The road to Slough Town’s number one – Rhys Forster’s unique route to the top of non-league football

Rhys Forster. Photo: George Beck.
Rhys Forster. Photo: George Beck.

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Part one of an in-depth interview with Slough Town goalkeeper Rhys Forster, charting his somewhat unique route to the top of non-league football.

Slough Town recorded their first three-point haul since September and their first maximum under the Scott Davies regime with a 3-1 victory at the manager’s old club Oxford City on Boxing Day. It took a key save from goalkeeper Rhys Forster to keep the scoresheet blank before the Rebels took the lead and the much-travelled young shot-stopper seems to have found a home and the support he needs and deserves at Arbour Park.

Forster wasn’t destined to be a talented goalkeeper from an early age though, and the outgoing 23-year-old has not enjoyed the traditional privileged Academy upbringing that many young players even at Step 2 have enjoyed. Speaking exclusively to Football In Berkshire, Rhys recalled how different his early playing days looked when compared to where he is now: “My footballing story is definitely a unique one. Playing Football wasn’t really my passion or hobby growing up. I would never say I wanted to be a footballer, in fact, I always wanted to be a policeman as a kid! I enjoyed playing sports in general and found myself playing a lot of tennis but football wasn’t a biggie. It wasn’t till the age of 16 that I became close mates with someone at school who was football obsessed and I found myself going to watch matches with him. I started getting into it more and playing more in the park to the point where my friend was looking into doing a football college course instead of a normal course which appealed to me at the time, being the hyperactive kid I’ve always been.”

Read Part Two: ‘Finding football kept me sane and out of trouble’ – Rhys Forster’s unique route to the top of non-league football

Rhys continues: “A normal study course at college didn’t seem of interest, so I started looking into these football courses as well! Obviously, I didn’t think much of it and didn’t really expect to get accepted as I wasn’t the greatest footballer at the time. I ended up trialling at a few places and got accepted into one with the Brentford college programme, linked with West Thames College. I didn’t take any time to think about it, I accepted it straight away and started my life as a part-time right-back, part-time college student.”

If the ‘keeper never got injured against Staines would I be where I am today? Would I have just carried on being a mediocre right-back who can head the ball?

Life has many ‘Sliding Doors’ moments for all of us, and one such moment for Rhys Forster came early in his college football career: “After three months of many failed attempts playing right-back, our keeper had gone down injured in one of our games versus Staines Town College. Me not giving a care in the world took the gloves from him and proceeded to play the next 70 minutes in goal. A top-corner save and a penalty save followed and I found myself buzzing with my performance in between the sticks. The manager at the time (former Wycombe Wanderers defender) Dan Senda – who was assisted by (Maidenhead United assistant-manager) Ryan Peters – joked about me bringing gloves into training next session which I took seriously. I found myself some Sondico gloves and turned up to training the next day a new man!”

After a few months of beginning to learn his trade as a goalkeeper – a discipline that Rhys describes with typical honesty as “f***ing hard” – he found himself slowly getting to grips with it. “I spent hours and hours during the summer holiday having my mates pelt shots at me and after a while found myself feeling comfortable in the net. So crazy looking back on how things happened and worked out! It’s so crazy when you think I have gone from not kicking a ball at the age of 16 to finding myself playing every day for three months as a right-back to eventually becoming a goalkeeper and playing non-league football with CB Hounslow all within the same year! If the ‘keeper never got injured against Staines would I be where I am today? Would I have just carried on being a mediocre right-back who can head the ball?”

The move to Slough Town

The journey from West London to Slough is not an arduous one but Forster has taken the circuitous route, via CB Hounslow, Ashford Town, Met Police, Maidenhead United, Walton & Hersham, Hampton & Richmond and Bagshot. But he is beginning to feel at home in the tough environment of the National League South, defending the goal against some big-budget ambitious sides.

Rhys Forster. Photo: George Beck.
Rhys Forster. Photo: George Beck.

The move to Slough came about late into last season: “They weren’t sure what was happening with Northy (Jonathan North) at the time and they were looking to bring in another keeper just in case and for competition. David Hunt was the first person who told Bakes and Unders (former Rebels joint-bosses Neil Baker and Jon Underwood) about me and was very adamant they had a look at me. Just as the season was ending, I played in a trial game that Slough had arranged to have a look at some players to potentially bring them in for pre-season and I was lucky enough to be one of the two that were invited back. My time so far has been exciting. At first, I was obviously the number two which I’ve always found difficult at any club I’ve been at as not playing games didn’t seem an option to me, but due to some circumstances in the summer I decided taking the offer at Slough was my best option. Since then a lot has changed and I’m now the trusted number one thanks to Bakes and Unders who were incredible with me in the short time I worked with them. I’ve loved every minute of it, even though a lot has happened behind the scenes and results haven’t been the best recently. I’ve still had a smile on my face which is the main thing in football to me!”

Taking a step down to make the step up

It is likely that Forster’s form at Step 6 with Bagshot last season may have attracted the attention which led to that career-changing trial. Moving down to the Combined Counties League Division 1 after playing at a higher level may not otherwise have been attractive for Rhys, were he not helping out an old friend – as he explains: “Last season was a funny old one for me, not one I look back on fondly and definitely something I wouldn’t want to fall back into. I struggled from the start of pre-season to settle anywhere. I was at Bromley for the whole of pre-season and things didn’t end up working up there which left me club-less two days before the season had started. After a few games at Walton and then being the number 2 at Hampton I felt football was becoming more a chore than a hobby and I wanted to take a full step back from the game to get my head right, on the pitch and off the pitch. After a week off sitting on my arse and being lost on a Saturday, an old gaffa of mine who has looked after me in every way from the age of 17 had taken the job at Bagshot who were rock bottom of Step 6 with nine points in January.”

“The moment I got the text from him about potentially going to play for him again and regain my love for the game it was a no-brainer. It was always going to be a task to keep Bagshot up but I knew that with the players that Barry Chapman would be able to bring in and with the coaching staff we had we could make it very possible. At first, I did find it hard to enjoy the football side of it again but being around so many friendly faces with a club full of such good people, it was a breath of fresh air and it was very easy to find my love again. The achievement of keeping Bagshot up with two games to spare will always stick with me. At this present time, it’s probably my biggest achievement in football considering the circumstances we walked into when we first arrived.”

That experience of fighting it out in the lower-reaches of the table will stand the Slough Town ‘keeper in good stead as he aims to play his part in helping Scott Davies to avoid a Rebel relegation.

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