A player with wise eyes, Fraser Forster's hard fought battle to the top was an unconventional one. Just 90 minutes away lifting or leaving silverware, we caught up with him ahead of a trip to Wembley with Southampton as they take on Manchester Utd in the final of the EFL cup.
Going back to younger days, playing in a final is one of those childhood dreams for any fan or player. How does it look with a trip to Wembley around the corner?
“It’s very exciting. I think obviously we’ve all worked very hard to get there and have had some tough games along the way and on the day you want to get there and give everything. It’s not just a day out. You want to go there and win it. Man Utd are going to be a very tough opponent but we can go into it and believe that if we give our all and perform on the day then there’s no reason why we can’t win it.”
Before we look at what's ahead, can we wind it back a bit. We're fascinated by Wallsend Boys Club. Are you proud to have come from there?
“Yeah I mean, there seems to be quite a few players who have turned out from Wallsend. I’m lucky to have made it really. It’s a fantastic set up there and they obviously get hold of the best talent around Newcastle and really try and improve players so I was very fortunate that I ended up there and it was a good stepping stone onto what happened next. I’m proud to have followed the previous names that have come through. They’re obviously doing the right things but it does feel good to be part of that history there.”
Starting out up north then going further north, how have you adjusted to life on the tip of the south coast now? Would you always call yourself a proud northerner?
“Yeah, I’ve obviously travelled around a bit now. It didn’t really happen for me at Newcastle but I’ll always be grateful for the time and the effort they put in for me. They obviously gave me my chance and made me improve but yeah, I love life down South now. To be at Newcastle then do what we did at Celtic and experience some of the nights we did there, it’s something special but I just felt when I came to Southampton that it was time for a new challenge and ultimately it’s great to be down here and playing Premier League football.”
Does the final being against Manchester United add an extra spice to the game for you?
“I think that whenever you play teams like Man Utd, they are the teams that you dream of playing against from when you’re a kid and you want to test yourself against the best players. You look at their squad and they’ve got world class players in every position. So these are the games that you dream of but to add that it is a cup final, it adds something extra special. Hopefully we go out there and do ourselves justice and go on and win.”
Was that '90's period a time where football grabbed you? Those rivalries, incredible keepers ― not to mention the kits ― do you think fondly back to your childhood as a football fan?
“Yeah definitely. I grew up as a big Newcastle fan and I think back to that very successful team back then who were unlucky not to win the Premier League really. For me, being a youngster and having that on your doorstep was something special. Having those sort of teams to go and watch, I followed Newcastle all the way through to the time when I joined them.”
“I think when you look back there are always moments that stand out and bits and pieces that you remember. The 90s was a special time for football as a whole and it was from there it really kicked on. It just seems to have kept on growing since then and similarly the standard just keeps getting better and better.”
Can you remember getting football shirts as a kid? Were you as obsessed with them and the game as much as the rest of us?
“Yeah, I just loved it. I think it’s what I would ask for every Christmas - whatever kit was on the go and I think I had every Newcastle kit going. Whether it was goalkeeper or outfield, I was your typical kid who loved football really. I would finish school and get straight out into the garden and play. I would play with my mates on Saturday and Sunday and my parents would ship me around all over so that I could play as well as take me to game.”
To that point, have you had a strong connection with your boots over the years?
“Ah yeah. I think any player would be lying if they said they didn’t get a buzz when new boots come in. For me, I still get that now with new boots, new gloves, a new colourway - whatever it is. You’re buzzing when they come in and when they look smart it’s even better.”
Can you remember getting your first pair?
“I think you always remember those moments though - for me, things like my first pair of Peter Schmeichel goalkeeper gloves - they’re all special moments.”
Moving forward to when you were picked up by Newcastle, can you remember that moment fondly?
“Yeah it was a strange one really. My mum and dad just got a phone call out of the blue. I had done trials at a few other clubs previously and nothing had really happened. I think it was around the time of Sixth Form at school and I just got a call one day and asked if I would come in as they were looking for a keeper to be on the bench for the FA Youth Cup. I obviously went in, gave it my all and I’ve not looked back since really.”
Did that give you a determined edge? Have you always been confident or known that you're going to make it to the top?
“I think for me, I was obviously delighted to be given that opportunity. I think the one piece of advice I was given was to just give everything your absolute all and work as hard as you can, that way you can have no regrets. I think for me, obviously going in at that age, at seventeen, there would be players who had maybe been there since they were eight, nine or ten so I felt that I had a lot of catching up for me. I was obviously a bit raw so I just went in and worked as hard as I can. Luckily I’ve had people along the way who have given me opportunities who I think would have seen my attitude and saw that I wanted to improve and it’s stuck with me.”
It’s a little bit different to the norm in terms of how players come through these days. What's it like to come into the game as a keeper? Can it be a little more lonely to that of an outfield player do you think?
