Bill Shankly got it wrong. As much as we all live and breathe everything Norwich City some things really are more important than a game of football. And the club’s decision to dedicate tomorrow’s game to former City legend Duncan Forbes is a perfect reminder of just that.
When Big Dunc’s wife, Janette, revealed last October the heartbreaking news he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease it laid bare the destructive nature of the illness. She revealed the heartbreaking decision had been made to move him out of the family home in Thorpe St Andrew to a Norwich care home.
In a moving interview with the Eastern Daily Press she revealed how the great man’s health had deteriorated to such a degree they no longer did the family things the rest of us take for granted. While his match day appearances at Carrow Road had long since ended, he did still occasionally watch a game of football, but it was clear life had become a struggle for the Forbes family.
A once great warrior clad in yellow and green reduced by this terrible illness to a shadow of his former self. A proud, dignified man who literally spilled blood for the Canary cause and who was the epitome of a leader.
Chest puffed out, barking orders, taking no prisoners is how I remember him, and is how the Forbes family wish him to be remembered.
From a personal perspective his was the first ever name to be scrawled in the Gowers autograph book back in the mid-70s and I can recall it as if it were yesterday.
The routine back then was for my Dad and I to arrive ridiculously early in order to gain a perfect vantage point in the old South Stand, either at the very front or courtesy of the world’s best purpose-made football stool. We arrived around the same time as the players and so to bump into the players on their short walk from the River End car-park to the players’ entrance was commonplace.
As ever, some players were only too keen to interact with annoying and over-excited youngsters, others struggled to disguise the chore that was autograph-signing. It goes without saying that Dunc was the former. Courteous, chatty, voice booming, chest puffed out – even while wearing his suit.
Of course it was those same qualities that prolonged his legendary status beyond his playing days; Club Canary for one benefiting massively from his ability to coerce, organise and lead. If a travelling foot soldier showed even a hint of stepping out of line it only took a word from Dunc to quell any minor rebellion.
The same qualities that made him such a wonderful captain of Norwich City on the pitch were simply made for such a role off it. And why? One word. Respect.
On the pitch he was respected as one as one who could dish it out and take it. No quarter given or asked. My Dad recalls the numerous occasions when – as mentioned earlier – he spilled blood for the cause and insists he was twice the player with a few flecks of the red stuff on his yellow jersey.
Alas the proud Scot now is fighting a very different battle; one that can’t be won by a thumping tackle or a towering header.
He does of course have the support of a loving family, one that’s clearly intent on making his life as comfortable as possible, and the goodwill of an entire Canary nation.
The club’s decision to make tomorrow ‘Duncan Forbes Day’ is a fitting one. All funds raised will go to the Forbes family to support the care costs for the great man, including the profits from a special matchday programme that will remember his 33-year spell as player and staff member. Also the first-team squad will warm up in commemorative ‘Forbes 5’ t-shirts that will be auctioned after the game.
And it’s sure to be an emotional one. In addition to Janette, their two sons Elliott and Scott and other members of the Forbes family, former team-mates will also be in attendance These will include his centre-back partner for many years, Dave Stringer and City’s only ever World Cup winner, Martin Peters.
Whether City’s class of 2013/14 can tap into the mood and produce a performance to be proud of remains to be seen, but given the black cloud that has hovered over the city all week it goes without saying the supporters are owed one.
Villa Park is history now and as much as it still irks – and hurts – needs to be left in Birmingham. The Canaries are clearly a different proposition within the confines of the city walls and on many levels Stoke need to be despatched in a Man City style. Failure to do so is not an option – at least a very unpalatable one.
So – for tomorrow at least – players, managers, coaches, directors and supporters alike need to unite, draw on the Forbes spirit and give absolutely everything in the quest for three points.
That’s exactly what a fit and healthy Big Dunc would have done… and we owe it to him and his family to do the same.
Let’s make him proud.