Duncan Forbes: The story of a Norwich City legend

PUBLISHED: 13:15 24 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:21 24 October 2019

Duncan Forbes holding aloft the Division Two trophy at City Hall  in 1972 Picture: Archant

Duncan Forbes holding aloft the Division Two trophy at City Hall in 1972 Picture: Archant

Football has changed an awful lot since Duncan Forbes was a player. On and off the pitch.

Duncan Forbes heading goalwards during the 1973 League Cup final against Spurs at Wembley Picture: ArchantDuncan Forbes heading goalwards during the 1973 League Cup final against Spurs at Wembley Picture: Archant

Forbes had a robust style of play that wouldn't survive the limitations of 21st century football, where the tackle is slowly but surely being outlawed and where players drop to their knees at the merest touch.

Ironic, really, that it served him so well: he made 357 appearances for Norwich City but was never sent off, although a columnist for The Times once noted: "Forbes got his customary booking; the referee ought to take his name in the changing room rather than on the pitch thus saving time."

No matter, he was an iconic figure amongst the Norwich City faithful, and deservedly so. Forbes was the sort of player who commanded attention, not by words, but deeds. His was a game that required discipline, bravery and leadership.

He himself told a story about a tournament in Portugal where Dundee were also playing: "After a couple off days they heard my voice and someone shouted out of the window to me, 'keep your voice down to a roar'."

Norwich City legend Duncan Forbes Picture: Archant LibraryNorwich City legend Duncan Forbes Picture: Archant Library

One of Forbes' great achievements was leading City to the Second Division title in 1971-72 to put the club into the top flight for the first time in their history.

He missed 18 league and cup games because of a hamstring injury - for a tough, no-nonsense defender it was remarkable that this was his first serious injury. He called it the worst period of his footballing career: "I had never been injured before and I was beginning to worry about it."

But back he came, and played a crucial part in City going up, with the only goal of the game at home to Sheffield Wednesday and then Swindon Town - inevitably, both headed goals, as he climbed high and unmarked to leave the net bulging.

As is tradition, it led to an appearance before thousands of fans on the balcony at City Hall, where he was greeted with chants of 'we are the champions' - not the Queen version, of course, but the anthemic almost naive terrace call of the time - and held the trophy aloft.

Norwich City legend Duncan Forbes with former team-mate and good friend Dave Stringer in October 1996 Picture: Archant LibraryNorwich City legend Duncan Forbes with former team-mate and good friend Dave Stringer in October 1996 Picture: Archant Library

This was the jumpers for goalposts era, the stuff of mud and guts and glory. Of brains and brawn.

For those of us whose footballing lives were influenced in the 70s, Norwich City on Anglia TV's Match of the Week on a Sunday afternoon was staple viewing. Paddon, Stringer, Keelan, Saunders, Forbes. They were the men we aspired to be, the players we looked up to. Forbes had it all: strength, leadership, respect. We all wanted that. We all wanted to be leaders.

When the TV commentator Gerry Harrison asked Forbes what he considered his role to be, the reply was: "Apart from your usual, defensive roles, the main thing is you have got to shout at the lads, encourage them, and keep them going. I've got quite a loud voice and this helps me tremendously."

Forbes was associated with City for more than three decades - another remarkable statistic that is unlikely to be replicated in the modern era - during which time his work included organising travel to away games, a period when he enjoyed working alongside supporters, travelling with them and, typically Forbes, befriending them. The man from Edinburgh was a man of the people.

Duncan Forbes leaps above Arsenal's Terry Mancini in 1976 Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes leaps above Arsenal's Terry Mancini in 1976 Picture: Archant Library

But a few years after his retirement it was revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, eventually moving into a care home.

His widow, Janette, spoke carefully and movingly on the effect it had on her and her husband, the dreadful way it changes live forever, with harrowing stories of Duncan Forbes that perhaps only she was privvy to.

"It's important to say that none of this was Duncan… not the real Duncan... It was the disease."

It is so difficult to remember Duncan Forbes in his playing days and then think of the anguish they both went through. But we must if we are to understand the illness. And we must if we are to remember the truly great man that was Duncan Forbes.

Against Derby in October, 1975 Picture: Archant LibraryAgainst Derby in October, 1975 Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes. The voice that will live long in the history of Norwich City Football Club.

- If you would like to pay tribute to the Canaries legend, leave a comment below or email norfolksport@archant.co.uk

Duncan Forbes enjoying success in front of fans at City Hall Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes enjoying success in front of fans at City Hall Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes walking out alongside fellow City hero Martin Peters for his testimonial game in 1978 Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes walking out alongside fellow City hero Martin Peters for his testimonial game in 1978 Picture: Archant Library

A testimonial appearance in 1978 Picture: Archant LibraryA testimonial appearance in 1978 Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes and the famous Mousehold Heath training sessions under manager Ron Saunders Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes and the famous Mousehold Heath training sessions under manager Ron Saunders Picture: Archant Library

Training on Mousehold Heath Picture: Archant LibraryTraining on Mousehold Heath Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes followed by Kevin Keelan - alongside another legendary keeper, Pat Jennings Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes followed by Kevin Keelan - alongside another legendary keeper, Pat Jennings Picture: Archant Library

Here we go - Duncan Forbes running out at Carrow Road Picture: Archant LibraryHere we go - Duncan Forbes running out at Carrow Road Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes, Kevin Keelan and Ted MacDougall ahead of the 1975 League Cup final defeat to Aston Villa Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes, Kevin Keelan and Ted MacDougall ahead of the 1975 League Cup final defeat to Aston Villa Picture: Archant Library

A young Duncan Forbes Picture: Archant LibraryA young Duncan Forbes Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes - showing his true colours Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes - showing his true colours Picture: Archant Library

Duncan Forbes training alongside in Colin Sullivan Picture: Archant LibraryDuncan Forbes training alongside in Colin Sullivan Picture: Archant Library

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