audition at Elland Road while Harper was injured. Krul played the week after, against Fiorentina, and made more of an impression that Forster – who had been hesitant against Leeds. It was a setback, especially given the form he had shown during two loan spells with Norwich.

Krul was installed as the number one but Pardew wanted to keep Forster, who was allowed to go on loan to Celtic. All the time he was taking advice about whether staying at Newcastle would give him the opportunity to fulfil his ambitions. High-profile friends – and he remains in regular contact with Shay Given and Harper – seemed to advise him to go where the first team football was.

For the moment, Krul is undoubtedly the club’s number one but if he decides to move on, Forster would present a perfect solution for United.

Playing at St James’ Park is another of the 25-year-old’s ambitions and – as we might find out if he earns his first cap tonight – it would take a brave man to bet against him doing it.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer