It’s been a hectic week at Peterborough United, and we all knew that would be the case this summer when Steve Evans rocked up ready to wield his axe on an underperforming squad. There was an air of indifference when Matt Godden arrived from Stevenage and a general feeling of astonishment among the fanbase upon learning of Leo Da Silva Lopes’ big money move to Wigan. However-I may be in a minority with this one- there was a personal pang of sadness at Posh’s most recent piece of business: Chris Forrester’s move to Aberdeen. Here, I’ll chart the rapid rise and sharp fall that occurred during his time at Posh.
Forrester signed for Posh days before the 2015 summer transfer window ended, and at the time, it was not the best received move by supporters. Billed as an attacking midfielder, Forrester shone at west Dublin outfit St Pat’s Athletic; this fact was quickly dismissed as trivial, as recent (failed) captures from across The Irish Sea Joe Gormley and Daniel Kearns were still fresh in Posh minds. Furthermore, Posh’s midfield options were bulging at the time: Jack Payne, Erhun Oztumer, Michael Bostwick, Jack Collison, Harry Beautyman, Jermaine Anderson, a young Da Silva Lopes and Kieran Sadlier (no, I don’t remember him either) were all competing for a place in Dave Robertson’s rigid 4-4-2. Forrester was seen as unnecessary filler in a squad that was bursting at the seams. He was up against it from day one.
In spite of this, Forrester was parachuted straight into the first team of his new employers, making his debut in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy embarrassment at Millwall, and was seen as a rare bright spot in a flailing team. He retained his place for a trip to Roots’ Hall days later, and again impressed as Posh were humiliated in front of the Sky cameras. The Irishman’s first league match as a Peterborough United player would turn out to be his manager’s last; Robertson was sacked the day after The Shrimpers wiped the floor with us, and Forrester had every right to be sweating over his future. He’d upped sticks and moved to a new country, and a man who clearly rated him was now no longer in a job. A bad appointment (from the Irishman’s point of view) could have ended his career in England before it had even started…
There was nothing to worry about though, as Grant McCann was handed control on a caretaker basis for the following two matches. The former Posh skipper implemented a (now infamous) fluid diamond, and in a move that mirrored Darren Ferguson pushing his creative force McCann back into a deep lying playmaker role, McCann himself did the same to Forrester. And he shone, helping Posh to a stunning 5-1 victory over Oldham and a credible 1-1 draw with high flyers Walsall. Forrester took to League One like a fish to water. And not just a sardine or something else crap; Forrester was a shark, dominating midfield and catching the eye. His range of passing and vision were both incredible, and he displayed the tactical intelligence that his new deep role required.
McCann was not given the job permanently, and again Forrester’s future was in the air, when professional lunatic Graham “Medals” Westley arrived. The salmon shirted enigma was many things, but he wasn’t stupid (apparently). He rode the crest of McCann’s wave; he decided not to implement his trademark archaic brand of football- one can only describe that as conjunctivitis spread over 90 minutes- but chose to foster Grant’s free flowing formation and style. Forrester started Westley’s first match at Bradford, and to cap a stunning first month in Cambridgeshire, he sealed a vital 3 points with his first goal in England. He became part of the furniture as Posh embarked on their best run since relegation in 2013, with his classy performances earning rave reviews and the hearts of Boro faithful, as he helped us saunter into a play off place.
Obviously, this good fortune didn’t last for his team. As per usual, Forrester shone as Posh nearly claimed an FA Cup scalp in the shape of West Brom, live on BBC One, which left Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker gushing. The ‘secret’ was out, and the Irishman became appreciated outside of a PE postcode. Forrester’s season, however, was ended soon after that. A training ground injury left him out of action for 6 weeks, and it’s no coincidence that his teammates fell apart at this juncture. Westley had reverted to type, and was seemingly picking names out of a hat as Posh plummeted down the division. Needless to say, ‘Meddles’ (his incredibly apt moniker among the fans) left the club by mutual consent, paving the way for Grant McCann to show his managerial credentials.
Everybody suspected Forrester was highly rated by his new boss, and this was reinforced further when two of McCann’s first moves were to tie The Irishman to a new 3 year contract AND appoint him as captain. The added financial security and piece of elastic on his left bicep elevated Forrester to a whole new level, as he scored on the first day of the 16-17 season, provided plenty of assists and was seen as a calming influence and a freakishly reliable figure at the heart of McCann’s side. His fourth goal in a Posh shirt came in September against Bury, and spoke volumes about his technique: Hayden White executed a hideous cross that evaded everyone but Forrester; the Irishman had ghosted into the penalty area, took the ball down like it was made of lead, played a neat one two with Tom Nichols and swept in an equaliser. The captain was in sparkling form. And it would only get better for him.
