Craig Forrest: Champions! That Blues dream season 30 years on

Craig Forrest celebrates winning the league with Chris Kiwomya and Jason Dozzell in 1992

Craig Forrest, left, celebrates winning the league with Chris Kiwomya and Jason Dozzell in 1992. - Credit: Archant

It's exactly 30 years ago today that Ipswich Town won the Second Division championship after a 1-1 draw at Oxford, and with it promotion to the inaugural Premiership. MIKE BACON caught up with Blues goalkeeper at that time, CRAIG FORREST, to talk about that season... and more.

Craig Forrest pictured alongside captain David Linighan as the Blues won the second division title i

Craig Forrest pictured alongside captain David Linighan as the Blues won the second division title in 1992 - Credit: Archant

You know it's going to be a fun interview when Craig Forrest is with you on a zoom call and all his prized Ipswich Town goalkeeping shirts are displayed in the background.

Just a few memories for Craig, and all of us, of a successful footballing career, both at Portman Road and on the international stage.

From a young teenager flown into England to pursue his dreams in 1984, to keeping goal for the country of his birth, Canada, Forrest achieved much and remembers even more. So, where do we start? How about at the beginning?

"Oh, what great times I had at Ipswich," Forrest says in his wonderful Canadian accent that has never deserted him despite the decades he spent in England.

"I was 16 when I arrived and went to Ipswich. It was 1984. They were still in the top flight and Bobby Ferguson had just taken over from Bobby Robson.

"The first match I saw live when I arrived was against Manchester United at Portman Road. Gary Bailey was the United keeper, the place was incredible. It made me realise this is what I wanted to do. I was caught, bitten by the club from that moment on."

Craig Forrest celebrates winning the league in 1992

Craig Forrest celebrates winning the league in 1992 alongside his team-mates after drawing 1-1 at Oxford. - Credit: Archant

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Thirteen years, and more than 300 Town appearances later, Forrest, now 54, can look back at some wonderful highs and some heartbreaking lows with the Blues. None more so high than that 1991/92 season when Town won the Second Division championship. None more so low than the 0-9 defeat at Manchester United, when he was in goal, still Town's highest-ever defeat in Football League history, alongside the 1-10 defeat at Fulham in 1963.

But my conversation begins with that '91/92 team. That title-winning team.

"We had some good players that season," he said. "Phil Whelan, Neil Thompson, David Linighan. Thommo's left foot.... Boom! Boy could he hit a ball.

"Ederson, the Man City 'keeper. He can strike the ball a mile, well Neil Thompson was that guy. That's how he struck the ball.

"John Wark's presence in that side, the confidence he gave us. Everything about John was right for us. He was the leader we needed. 

"We had Paul Goddard. Unfortunately for Paul he was at end of his career, John Lyall, our boss obviously knew him from West Ham. He had terrific years at West Ham, but had lost a bit of a cutting edge. Still, he was a great addition, another great leader, good with the young players.

Ipswich Town celebrating promotion from Division 2 in 1992 after victory at Oxford fired them into t

Ipswich Town celebrating promotion from Division 2 in 1992 after victory at Oxford fired them into the new Premiership. - Credit: Archant

"And what about Jason Dozzell? We relied heavily on goals from Chris Kiwomya but Jason was amazing that season. I remember he was in the youth team when I  arrived as a 16-year-old, but he had already played in the first team - and scored, then went back to school the next day.

"I couldn't even imagine being in the first-team at 16."

Town weren't favourites to win the Second Division, back in 1992. It was the season before the beginning of the new Premiership, so promotion was more than just the big deal of winning a title. It was the opportunity to join the elite in a league that was set to become the richest in the world.

"It was a big thing for us to win the title in the way we did," Forrest said.

"We didn't want to finish second, although second went up as well. We wanted a trophy. It's a difficult league to win. It was an overall grind from start to finish and we got over the finish line. We won the league at Oxford, it was a 1-1 draw.

"Oxford was such a small ground. I don't think we had enough tickets for the amount of our fans who wanted to go. It was like Southend, away, a few weeks previous. The places were packed. 

"But Oxford went well enough, we got the draw, there was a pitch invasion. It was probably the perfect place for that because the Oxford fans were never going to give us any trouble.

"They let us have some fun. It was mayhem really, but wonderful."

It was the end to a terrific campaign, finished off with a win over Brighton at Portman Road as Town lifted the Second Division title. Six years on from being relegated from the top flight, Town were back in the big time.

