He’s better than James

The sudden freezing of football stole from supporters the chance to say farewell to playing heroes like Ayr United’s Alan Forrest. We should hold on to our thanks until the time comes to express them.

By Ally Palmer

Words of comfort from us to you during football’s coronavirus absence. A reminder that some day the game will be back with all its nonsense and beauty intact. Here to cheer you up or help you wallow in melancholy until kick-off comes again. We can get through this.

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Seeing players like him come through the Academy is one of the great joys of supporting your team, but he also happens to be a damned fine player who does things a little differently and is really difficult to categorise.

He’s better than James.
He’s better than James.
Alan Forrest.
He’s better than James.

Ok, maybe he’s not, but I’ve been watching and admiring Alan Forrest, the brother of Celtic’s James, ever since he made his competitive debut for my team, Ayr United. That debut took place in the summer of 2013, at Hampden Park of all places.

Alan came off the bench to score an 87th minute winner in a Challenge Cup tie against Queen’s Park. With that goal, he also became the club’s youngest scorer, aged just 16 years and 321 days.

On Tuesday 10 March 2020, he played what was to be his last game for Ayr United, in an away match at Dundee. I wasn’t there to witness it, and it hurts.

If I’d known I’d have given up my regular 8-a-side game and made the trip to Dens Park. I’d have spent the entire 90 minutes watching his every move, his off-the-ball runs, his game intelligence, with Mogwai soundtracking the new version of Douglas Gordon’s Zidane film that I’d be directing in my head. If only I’d known.

So many other footballers may have already played their final games for their clubs. Some, with retirement planned for the end of this season, their final games ever. In what had been an open secret, it was finally announced on 10 April that Forrest had signed a pre-contract agreement with Livingston. And I genuinely wish him all the best.

I’m not exactly sure why he’s meant so much to me in the seven years he’s been in the first team, even more so than the great Lawrence Shankland. But a lot of it is down to the fact that this admiration is shared; my son and daughter are Forrest fans too. The image for our ‘Ayr United chat’ WhatsApp group is of him captured in that debut year. I don’t know if any of us will have the heart to change it next season.

Seeing players like him come through the Academy is one of the great joys of supporting your team, but he also happens to be a damned fine player who does things a little differently and is really difficult to categorise.

In fact, that is so much the case that he splits the Ayr fans. I’ve fallen out with a few people who’ve been overly critical. One, a chap who stands at the same barrier as us most weeks, once made the mistake of moaning at our wee Alan for not winning a header against a towering centre half. He ‘didnae even jump’, he claimed, which of course made him ‘useless’. I usually keep to myself at games, but this time felt a compulsion to defend Alan’s decision to not somehow be taller all of a sudden. Further, I pointed out that players like Forrest are the main reason I make a 160-mile-round-trip every second Saturday. Plus, not challenging for one header he was going to lose anyway did not render the goal he had already scored that day ‘useless.’ We agreed to disagree but at the next home game he offered me one of his sweets, so maybe it was worth it in the end.

If you think you may have seen the last of one of your team’s great players then spare a thought when they do eventually visit your home ground again, whenever that may be. Give them the love you would have given them if you had seen their last game. Give them that final round of applause you’ve spent the last few months wishing you could have given them. Give them the affection that they deserve one last time. Well, at least until kick-off.

Alan Forrest’s debut goal…

And what turned out to be his last goal for the club. Watch from 6:30 to 7:25…

Words of comfort from us to you during football’s coronavirus absence. A reminder that some day the game will be back with all its nonsense and beauty intact. Here to cheer you up or help you wallow in melancholy until kick-off comes again. We can get through this.

Issue 18
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