Pat Bonner admitted that he felt nervous watching on television as England manager Roy Hodgson announced his 23-man squad for next month’s World Cup finals in Brazil, exhaling only when Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s inclusion was confirmed.
Bonner, now a Uefa technical instructor charged by the ruling body with developing a specialist goalkeeping coaching course, famously took the Republic of Ireland into the last eight at Italia 90 after saving a penalty by Romania’s Daniel Timofte during a penalty shoot-out.
He also starred for Jack Charlton’s side at Euro 88 and the World Cup finals in the USA six years later while making 641 appearances for Celtic, a club record for the position. Now he believes that Forster can go on to emulate his achievements without leaving Parkhead.
“I’m absolutely delighted for him,” said Bonner. “I was glued to the box yesterday waiting for the squad to come out. I had a feeling it was going to happen, although we know that Dave Watson is the Norwich goalkeeper coach and the England goalkeeper coach. Leaving out John Ruddy was a huge decision for him. I think he’s very professional, Roy Hodgson, and he went about his business in the right way. They made it a choice based on ability, not on emotion or anything of that nature. If you’re playing here in the Champions League you’re in the spotlight.
“People need to take that into consideration. I don’t think the league form…I’ve always said it, when you play with Celtic, it mimics international football rather than club football. If you think about the bottom half of the Premier League, you’re under pressure all the time, you’re making saves, but that’s not actually replicating international football at all. That’s about making your big saves at the right moment. It’s a slower tempo, very tactical. So I think playing for Celtic in some ways resembles that, because you’re not going to be making saves all the time.”
In any case, Bonner argues that Forster will impress Hodgson more by holding his own in club football’s most prestigious competition than he would by turning out every week for a struggling Premier League club, pointing out that others who have followed that route do not always improve their international prospects. Gary Hooper left last summer but, having come close to a call-up from Hodgson, fell off the radar as he struggled to adapt.
“[Fraser] definitely doesn’t need to leave Celtic,” he said. “Take Gary Hooper, for example. He’s gone down to Norwich, he’s not quite getting in the team and you can get forgotten about very quickly. When he was here, playing in Europe and scoring goals, people were talking about him but who’s writing about him this year? The grass may look greener somewhere else but it doesn’t always work out.”
Bonner does not anticipate Celtic having to fend off potential suitors for Forster this summer, even though he believes he will automatically improve as a result of being part of the greatest show on Earth. .
“I think he has to play to put himself in the shop window and the likelihood of that is minimal,” he said. “But what he needs to do is go in there really prepared and thinking that moment might come – because if you don’t prepare for it you might get caught out. You have to be ready to play if called upon.
“You can’t buy that kind of experience and Fraser is going to get it all first hand. He’s going to be working with good players, a top class manager and right now he should be setting himself some key goals to use that experience.”
Bonner, who was Jock Stein’s final signing for Celtic, was speaking to publicise the launch of a biography of Sean Fallon, the former Celtic player and assistant manager and the man who first spotted him.
“He epitomised what Celtic Football Club was all about – he portrayed that,” said Bonner. “Any parent sending their kid over to another country would have trusted Sean. There was a real warmth about him and he was always true to his word. When I came over to start work in July, 1978, Sean had left the club – but he kept working on their behalf.
“Whenever you met him he would ask you about your family and ask you how things were – and not just the football but your life. He would also invite you round to his house for dinner so he was still doing a job for the club without being paid and without them even knowing about it.
“I don’t even know that he realised it himself but for me it was absolutely essential that there was somebody like him around.”
• Sean Fallon – Celtic’s Iron Man by Stephen Sullivan (£19.99 Back Page Press).