Leon Wobschall spoke to striker Jamie Forrester who did not quite live up to expectations at Leeds United but still carved out a good living in football.
THE buzz of playing and the dressing-room craic may be over for Jamie Forrester but, in his eyes, he’s secured the perfect substitute.
The former Leeds United teenage prodigy, now 37, still gets the butterflies on match days – as part of his role as a radio pundit for the BBC, while also being in the spotlight in front of the camera presenting a football show for a new television station.
While the ultra-competitive nature of professional football has been taken as read since time immemorial, countless ex-pros such as Forrester now find themselves vying for position as they seek to develop a second sporting career – whether it be in the press box, radio gantry or TV studio.
On his media venture, Lincolnshire-based Forrester, who also runs a firm which specialises in reducing energy bills on a part-time basis, said: “I do a little bit of coaching kids on a weekends and football is what I know, really. I’m doing quite a bit of media work and do a lot of punditry for Radio Humberside covering Hull City, Scunthorpe and Grimsby, who are three of my former clubs.
“I don’t know how it’s happened, but there’s also a new sports channel called Sports Tonight Live and I present a TV show on there called The Basement, on the lower leagues, which has just started.
“The channel which commissioned it has only been going three months and it’s all new. Watching games and talking about football is the next best thing to playing, isn’t it?
“I haven’t done any media courses or anything, but I’ll have a go at anything to be fair and it keeps you in the football community. Fans like to listen to ex-players and hear opinions and I’ve had a bit of a break – long may it continue.”
In terms of Forrester’s playing career, many observers would look at it and utter “if only”, with the striker one of several from United’s successful FA Youth Cup-winning class of 1993 that have never truly achieved their potential.
Brought in from French outfit Auxerre in 1992 along with former England youth and schoolboy international and close friend Kevin Sharp, the pair looked destined for stardom, with Forrester famously scoring a spectacular overhead kick in the second leg of that famous cup final win over arch-rivals Manchester United in front of more than 31,000 fans at Elland Road in the spring of 1993.
But the diminutive frontman, who fired 11 goals in that thrilling trail to cup glory, couldn’t crack the big time with Leeds and failed to see his name in lights before eventually heading east to Grimsby Town in October 1995.
Looking back at his career at United, Forrester – who retired from playing at the end of the 2010-11 season with his final club being Northern Counties East League outfit Lincoln Moorlands – remains philosophical.
Plenty of water has gone under the bridge since his days as a teenager in West Yorkshire, when he candidly admits he didn’t quite have what it took to establish himself at one of the biggest clubs in the game. Both in terms of ability and attitude at the time.
Forrester, who went on to carve a successful career as a prolific marksman in the lower leagues with the likes of Hull, Grimsby, Northampton Town, Scunthorpe and Lincoln City, said: “Looking back, I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was at the time.
“I was young and all the things that come with being young, a bit impatient and thinking I had made it – which I hadn’t.
“I thought I’d done the hard work, but I hadn’t. I’d done the easy work.
“The easy bit was getting into the first team and getting a bit of experience, but the hard aspect was staying there and I didn’t have what it took to stay there at that time, unfortunately.
“I can only speak for myself, I had my chance and I don’t think I took it.
“In the summer when the club brought in Phil Masinga and Lucas Radebe, it forced me down the pecking order. But I’m sure if I’d been performing more regularly, he (boss Howard Wilkinson) wouldn’t have done that. I’d have been getting more games.
“I don’t have any complaints. At the time, I was disillusioned by it, but knowing what I do now, it’s just the way it goes at a big club, isn’t it? You can’t take risks on young players.
“When I left, I remember (assistant-boss) Mick Hennigan saying: ‘You should have played more games.’ But at that time, if I had the right attitude or was good enough, I would have been in the team.”
Fleeting highlights did arrive, such as his debut as a late substitute at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground in March 1993, when he was just 18.
That and a handful of subsequent top-flight appearances at least afforded him the satisfaction of being able to say he has played in the Premier League – however briefly.
Forrester said: “I’ll always remember those six minutes at Forest, with the game being live on Sky.
“Brian Clough was still there at the time and it was very surreal looking over at him from the pitch and seeing him in that famous green jumper.
“There was also my home debut against Blackburn, which we won 5-2, when Gordon Strachan scored a hat-trick, and those two games are the ones that really stick in my memory, along with the cup game when I scored two goals against Crewe, my first senior goals.”
All told, Forrester made just 11 first-team appearances for United, with his only goals coming when he netted a brace in the 3-1 FA Cup win over Dario Gradi’s Railwaymen in January 1994.
For many Whites punters, it was a definite case of what might have been, although Forrester did have the consolation of making some lifelong friends along the way at Elland Road.
Several of them linked up again this summer to successful effect to help United lift the Yorkshire Masters and reach the Grand Final at Manchester’s MEN Arena in September, where they lost to Glasgow Rangers in the final.
Forrester added: “Despite not playing much, I still thoroughly enjoyed it at Leeds.
“Playing in the Premier League and winning the Youth Cup final was great, as was playing with the great players I did.
“It’s a massive part of my life; people still ask me now who I played with at Leeds and when I reel off the names it’s like ‘Wow’. Some became legends in the game and I was privileged to play with them.
“I also made some great mates at Leeds.
“I grew up with Kev (Sharp) and we were best mates since the age of 10 as we lived in Blackpool together. We obviously both went from France to Leeds in 1992 and I had some great times at Leeds in the three years I was there.
“We had a close group of young lads at Leeds with myself, Kev, Noel Whelan, Tinks (Mark Tinkler), Andy Couzens and Gary Kelly.
“I stayed in digs with Kev and Tinks and I still keep in touch with them plus Andy and we all played with each other in the Masters this year.
“Although I didn’t realise the full potential which I showed at 16 or 17, I still class myself as very fortunate, playing so many games for so long. I played as a professional for 18 years, I’ve got to be happy with that.
“It would have been better if I’d made it with Leeds, but I am appreciative of how lucky I’ve been. I’ve had some real highs, such as winning the play-offs with Scunthorpe in 1999 and achieving promotion with Northampton and Hull City.
“I was also very lucky with injuries and played to a good age.”