“A little bit. Obviously from when you’re young to now, you make mistakes. I think it’s just about how you deal with them. I think you can really beat yourself up when you’re younger but that is part of the game and you obviously learn from making those mistakes. Everybody is human and it happens. So I think it can be hard at times that way but it’s a very special position and a really unique one and it’s one I’m delighted to play so that outweighs any negative.”
From an early age, being in goal, you have to deal with a lot more defeat than other players on the pitch may have to ― how do you embrace that challenge?
“Yeah I mean for a keeper, you could make ten worldies and you make one mistake and that is what is remembered. It’s probably the opposite for a striker - they might be able to have ten one on ones but score the eleventh and that is what is remembered. But, that is what comes with the job and you just have to accept that. It’s one of them that you learn to deal with over time. You’ll know personally when you think you could have done better. You just have to keep looking forward and constantly developing.”
How important is mental strength in today's game?
“Yeah, especially for a keeper. I think it’s probably one of the most mentally challenging positions on the pitch. You can go for periods of the game where you’re not particularly active so have to retain that focus and then obviously when you make a mistake, nine times out of ten it would result in a goal - that’s the way it goes. You obviously only learn through making mistakes so you gradually get dealing with how they’ve gone. As I say, we’re always human beings and we all make mistakes - that’s just part of football. You’ve just got to pick yourself up and keep looking forward.”
Is there anything you do to ensure you stay in that positive mind frame?
“For me, I think I’m pretty good in dealing with things. For example making a mistake, if it happens then it’s instantly in the past and the moment has gone. There’s nothing you can do to change the past. You can try and learn from it. You will be disappointed by it but there’s no point beating yourself up about it. There are enough people in the game who will do that. A lot comes from having the right people who are around you who will support you and who have your back. So long as you don’t make the same mistake twice, it’s all about learning.”
Can you describe the emotions that go through your head when an attacker is moving in on your goal and you've got a chance to go to work? Do you live for that?
“Yeah, I mean, at the time you’re not really thinking - it’s almost like your next opportunity to make a save or your next opportunity to take a challenge. It’s what you get paid to do but you do get that buzz when you make a save or if you’re having a great day and you’re making saves left, right and centre - there’s no greater feeling than that. It’s one you don’t really get from any other aspect in life.”
That battle ready feeling is something Under Armour put across in the way they put out products. In linking up with them, would you say that matches your head space?
“Definitely. If you look at the values that Under Armour has, they’re all about working hard and wanting to improve. They’re constantly looking for the next avenue they can explore from the technology to the clothing you wear, the boots, the gloves, training wear, gym wear, they’re always looking for that next little thing that can give you the edge over the opposition. For me, I’ve always been one to work hard and give it everything so yeah I think that’s very fitting with the Under Armour brand.”
How do you like to prepare and recover pre and post games with your down time ― is music important to you for example?
“I’m not hugely into music. Pre-game and stuff, the tunes are obviously on but I think for me when I go home and chill out I try and do just that. I think at the right time, music plays a big part in everyone’s life but to relax, I like to just chill out in my own way as opposed to doing anything majorly specific.”
Do you think your run up to the final will differ to a regular week?
“In an ideal world, you’d want to approach it as if it was any other game but it is a final and we’ll be thinking about that and hoping to win it. Having that window it gives us that extra time to really prepare and experience the build up and the atmosphere that lies ahead.”
Have you started to get a buzz for how much a club trip to Wembley will be for you, the club and the fans?
“We have been trying to concentrate on the league. Obviously it’s a very special occasion to be able to go with your club to Wembley but it’s been important to focus on the league. As we move closer though with just a few days to go before the game, that buzz starts to come around. I’ve been there for international games but I’m expecting a very different atmosphere going there with my club so it should be something unique and something I can’t wait to experience.”
When you say to yourself "I'm going to play in a final at Wembley" do you still get a bit of fire in the belly?
“A little bit. I think being at Celtic and the pressures you’re under to deliver there; to win every game, to get to cup finals and win them. I think it’s great to be in a final but it’s all about winning it. It’s one of them, that if you go and do that, and win it, after the game you’ll be buzzing but if you’re going home having lost, you’d want to forget it as quick as possible.”
How big an occasion is it for the Forster family? Are your family making plans and talking about it? It's got to be a hugely proud moment for them.
“Yeah, I’ve been asked for a lot of tickets. All my family will be there and it’ll be a special occasion for us all including them. They’ve been at every sporting achievement I’ve been at. From Celtic Champions League games, cup finals, England - they’ve supported me all the way. Hopefully we can back up their support with a win.”
You give off a very unfazed slick style. Do you work hard to keep it so cool or is it natural?
“I’m pretty chilled really. I’d say I’m very laid back. I obviously work hard at training so that on the pitch I can give it my all but off the pitch I’m very relaxed and I take life as it comes. It is what it is for me, we’ve got a good opportunity to work hard before the final and preparation will be key. When it comes to the matchday, that’s what it’s all about and that’s what I’m living for.”