Duncan Forbes: The story of a Norwich City legend
PUBLISHED: 13:15 24 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:21 24 October 2019
Football has changed an awful lot since Duncan Forbes was a player. On and off the pitch.
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'."
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.
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.
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.
Duncan Forbes. The voice that will live long in the history of Norwich City Football Club.
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