Adrian Forbes made over 100 appearances for Norwich City between 1996 and 2001. He now works as a Foundation Phase Coach in the Academy.NCFC: Hi Adrian, thanks for talking to us. You went full-time with the Academy this year – how much are you relishing that role?
I absolutely love it. I was in a very fortunate position in the first place, working with the Community Sports Foundation, but then I started at the Player Development Centre which was an opportunity to go into coaching, which I always wanted to do.
It progressed from there, and the next thing I know I get a call with an opportunity to join the Premier League’s Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme. I had an interview to get me full-time work within the Academy set-up, I managed to get through that and ultimately that has led to me getting a full-time job at Colney.
It’s what I wanted to do. I appreciated everything CSF did for me, but to be here now and to be predominantly out on the grass coaching is what I want to do. It’s great to work with some of the real up-and-coming young players.
NCFC: 20 years ago you were progressing through the Academy yourself. How much has it changed since then?
There’s a vast difference – the players are actually really good now! In my time, it was slightly different. The players now are technically a lot better and they’re also a lot smarter. The detail that these players have is so much more advanced.
You look at Colney compared to when I first came in. Where the Academy building is now, there was a car-park. The club has evolved so much, and that in turn has allowed it to attract a lot of fantastic players to the area. We’re hoping to continue with Category One status going into the next three years, and I’m sure we’ll be able to achieve that. It will see Norwich City go from strength to strength with young, homegrown talent.
NCFC: You work with some of the youngest age-groups. What are the key messages you try to get across?
Working in the Foundation Phase (U9s-U11s), it’s a case of coaching them as much technical stuff as we can, but also getting them to a situation where they learn independently. We don’t want to be in a position where, as coaches, we’re holding their hands through every single session.
If we can instil that in them now, then when they get into the Youth Development Phase (U12s-U16s) they will then be able to perform to the best of their ability. Yes, they will have a coach on the side helping them with their technical detail, but ultimately independent learners are what we’re looking for here.
NCFC: Would you describe the programme that the youngest players in our Academy are on?
If you take the Under-11s, which is the main group I work with, they will train on a Tuesday from 3.30pm until 7pm, and then they come in again on a Friday, when they will train from 2pm until 4pm before having some education and then another session.
On a Saturday morning, they play Futsal before having their game on a Sunday. Their matches can be anything from a local derby against an Ipswich, a Colchester or a Cambridge, to as far afield as Brighton away. It’s a big commitment for the players and their parents.
NCFC: Can you remember what you were like at their age?
A pain! That’s probably the best way of putting it. I can admit that now, I was a bit of a rebel when I moved up from London. I had an upbringing where I had to fight for everything I had, and I struggled to get to grips with someone telling me what to do all the time.
If you spoke to any of the people here at that time – Keith Webb, Dave Stringer, Colin Watts – they would say I was hard work. I certainly put them through the mill, but they stuck by me and taught me, and ultimately I got to where I got to.
There will be a lot of kids at Norwich who will make those same mistakes, but hopefully I’m best-placed to be in a position to advise them not just on the football, but how they conduct themselves off the pitch and how they deal with those mistakes.
NCFC: The bridge between Academy and first-team football can be quite a long one. What was your breakthrough moment as a young player?
The catalyst was my sixth and final warning, when I was on the brink of being kicked out of the club. That was when I was a first-year scholar – I was 16 and I was rude to Dave Stringer, and he told me straight that I was done.
I got a letter sent home, but I intercepted it! There was no way my mum and dad were going to see a letter saying that I was going to be kicked out. They know about it now, I told them around five years ago and I think my dad still tried to ground me then!
After that, I got a phone call from Mike Walker and he told me that basically I’d got pre-season to prove myself. At that moment, I felt that the club had recognised something in me. They stuck by me, and I soon got my debut in the first-team. That was the point where I realised that I couldn’t let those people down.
NCFC: You played under a number of different managers at Norwich. What challenges did that bring as someone trying to make their way in the game?
You build a rapport and a relationship with a manager. If you take Mike Walker, I will always respect him because it was him that gave me my chance in professional football.
It’s difficult to find that bond when the managers keep chopping and changing. We had Mike, Bryan Hamilton, Bruce Rioch and Nigel Worthington. These were all managers that had different personalities, but I’ve taken traits from each of them that I’m using now to make myself better, so I can make the players I coach better.
NCFC: You made over 100 appearances for the club. In your own words, how do you look back on your days here?
I could have done more and I should have done better. If I’m honest with myself, I know that I was fortunate to play the amount of games that I did, but I look back at two things.
Firstly I should have stayed and fought for my place when Nigel Worthington brought Mark Rivers in, and secondly, if I look at Craig Bellamy who came through as an Under-12 all the way through to the first-team, when I was going home in the afternoon Craig would go back out on the pitch and work on his own.
It’s no surprise that he went on to play for the biggest clubs. I’m still happy with my career, but I felt in my head that I’d made it before I actually had.
NCFC: You went on to have some really successful and enjoyable spells elsewhere. How important were those experiences?
They were vital. To get to go to Swansea City was brilliant; it’s one of the most beautiful places I lived. I stayed in a place called Killay and it was a lovely area to work. The Welsh people are so fanatical about their football.
We lost in a play-off final to Barnsley, things had to be tightened up a bit and I found myself off to Blackpool. All of a sudden, I found myself in another play-off final, this time at Wembley, near to where I was brought up. I never would have thought that I’d have an opportunity to play there, and we won. We beat Yeovil 2-0.
NCFC: Moving to Lowestoft near the end of your career showed a hunger to keep playing. Does every footballer have that, because a lot don’t drop down the levels?
Everyone sees it differently. I had been at Grimsby, my knee was gone and I knew I couldn’t train for five days a week and play a game. I was always the kind of person who wanted to be seen, I want to earn my money.
I was a househusband for a period of time, but then I was approached by my old teammate Craig Fleming about going to play at Lowestoft. They knew the situation with my knee, but this was training twice a week and then a match on a Saturday. For me, it might even have been just playing on a Saturday.
It was a great opportunity for me to work with younger players who weren’t as experienced or as fortunate as myself. During the couple of years that I spent there, I enjoyed every minute and it really helped with my decision to go into coaching.
NCFC: Fans now see you on the mic at various events, including on the pitch before home games. How did that come about?
Leading into the play-off semi-final against Ipswich, I was approached to see if I wanted to be on the pitch before the game. It was mentioned to me and my first thought was ‘don’t be silly, whatever are you thinking’, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought about giving it a go.
I’ll never forget being pitchside on the day. I’d turned up, against Ipswich, wearing a blue suit! That needed sorting, but when I got on the pitch and heard the crescendo of ‘On The Ball, City’, and knowing it was me who helped to get that going, that was a massive buzz. It took me back to the days of playing.
We won the game, and it progressed from there. I was given the opportunity to do the same thing at Wembley, where the Norwich fans drowned out the PA system. I do it now for every home game. It’s not something I necessarily thought I’d ever do, but it’s a privilege and off the back of it, I’ve hosted a few other events for the club.
NCFC: With your fingers in many pies, down what path do you see yourself going?
I think coaching and then management is the path I want to follow. From a management point of view, I genuinely think I could do it because of the amount of experiences I’ve had throughout my career.
In the meantime, I just want to learn and develop as much as I can as a coach. What will be, will be. In football, you just never know what’s going to happen.
NCFC: Finally, sum up your association with Norwich City in one word!