Scoring a winner against Northampton will write you into Posh folklore- just ask Simon Davies, Charlie Lee or urrrmmm, Shaq Coulthirst- but a last minute, rather undeserved winner in front of thousands of Posh fans at Sixfields will make you a bona fide hero. That’s exactly what Foz did, popping up in injury time of a tense affair to flick a Marcus Maddison cross into the roof of the net. I don’t do many away games, but I was there that day and the minute the ball hit the back of the net is still one of my favourite moments following Posh. Incredibly, despite the sentimental significance, Forrester was still yet to peak.
Peterborough United have had dull, pointless cup draws since time began-Usually Reading, Sunderland, West Brom or some combination of the above- so it was no surprise that when Premier League champions elect Chelsea were drawn to face Posh at Stamford Bridge, it was a major event that saw 6,000 ‘Posh fans’ make the trip to West London. Posh were utilising their diamond as per usual that day anchored by the man this article is about, as Chelsea lined up with Cesc Fabregas as Forrester’s counterpart. If you were to tell a neutral that day that one of those was a World Cup and two time European Championship winner and one would be signing for Aberdeen within 18 months, you would be forgiven for expecting to see Fabregas turn up at Pittodrie. Forrester put in a complete performance that day, shining amongst the millionaires of Chelsea. Sure, we lost 4-1, but Forrester’s precise passing and habit of finding pockets of space on a famously compact Stamford Bridge pitch means his performance will live long in the memory. Chairman Darragh MacAnthony in the days following that FA Cup game claimed Forrester would only be sold for a sum that could be used to buy the ground back (circa £8m), and for once, this wasn’t an exaggeration. At the time Forrester was genuinely worth that, and he was on the radar of the Irish national team. Everything was perfect for him. And then, it all went south…
Just like in 2015-16, Posh’s season derailed with their cup exit. This time, Forrester was dragged down with it. That January, we were on the end of some humiliating results, notably a 5 (FIVE)-1 hiding by Bury and a 4-0 home hammering by Milton Keynes. Posh had stopped performing, and so had Forrester. I’m not sure if Forrester’s form plummeted because Posh’s did, or Posh’s form plummeted because Forrester’s did, but either one is feasible. Midfielder Anthony Grant was brought in to add another option, and his debut coincided with Forrester disappearing from the squad. Rumours about his personal life spread like wildfire, and McCann all but confirmed that something was amiss when he admitted Forrester had been sent back to his homeland for a period of extended leave. And that, unfortunately, was the last time we saw the real Chris Forrester. The Irishman did return that season, but he looked tired, dishevelled and a ghost of his former self. He hit rock bottom in 2017 at Walsall when he was sent off for using offensive and abusive language, which never happens in professional football. That lack of discipline was symbolic of Forrester’s decline, and showed that something was seriously up.
2017-18 came around, but unlike 12 months previously, Forrester was just an ordinary squad player, stripped of the captaincy and marooned on the bench behind the slowest man in football, Michael Doughty. He was restricted to the odd cameo throughout the latter stages of 2017, but he was still a million miles away from his sparkling form at the start of the year. As McCann became more and more desperate towards the end of his reign, Forrester featured more and more in a range of formations and systems. There was the odd spark of excitement (notably his excellent through ball to George Cooper for the latter’s debut goal) but CF was some way away from his own lofty standards. The guillotine fell on McCann, and in spite of new boss Steve Evans selecting him for his opening few matches, it was more out of necessity than choice. Forrester finished what would be his final campaign as a Posh player as he started it: amongst the substitutes.
Disappointingly- if not surprisingly- Forrester was transfer listed last month. Aberdeen wasted no time in snapping up the central midfielder, and for the rumoured fee of £200k, bagged themselves a bargain. I was a big fan of Chris Forrester (as you can probably guess) and to see him leave on a low was gutting. Not many managers at this level are gifted with a player of the calibre of Chris, and rather than take on the challenge of helping him back to the form he displayed in 2016, Steve Evans elected to toss the damaged goods away, instead of patching them up. Part of me understands, but an even bigger part feels let down that our new manager feels incapable of improving his own high quality players, electing to sign his own instead.
The Dons have got a player with an enormous potential, and under the tutelage of the gifted Derek McInnes, Forrester could quite easily reach it. I would not be at all surprised if he ended up in the Ireland squad in the near future, and/or earned a move to a big English Championship club. He will be missed, but I hope that such a tremendously gifted player can get back to the top of his game.
So, has James looked back over Chris’ time with overly rose tinted glasses? Or has he hit the nail on the head with his gushing? Have your say on the forum now