Interview: Fraser Forster, Celtic FC goalkeeper

Celtic's on-loan No.1 is looking forward to his Old Firm debut and the fans' favourite doesn't intend to let the hype get to him, writes Martin Hannan

• Standing tall: Fraser Forster has proved a hit for Celtic. Photograph: Alan Harvey/SNS

Never mind pressure on Old Firm debutant referees, what about the burden that sits on possibly nine pairs of shoulders set to wear Celtic's colours today?

As many as eight outfield players could be making their debut in the world's most famous derby match, while the man between the sticks for Celtic will definitely be featuring against Rangers for the first time.

On loan for the season from Newcastle United, the giant young goalkeeper Fraser Forster has quickly become a hit with the Celtic fans, and four clean sheets out of eight have put him at the top of the SPL's goalkeeping ranks.

So even in the midst of their obsession with today's first Old Firm encounter, those fans may just be diverted by the news that the 22-year-old has had no indication that he will be recalled to Newcastle United in January, as had been feared when the Toon's first choice goalkeeper, Steve Harper, picked up a long-term injury last month.

"There could be a recall thing in January, but I'm fairly confident that won't be used," said the personable Geordie, who is as laid back a character as you will find in football.

"They were saying the other day that at the start of December Steve Harper will be fit. Provided he doesn't have any setbacks, I don't see that there will be a problem. That's my indication, though that might be out of hope more than anything." It is clear that Forster is loving his time at Parkhead and would probably not relish the return to St James's Park to slot in at number three behind Tim Krul in the pecking order.

He said: "The last time I was there we were alternating on the bench and obviously I was out on loan for all of last season, Harps got injured and Tim's playing at the moment.

"For me I want to be playing week in, week out rather than sitting around waiting on someone to get injured. Hoping for a chance isn't really what I want to do, I just want to be playing and experiencing that.

"Playing regularly is what makes the big difference at the end of the day. You can all do the training you like, but it's about playing games, and racking up the experience.

"At 22, I've played 65 games now so it's just about keeping adding on games especially when you're playing at such a massive club that can only push you on."

When asked about a possible deal to buy Forster, his current manager had to admit that none was on the table at the moment, but Neil Lennon went out of his way to praise the youngster, offering comparison of a kind to the departed number one, Artur Boruc.

"He has given us an air of stability," said Lennon. "He's got a great presence about him and for one so young he shows great maturity. His handling's been good, he's decent on crosses and we feel we've got a good goalkeeper there.

"Another thing I like about him is that he's not emotional. He's probably totally different from Artur in terms of personality, but you can see the same sort of qualities there.

"Boruc was a kenspeckle figure, to say the least, at Old Firm matches, but Forster can be expected to let his gloves and not his t-shirt do the talking.

He is certainly anticipating today's match with relish and in common with several colleagues, his first tasting of the unique atmosphere of an Old Firm match will come from playing in it.

"I have seen a few on telly," said Forster, "but it will be a completely different experience in person and actually playing in it, and I just can't wait to get involved and sample the atmosphere.

"It's obviously something that is new for me and new for a lot of the lads, and I don't think there is any game that will compare to this."

The making of Forster's career was his loan spell last season at Norwich City where manager Paul Lambert and team-mate Stephen Hughes both had experienced Old Firm games for Celtic and Rangers respectively.

"Paul Lambert has told me a lot about it and he said he would give me a ring after the game and ask how it was," said Forster. "He told me just what a big game it is and Stephen Hughes has been involved himself and said it's an unbelievable game. I just can't wait to sample it myself. Any nerves will be turned to his advantage: "It's a good thing to be nervous before every game as it makes you focus a bit more and concentrate a bit harder, so a bit of nerves is always good."

The hype off the field contrasts with the business-as-usual attitude in training: "We just tend to focus on what we have done over the last few weeks and work hard in training.

We just want to go out and play our own game and do the same things that we do week in and week out."

Looking back on his stay in Scotland so far, the level-headed Forster allowed himself a rare foray into excitement: "It's been fantastic. It's a massive club, we're playing in front of big crowds week in, week out and the fans, even for away games, are unbelievable. The number of Celtic fans who travel away from home is magnificent. It's just been a massive step up for me, and I'm loving every second of it."

Ask him about his personal performances and Forster is immediately business-like again: "I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I've been doing all right and been fairly happy, but there are always things you want to work on in training and get better at.

"That's life, you'll never be perfect in everything you do, so you've just got to work hard and try and progress as a player.

"You just want to go out and play your best and do the best you can. You're delighted if you've come off and you've had a great game, but if do nothing for 90 minutes, I will be even happier."

That last remark sums up the big goalkeeper's sanguine approach to his trade, but even the most ardent Celtic fan would tell Cool Hand Forster that he is unlikely to get a "do nothing" time against Rangers.

JOHN VALENTINE

Signed from Queens Park a few months earlier, Valentine made his ninth appearance for Rangers in the League Cup final against Celtic on 19 October, 1957. The big centre-half had a nightmare and Celtic centre-forward Billy McPhail notched a hat-trick as Jimmy McGrory's side won 7-1, a record scoreline in a British cup final as well as the biggest win in 120 seasons of Old Firm clashes. He never played for the first team again before being sold to St Johnstone.

PETER VAN VOSSEN

As mentioned by Tosh McKinlay (opposite page), the striker's Rangers career effectively ended even though his side were derby winners. He started just one more match in Scotland before being sold to Feyenoord almost two years later.

FERNANDO RICKSEN

Another Dutch disgrace. The 3.75m signing from AZ Alkmaar lasted just 22 minutes of his debut at Parkhead on 27 August, 2000.

Tormented by Celtic winger Bobby Petta, he was subbed by Dick Advocaat with Rangers already 3-0 down and on their way to a 6-2 defeat.

He was also sent off in his second Old Firm match (another defeat) but recovered to win seven trophies before being sold by Paul Le Guen following a drunken episode on a flight to South Africa.

IAN ANDREWS

The 23-year-old goalkeeper was Billy McNeill's only signing (300,000 from Swindon) following the double-winning 1987/88 season. In his third appearance, at Ibrox on 27 August, he was on the receiving end of a 5-1 thumping.

He played twice more (losing four more goals) before being sent on loan to Leeds United and then sold to Southampton for 200,000 the following summer.

REGI BLINKER

The makeweight when general manager Jock Brown infamously "traded" him for fans' favourite Paolo Di Canio contributed absolutely nothing as a Richard Gough goal gave Rangers a 1-0 victory on November 8, 1997.

Blinker, left, made enough appearances to claim a championship medal that season but started only 36 league games in three seasons before being released.

SCOTT MARSHALL

The Southampton reserve, whose brother and father (both called Gordon) had also played for the Hoops, made his debut for the club on 2 May, 1999, the day after his 26th birthday

However, there were to be no happy returns for the centre-half, who produced a plodding performance and was culpable at the final goal as Rangers won 3-0.

It's the only time they have clinched the title at Parkhead and Marshall never featured for Celtic again, finishing his career with Brentford and Wycombe.

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