The Great Wall of Tottenham? Spurs stand-in Fraser Forster can make up for lost time

Date published: Saturday 11th June 2022 7:50 - John Nicholson

Fraser Forster makes a save while warming up for England.

Forster was nicknamed ‘La Gran Muralla’ after singlehandedly stopping Lionel Messi and Barcelona during his Celtic days. Johnny Nic hopes we see the best of him again at Spurs…


Who’s this then?
Fraser Gerard Forster is a 6ft 7in, 34-year-old goalkeeper from the cathedral town of Hexham, in Northumberland, who has just been signed on a free transfer by Tottenham Hotspur as back-up to Hugo Lloris.

He was a product of the famous Wallsend Boys Club, then joining Newcastle United’s academy, though he never played for the first-team. Ironically, he was initially thought too short to play in goal, then had the growth spurts to end all growth spurts, shot up and absolutely filled the goal.

In 2008-09 he was loaned out to Stockport County and for the next season played four games for Bristol Rovers. His next move in 2009-10 was to Norwich City for whom he played 42 games in League One (the bloody stupid name for the third tier) and only went and won the league. He played superbly under Paul Lambert at Carrow Road, won the club’s Players’ Player of the Year 2010 and came second in the Supporters’ Player of the Year. He also won the coveted Macron Golden Gloves Award for the best record of clean sheets in the league, keeping 20 in 42 appearances in all competitions.

Surprisingly, having played such an important part in getting them promotion, he wasn’t sold or loaned to Norwich for the following season but loaned to Celtic who were managed by Neil Lennon at the time. This was the start of four successful campaigns at Parkhead, for the first two, he was still on loan. In 2012-13 Celtic finally paid £2million for his signature. He was voted Players’ Player of the Year for 2012-13 and the following season too.

He won three league titles, two Scottish Cups and a League Cup too. In his first five full seasons of football he won four league titles and a total of seven trophies. You’d have thought all the biggest English clubs would’ve been chasing him, but it was Southampton who turned up at Celtic, pushed £10million through their letterbox and took the big man to the south coast.

There followed eight seasons at the Saints, some periods out injured and out of favour, but given they are one of those Premier League clubs who can’t win anything, can’t get into the European places and just aimlessly drift through each season with little threat of being relegated but little chance of even a modicum of success, it must have been an unsatisfactory time for Fraser, especially after four league titles in his first five years. He did pick up a League Cup runners-up medal in 2017 but in 2019-20 he returned on loan to Celtic and promptly won the league once more, before returning to Southampton to see out his contract.

He played 24 times last season, but his move away from the club was long overdue for this excellent ‘keeper and being reserve to Lloris at Spurs is a considerable step up and gives him a chance to be part of a team that at least has a decent chance of winning something. It’ll also involve a decent pay rise in return for sitting on the bench, which is hardly a stressful lifestyle choice.

He was capped six times by Roy Hodgson between 2013 and 2016 and went to the disastrous 2016 Euro as Joe Hart’s understudy. Given Hart’s form, he was unlucky not to get a chance to prove his worth. He recently came back into the England squad as cover. He’s always been capable of outrageous saves. I can’t help feeling he wasted the best years of his career at Southampton and should’ve moved four or five years ago. However, given goalies can play at 40, there’s a strong chance of late career success in north London.

Fraser Forster during a match for England
Why the love?
The thing that stands out about Fraser throughout his career is his ability as a shot stopper. He sticks pretty much to his line and relies on quick footwork and telescopic arms.

While he is absolutely massive in height, he isn’t a bulky unit and this makes him incredibly agile and can get down quickly. He has often gone on extended runs of clean sheets – at one point not letting in a goal for Celtic in 13 consecutive games.

He may have suffered because of the current fashion for goalkeepers to be as good with their feet as outfield players. In the early days he was very much the classic boot it long keeper but in recent years has improved his kicking a lot and because long ball football is making a comeback as ‘vertical play’ it is no longer any issue for him.

When you see him in goal, it’s not just that he is a big presence in terms of height, his wingspan is absolutely incredible. So in one-on-ones, when he advances on you, arms outstretched, he is enormous. On top of that he has such strong arms and fast feet, so he’s in position quickly.  He reminds me of Manuel Neuer in his ability to leap and twist himself into unlikely positions to make saves. He’s also calm. There is no chest thumping about him even after saving penalties.

He’s especially good at batting the ball away with a long strong arm in a way which makes it appear he is swatting a troublesome fly. The days when goalkeepers left the line to pluck a ball out of the air on the penalty spot amongst a crowd of players seems to be over. You’ve got to be good on your line, you’ve got to be able to go down, get up and go down again super fast. Apparently, that is what most training sessions are based around. And that plays to Forster’s strengths.

He has suffered dips in form and when a goalie does that, it is all too obvious. It is the most exposed position. Outfield players all make mistakes in every game, misplacing passes, mistiming tackles, slicing a ball over the bar. But when you’re between the sticks, do any of these things and you’re in trouble. Over a long career, there isn’t a keeper that hasn’t had dodgy periods, it’s how you come back from them that is the true test of a player’s mettle.

The fact he finds himself at one of the big six clubs as he approaches his mid-30s is at least some late recognition of his talents. It is recognition he’s always had in Scotland.

Johnny Nic on… Manuel Neuer | David Seaman


Three great moments
A fantastic reel of saves. He’s so good on his line…

A great penalty save. Look at how strong and rigid his arm is…

Basically, he won the Cup for Celtic almost single-handedly…

Future days?
Being a goalie is different to any other position. For a start you can only play in goal. Every other player can potentially play in a different position or formation or using different tactics. Goalies just stay in goal.

But the reserve keeper is an even more unique role because you know you’re mostly only going to play in the League Cup games or if the first choice gets injured. But keepers do get injured, as Forster himself knows, so there is every chance an early injury to Lloris will see him step in for a long stretch of games. But equally he may not play a single Premier League game all season long. So it’s a new challenge for him in many different ways.

It will be good for him to be back at a big club, albeit one not as big as Celtic and an England call-up is far from impossible with the three current incumbents all much of a muchness. If Gareth Southgate loses faith in Jordan Pickford, he could do worse than get the big Northumbrian in.

Keepers often reach their peak in their 30s as they have the experience to get positioning right more often than not. There’s no reason at all why he can’t have two excellent seasons and play a lot of games, after all Lloris – a keeper who has made his share of mistakes over the years – is actually a year older.  The big man could be heading for a big end to his career as Antonio Conte will surely want to be pushing for honours in the coming season.

More Related Articles