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England in safe hands in Brazil after picking Fraser Forster, says Pat Bonner

KEADUE Rovers Football Club, the Irish junior side of County Donegal, may never know another day like it.

Celtic's Fraser Forster is off to the World Cup and Pat Bonner believes playing for Celtic will have stood him in good stead. Picture: Getty Images
Celtic's Fraser Forster is off to the World Cup and Pat Bonner believes playing for Celtic will have stood him in good stead. Picture: Getty Images

Jock Stein, tipped off to an emerging talent by assistant Sean Fallon, strode in to Ballyraine Hotel and laid out a contract for one of their young players to sign.

Thirty-six years on from an epochal moment in the history of the Celtic goalkeeper shirt, the man who now throws it over his shoulders most weekends is looking forward to a summer well-spent.

Fraser Forster is off to Brazil. "I was glued to the box waiting for the squad to come out," Pat Bonner admits, with a relieved grin.

The Irishman signed for Celtic on this day in 1978, a fresh-faced 17-year-old about to embark on a two-decade stint guarding the goalposts of Parkhead. That task, Bonner says, is in good hands.

The inclusion of Forster in Roy Hodgson's party was greeted with relief in Glasgow's east end. Ben Foster and John Ruddy were his rivals for two of three spots - and Ruddy's coach at Norwich City, Dave Watson, doubles up on England duty - but the SPFL Premiership's damned reputation as a football wilderness was not the weight some predicted around Forster's neck.

For those at Celtic in charge of persuading players to come to the club - and top talents already there to stay - here was a blessed rebuttal to the theory that playing in the north of these isles renders otherwise worthy picks invisible. In fact, Bonner suggests that the unique role of Celtic goalkeeper - mostly a bystander, called upon at intermittent yet key moments - is perfect practice for international football, where the tempo is slower and the pace less frantic.

"If you're here playing in the Champions League, you're in the spotlight," he says. "People need to take that into consideration.

"When you play with Celtic, it mimics international football. If you're in the bottom half of the Premier League, under pressure all the time, making saves, you're doing that. But that's not international football at all. That's about making big saves, at the right moment.

"Playing at Celtic replicates that because you're not going to be making saves all the time. You need to have some sort of model that keeps your concentration and focus as a priority. [But] even if he doesn't play for minute in Brazil he will still come back a better goalkeeper for the experience. Fraser is a big, quiet lad and sometimes I think he lacks a bit of confidence."

Bonner believes the current Celtic squad is a little short for progress to the group stage of the Champions League to be comfortable. "They need a few more, one up front, the middle of the pitch as well," he says.

He likes Stefan Johansen, as well as Liam Henderson, and wants more creative players to help and give injury cover to James Forrest.

As for Forster? There was an admission that if the Englishman stays in Glasgow, if his urgent and wider international ambitions can somehow be met outside of his home country, that he might in time number among the Celtic greats.

With that, thoughts trail backward over three decades, to a nervous afternoon when Bonner was brought in to be introduced to the first team at Parkhead - the likes of Alfie Conn, Roy Aitken and Pat Stanton awaited the incoming teenager.

That young goalkeeper is the man they say was Stein's last signing; in truth, he was one of many identified and lured to the club by Fallon, on a list which grew to contain such illustrious names as Dalglish, McGrain, Macari and McStay. Fallon taught these men, on arrival, what it meant to play at Parkhead.

Long after he left the club, in his own time, unpaid and unaware, he was still doing the same thing.

"I don't think he realised himself!" Bonner says, with a wry smile.

Fallon was the feature of a documentary profile for the Irish broadcaster RTÉ last year, to which Bonner contributed. It also contained the last interview of the former Celtic defender, scout, assistant manager and unofficial, unassuming ambassador. He was 90.

"The guy asked him, 'Sean, what advice would you give for young people?'" Bonner recalls. "He kinda stood for minute, got his thoughts together, and he says 'well, if you don't like somebody, walk away from them. Don't engage. But see if you like someone, do as much as you can for them'. Then he looked up to heaven, up to the sky, and he says 'I hope you're listening now, big man'. Three days later, he was dead.

"Sean had this ability to make you feel like you belonged. You would trust him, whatever he said, he was true to his word. He gave me the impression, the feeling, that the club was going to look after me. And it did. I was here for 19 years."

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