"The town had been down on the football club for a few years before we got back up in '92," Forrest said. "Attendances weren't very good, mediocre at best.

"One of the tough parts for me signing for Ipswich, was that the club was coming out of a golden generation. They had won the FA Cup, UEFA Cup, there was sort of an expectation from fans, an entitlement, why aren't we doing it still? We should be doing it still.

Craig Forrest pictured during the lap of honour when the Blues won the Second Division title in 1992

Craig Forrest pictured during the lap of honour when the Blues won the Second Division title in 1992 - Credit: Archant

"So, I saw that and how players had to deal with that because I wasn't in the first team until after relegation from Division One in 1986. I saw the devastating effects of relegation.

"To put it together as we did that season in '92 was great. We went so well around Christmas and the finishing line was in sight. Having John Lyall as manager couldn't have been better for us.

"He was an incredible guy. It's hard to put into words how he was. A godfather-type figure, gangster-type figure. He could be your dad, your friend, your enemy.

"I had total respect for him. The players had total respect for him. John knew the players he wanted, the pieces he wanted to make us successful."

Success that season was a fine achievement for Ipswich Town Football Club and especially Lyall, who had taken a group of players and moulded them into champions.

And yet, today, some feel the '91/92 team are a little forgotten. While George Burley's team of 2000 won promotion into the Premiership via that wonderful Wembley play-off final against Barnsley, and have rightly been lavished with praise, Lyall's team of 1992 won the same title outright - no play-off required!

Undated file picture of John Lyall (left) pictured with Patrick Cobbold at Ipswich Town Football Clu

Brilliant Town boss, John Lyall (left) pictured with Patrick Cobbold. Lyall master-minded Town's 1992 Division Two title win. - Credit: Archant

I put that thought to Forrest. Is it a fair point? 

"Bang on!" he said.

"However, of course it's the whole magnitude of the game at Wembley, the play-off final is probably the richest game in football. All or nothing. And obviously the year 2000 is nearer back in time, so, it sort of feels greater than us actually winning the same title in 1992."

Back in '92, promotion for the Blues meant promotion to the new Premiership. How did Forrest and his team-mates feel about that once it had been achieved?

"We didn't really know the Premiership was the holy grail at that time because it was new, we did know the top flight was, though," he said.

"It was just a name change for the players back then. But what happened was the Premier League evolved into something on its own.

"Nowadays they talk about records,  it's Premier League records and more Premier League records, but that's a bit disappointing for past generations because we had top class football long before the Premier League came along."

Ipswich Town players parade the Division Two title in 1992

Ipswich Town players parade the Division Two championship trophy in 1992 - Credit: Archant

So, if we are talking records and stats, then how about this one? Craig Forrest was one of just 13 foreign players who played on the opening day of the new Premiership season in 1992. Incredible when you think of how many foreign stars grace the Premier League today.

"Oh, I know," he smiles. "It was years later I was told I was one of 13 foreigners who started the Premiership on opening day, which took me aback because I never really considered myself a foreigner. I'd been in England eight years."

Forrest played many times in the Premiership after that '92 promotion, firstly with Town and latterly with West Ham after he joined the Hammers in 1997.

"I remember every single game in the Premiership," he said. "Ipswich had some very good results early on. we got our first win at Anfield at that time. I always remember standing in the tunnel with so many big players at different grounds.

"My idol was Bruce Grobbelaar when I was growing up. He was playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps when I was just a young lad.  I had my picture taken with him in Vancouver.

"Anyhow, he ends up at Liverpool, long story short, I'm standing next to him at Anfield as we are going down the tunnel.

" I can hardly contain myself, trying to concentrate on what I need to do on the pitch. It's almost a Twilight Zone moment!"

Forrest and Town had a good start to life in the Premiership in '92/93, although they fell away that first season. And by 1995 they were on their way out of the top-flight. Lyall had been replaced by George Burley and Town lost 0-9 at Manchester United.

Is he happy to discuss it again? It still remains Town's biggest-ever defeat (alongside the 1-10 loss to Fulham).

"I have no issues talking about it," Forrest says.  "It was crazy. John Lyall had resigned, George Burley had taken over. The club was in freefall, confidence gone. Then throw in the fact Man U and Blackburn were neck and neck for the title and goal difference could come into play.

"Usually when teams get five or six up, they keep the ball, not searching for more goals. But to add more goals on their goal difference that day, Alex Ferguson said keep piling it on. I knew exactly what he was doing.

