‘Finding football kept me sane and out of trouble’ – 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 two 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 goalkeeper Rhys Forster may be loving life playing at Step 2 these days, but the 23-year-old had to overcome a disadvantageous upbringing to get to where he is today.

Forster spoke exclusively to Football In Berkshire when he reflected with typical honesty and understatement: “My childhood was challenging but sadly that’s a normal thing for kids nowadays. As a young kid I was in between foster homes a lot. My Mum and Dad weren’t around so found it hard to settle and call somewhere home. I was a very badly behaved kid and foster parents would find it difficult to control me which led to constant moving. It wasn’t till I was 8 that my Nan got full custody of me and I found myself living in London. I spent the rest of my childhood living at my Nan’s house which I’ve always been grateful for, for what she did to save me. I still found it hard in schools etc. and still brought that ‘misbehaving kid’ along with me.”

“I ended up getting expelled from one school and having to find another, being dropped a year and struggling with grades. I’m so thankful for how things worked out in my life and I will carry my experiences from the things I can remember even as a little boy to now. The lessons I learned were very tough but there are always others struggling worse and I’ve always tried to be open and help where I can when I see others facing the same challenges. My childhood in many ways was negative but I look back with so much joy that things worked out in the end and I didn’t carry on down the path I was walking. I have so many people to thank for that. My family who took me in, the amazing people I’ve met in football along the way and the friends I’ve made. Most importantly the thing that’s kept me sane was finding football at 16 years old and falling in love with it and nothing can ever take that away from me.”

Read Part One: 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.

Taking that ‘different path’ did not lead Forster into the privileged world of the Academy footballer and the youngster shrewdly described the knockbacks he has suffered so far which have clearly made him the strong character he is. Rhys explains: “The Brentford college course was the closest I came to that sort of lifestyle, but it was completely different to what you see in a pro-Academy set up. I ended up going into 5 different clubs from the age of 17-19 on trial, where I learned a lot about Academies but wasn’t successful in any. I always found myself chasing full-time football even to this day as it’s something I’ve never experienced and it would be great to see what level I could reach training full-time. I look back on how football went for me as a young adult and I think I’m happy with how it went, even though I wasn’t in an Academy. I feel I’ve learned so much about football coming through the non-league system like I have. You have many more ups and downs and it prepares you for the hardship you experience along the way.”

“I’ve forever been grateful to Barry Chapman”

That hardship started in earnest at CB Hounslow: “CB Hounslow was such a good place to be. I’ve forever been grateful to Barry Chapman who was the manager there at the time for everything he continues to contribute in my life. This was the place I first found my love for the game and it just grew and grew the longer I spent there. It was my first taste of non-league football at the age of 17 and I felt like I was at home! I made a few mistakes first couple of games but Barry being the person he is didn’t care about that, because he saw potential in a young ‘keeper and stuck by me till he felt the time was right for me to test myself at Step 3 with Met Police. Some of the people I met at CB Hounslow all them years ago are still very close to me and I wouldn’t trade them two years with them for anything. I’m forever in debt to everyone down there who helped me push on to bigger and better as a football and a human.”

“Met Police was where it started for me really. I had come from CB Hounslow at Step 5 which felt like a big jump at the time, especially considering my age. The people involved at that club are incredible and have always been so friendly and very welcoming when I first arrived. It was such an easy place to adapt to and I found myself catching up with the level pretty quickly. I’m thankful for having the gaffa there put his trust in me from the start to be his number one over two seasons, one of which was cut short for Covid. Overall, my time at Met was definitely the kickstart I needed in my career and I couldn’t speak more highly of the club even to this day. You might even catch me at a few games there!”

Attracting attention

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

Forster’s form at Imber Court attracted the attention of Maidenhead United in the National League who were looking for cover for the talented Taye Ashby-Hammond. Thanks to Forster’s relationship with Magpies assistant boss Ryan Peters – who coached the young goalkeeper during his time in the Brentford college scheme – a loan move was arranged, a period he describes warmly as “valuable” and “humbling”. “I really enjoying working with Liam (Vaughan) the Goalkeeping coach and Ryan who I’ve known for a while. I definitely came out of it a better goalkeeper thanks to everyone there, but the main thing was what I learned about the level, what I would need to do to be at that level and how things run as prior to this I had only been playing Step 3 at Met Police.”

From York Road, the next destination for Rhys on his journey was The Beveree, via Bromley. “My time at Hampton [& Richmond Borough] was short but sweet. I did enjoy being involved at the club as it has many great people on and off the pitch but obviously being number two was the hard part, being behind Alan Julian made it even harder. I felt like I was at the right stage to be testing myself at that level so was waiting for the opportunity, but found it hard to stay attached to it. A lot of things were happening behind the scenes and slowly I felt myself letting go of football and felt it was right to take some time away from it and I didn’t want to become a burden for them.”

‘That level’ – namely Step 2 – is now ‘home’ for Forster, who valiantly took the drop-down to Step 6 to be noticed and he has not looked back since making his most recent stop-off at Slough Town. Appreciative Rhys added: “Everyone down there (at Slough) has made it very easy to settle in. It is a great environment with top people throughout the club which makes it easy to motivate myself for training and matches when you are around such experienced and open people.” A motivated Rhys Forster is sure to be good news for Slough Town and Scott Davies.

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