Forbes John Image 1 Blackburn Rovers 1890

Forbes John Image 1 Blackburn Rovers 1890


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Bonhill, Dunbartonshire born left back John Forbes was a regarded as a cultured player who relied on speed rather than power to overcome opponents. His penchant for pace probably stemmed from the fact that he began his career as a forward with Star of Leven. His slight physique meant that he could not barge opponents off the ball, but had to use more subtle methods, which often involved reading the game and using his speed to intercept the ball before opponents could gain possession.

Indeed, in an article in “The Scottish Referee” in March 1902, it was said of Forbes that in his youth, ‘so fast was he that he lost command of the ball, over running it, and waiting for it to come to him, and not vice versa’. In 1879 he joined Vale of Leven, again as a forward, but was quickly converted into a half back. However, his gift of speed and natural athleticism led him to adopt a roving commission in the role and his critics castigated him for being ‘all over the shop’. He was later converted into a right-back before being switched to the opposite flank.

It was as a left back that his talent blossomed to the extent that he was capped by Scotland. He made his Scotland debut against Ireland on 26th January 1884 at Ulster Cricket Ground, Belfast. Scotland won 5-0. Forbes played in all three of Scotland’s British Home Championship matches, Scotland winning all three and only conceding one goal. While playing for Vale of Leven he appeared in two Scottish Cup Finals, in 1883 and 1885, but had the misfortune to be on the losing side on both occasions. The 1883 Final was played at Hampden Park on 31st March 1883 and the opposition was Dumbarton. The match ended a 2-2 draw. Dumbarton won the replay, also at Hampden Park on 7th April, 2-1. Forbes would have featured in the 1884 Cup Final but, tragically, his mother died in the week of the match and the funeral was arranged for the same day as the Final. The Scottish Football Association refused to alter the date of the game and as a result Vale of Leven, out of respect for Forbes and his family, refused to participate in the match and forfeited the trophy. The 1885 Final was played at Hampden Park and the opposition was Renton. The match ended 0-0. Renton won the replay, also at Hampden Park 3-1.

Forbes returned to international duty missing just one of three British Home Championship matches in 1886-87. His first international match that season ironically was at Leamington Road, the then home of Blackburn Rovers. Scotland defeated England 3-2. Scotland also beat Wales and so Forbes had a 100% record for Scotland across his five caps. The Wales match proved Forbes’ last for Scotland as within a year he had moved to England and at that time the Scottish Football Association would not pick Scottish players playing outside of Scotland. Before the international matches Forbes was a guest player for Glasgow Rangers when they beat Lincoln City in the FA Cup Fifth Round. In March 1887 he was a member of the Rangers team that was beaten by Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final at Nantwich Road, Crewe.

Forbes then joined Blackburn Rovers in 1888 ahead of the first season of the Football League. He made his Football League debutat Wellington Road, the then home of Aston Villa on 13th October 1888 in Rovers’ fifth League fixture. The visitors lost 6-1. Forbes appeared in 16 of the 22 League matches played by Blackburn Rovers. Playing at left back, he was part of the Blackburn Rovers defence that achieved four clean sheets finishing fourth in the League Championship. Forbes also played in all five FA Cup ties including the semi-final and semi-final replay against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the latter, played at The Alexandra Ground, Crewe, Rovers lost 3-1.

The following season Rovers finished third in the League and won the FA Cup for a fourth time, beating Sheffield Wednesday 6-1 in the Final at The Kennington Oval with a Bill Townley hat-trick. Forbes scored one of his two goals for Blackburn Rovers in a 7-0 win at Bootle in the Third Round, his other goal coming the same season is a 3-2 home win over Accrington in November 1889. Forbes was again a member of Blackburn’s victorious 1891 FA Cup Final team that retained the Cup by beating Notts County 3-1 in the Final at The Kennington Oval. He continued as a regular in the Blackburn team for two more seasons and again appeared in Rovers’ 1893 FA Cup semi final team that lost to eventual winners Wolverhampton Wanderers at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. However the following season he only played twice more for Blackburn in September 1893 and his playing career ended with his retirement in 1894. He played in a total of 127 matches for Blackburn Rovers, 106 in the Football League and 21 FA Cup ties.


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