"It was a fog that seemed to last for three days not 90 minutes... seemed like the game would never end.

MEET ME AT SIR ALF STEVE MELLEN; Manchester United v Ipswich Town football; March 1995; Crai

'I thought it was 10!'. Craig Forrest in goal as Town lose 0-9 to Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Town keeper thought it was 10. - Credit: Archant

"The only good thing about it, if there is such a thing, is I actually thought it was 10!"

It wasn't an afternoon Forrest, his team-mates, or Town fans want to remember. And a long way from the day 16-year-old Forrest landed at Heathrow airport from Canada and at the beginning of his footballing dreams. Those memorable early days.

"I joined Town through a guy called Phil Trenter," he said.

"He was from Ipswich, played in the Ipswich youth team back in the day. He knew me.

"Ipswich had past foreigners who had played a role within the club, Frans Thijssen, Arnold Muhren. They'd had a manager in Bobby Robson who had done that and one of the first ones to do so as well.

"Back then there was a bit of 'can they play' in the English leagues? Was it too tough?

"Anyway, Phil knew Ron Gray the chief scout at Ipswich and mentioned me to him. Ron said if he's willing to pay his own flight and come over, then yes we'll have a look at him.

SPORTIpswich Wanderers v Ipswich Town Football 1994Ipswich goalkeeper Craig ForrestN

SPORT Ipswich Wanderers v Ipswich Town Football 1994 Ipswich goalkeeper Craig Forrest NEG 190571 - Credit: Archant

"So, that's what I did. Showed up at Heathrow, 16 years of age with all I owned, went up to Liverpool Street Station (that was another story trying to get there), and Ron picked me up at Ipswich train station.

"I went straight to St Leonard's Road in Ipswich. My old landlady was Mrs Beryl Bond and I  stayed there a couple of years in digs. She was a massive part of looking after me and my home sickness. It wasn't like today where you can chat online. To call home to Canada was about 50p a minute. Mrs Bond had a lock on the phone.. 'just in case you want to call home'. she would say, you need the key.

"I was on £25 a week when I signed and Mrs Bond was getting £35. She had to feed me with that money. But she wasn't doing it for the money, she just enjoyed it. She was wonderful, just wonderful. My second mum."

It was a daunting move for 16-year-old Craig Forrest but it was something he has never regretted - three years later he made his first-team debut for the Blues at Stoke City.

"I'd gone on loan to Colchester United for a couple of months," he said.

"That was great, 20 miles down the road, and the coaches from Ipswich could come and watch me. I liked Layer Road, it was so bad it was good! Sometimes the hot water worked, sometimes it didn't.

"But I ended back up at Ipswich at the end of, I think it was my second season. I went back to Canada and then had a call from Ipswich to say they had sold Jon Hallworth and they were going to put me in as starting keeper next year.

Craig forrest, Frank Yallop and Claus Thomsen posing with the younger Ipswich Town fans for the open

Craig Forrest, Frank Yallop and Claus Thomsen posing with younger Ipswich Town fans for the opening of the new ITFC store back in 1994. - Credit: Archant

"It was a thrill. I couldn't think of anything else after that. I was 19. My debut was at Stoke. Romeo Zondervan, Frank Yallop and all the team gave me great support. We drew 1-1. I did okay. Ipswich were patient with me. I made a few mistakes here and there."

But as the mistakes lessened, so Forrest became an established goalkeeper for the Blues and eventually Canada, where he won 56 caps. After a spell in the media after his retirement, he is enjoying life today still with media interest, and involved in podcasts.

"It's a lot of fun," he said.

"Just trying to promote and educate new soccer fans in Canada. The team is doing so well. we are in the World Cup finals of course now. The country has new fans but they don't know much about the history of Canadian football even though they are now interested in it."

And what about Ipswich Town? Does he still keep it touch with how they are doing?

"I follow them of course, but it is a little harder as they are out of the Championship," he said. "It's hard to see coverage of them.

Craig Forrest is doing his part to support those fighting coronavirus in Toronto. Picture: CRAIGFORR

Craig Forrest, always proud to be have turned out for Ipswich. - Credit: Archant

"I look back at my time there though with fondness. To come through the generations of the club, Paul Cooper, George Burley, Terry Butcher, David Linighan, Jason Dozzell and so many more. To get to know the history of the club.

"These are all the things you remember, not just games and moments."

Proud times then Craig?

"Oh yeah. Every time I walked out on the pitch with Ipswich Town, it was an absolute honour."