Matt Forman: The one Wolves man for whom Chorley is not a horror

To Wolves fans of a certain generation, the C-word – Chorley – is enough to prompt an outbreak of cold sweats and painful flashbacks.

Matt Forman
Matt Forman

Thoughts of a cold and miserable night, 35 years ago this November when Wolves, not long after winning a League Cup and gracing Europe, were thumped 3-0 by Multipart Northern Premier League side Chorley in the second replay of a first round FA Cup tie, writes Paul Berry.

Even now, it is difficult to believe, but sometimes there are matches which become interwoven into the fabric of a club’s history.

Even the bad ones. Even the horrendous ones.

Amongst the Wolves roll of dishonour over a largely incredible history, is Chorley.

Yet the dismal defeat has taken on an iconic life of its own over the last three-and-a-half decades.

A humorous sideline has developed, where to say you were one of the 5,421 crowd for the second replay played at Burnden Park – oh how Wolves love that ground – is a badge of honour and a statement of true devotion to the gold and black cause.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most loyal of them all?

It is the football version of ‘I Am Spartacus’. ‘I went to Chorley…no I went to Chorley.'

Of course, football and fate are so often very comfortable bedfellows.

And so now, in the middle of a global pandemic, Chorley and Wolves will lock horns again, in the fourth round of the FA Cup live on BT Sport this Friday night.

Memories of those three ties, a month into Graham Turner’s Wolves tenure, and with Steve Bull and Andy Thompson interested spectators following their own respective arrivals, aren’t completely grim for all who were involved.

For one young midfielder at the time, amid the doom-laden cloud there was a silver – or gold – lining, that has left a legacy to this very day.

Matt Forman scored with an excellent diving header in the first replay at Molineux, and it remains the only one of his five Wolves goals that he has since been able to view again on video.

It took some doing, mind.

“I did go on a bit of a journey to find that goal I scored in the first replay,” Forman tells the Express and Star.

“I knew it was out there, as it had been on Midlands Today and a neighbour from that time had recorded it for me.

“But then I moved around a lot after my career, going to college and university, and I lost the tape.

“It was some years ago that I spotted that Chorley were having some form of anniversary to mark the victory.

“I noticed that footage from the games had been shown, and got in touch with the organisers from Chorley Supporters Club to tell them I was actually the guy who scored for Wolves in the first replay!

“They very kindly sent me the VHS cassette which I transferred onto DVD and uploaded onto You Tube about six years ago.

“Before the cup draw put Wolves and Chorley together again it had been viewed about 3,000 times – now that’s gone up to almost 7,000.

“I’m not surprised though as the interest in the game is still so massive and it’s an iconic fixture.

“The worst game in Wolves’ history? It must be up there.

“And when the two were drawn together to meet again on Friday, I was flabbergasted.

“After all these years, almost 35 years, Wolves and Chorley get to meet again.”

More on that later.

How though did Forman reach that point? A point during what would prove to be his only season playing first team professional football, and yet one in which he performed well and chalked up plenty of appearances in the Wolves engine room.

Like so many, he grew up, in Redditch, with dreams of a career in the game.

From a single-parent family, he lived with his Mum and was a self-confessed ‘latch key kid’, purely in the sense of always wanting to be out and about, calling on mates, playing football with jumpers for goalposts.

A West Bromwich Albion supporter, idolising the likes of Cunningham, Robson and Regis, Forman honed his trade playing junior football in the local Sunday Leagues, and had actually trained with Albion before being spotted by Aston Villa.

There was other interest, including Nottingham Forest whom, like Villa, had recently won the European Cup, Manchester United, where unfortunately he was injured, and Arsenal, whose trial arrangements included chaperoned coach trips into the West End to watch films and Wembley to watch England.

“I was really impressed with Arsenal and how they looked after us, it was top notch, but at the end of the day it seemed a long way to go and was more sensible to sign for Villa,” says Forman.

Another big draw in heading to Villa Park was Brian Little, not long retired through injury, who was taking the youth team.

“Brian was still fairly young having had to retire from playing and was a phenomenal coach, and one of the main reasons I signed for Villa,” Forman recalls.

“I managed to make progress, became youth team captain and signed a one-year contract as a pro which was fantastic.

“I played for a full season in the reserves, at times with people like Dennis Mortimer, Mark Walters and Gary Shaw, making around 30 appearances and scoring ten goals.

“I also remember playing against some top players in reserve games including Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Gordon McQueen for Manchester United, a certain Mr Gascoigne at Newcastle and the quartet of Robertson, Bull, Dennison and Thompson at the Albion!

“At the time, everything was looking perfect.”

But, as that great philosopher Liam Gallagher once sang, true perfection has to be imperfect.

Despite showing promise, there was to be no second professional contract at Villa Park, and the man who had to deliver the news was someone Forman would come to know much more of in the future - Graham Turner.

“There were about five or six of us going in for the decision, and we had to go up to a room in the North Stand at Villa Park,” says Forman, who was in the same apprentice group as later Wolves winger and fitness coach Tony Daley.

“On my way up, I remember a couple of lads were coming back down, and they told me they hadn’t been given a contract.

“They told me that if the conversation starts with, ‘it is hard to make these decisions’, then you know what is coming.

“I went into the room, said ‘hi boss’, and before I had even hit the seat I heard those words: ‘It is hard to make these decisions.’

“My bottom hit that seat and my world caved in.

“It was the first time that someone had told me I wasn’t good enough and I had a lot of thinking to do.

“As a 19-year-old, just at the end of one year as a pro, where do you go from there?”

Switzerland. That’s where.

Forman headed out to a tournament for a Villa reserve side managed by Wolves legend Bill Shorthouse, who was surprised to hear he had been released.

“A lovely guy who had so many stories about Wolves,” is how Forman remembers Shorthouse, known as ‘The Baron’.

By this time, Little had moved on to become caretaker manager at Wolves, and Shorthouse put a good word in.

All of a sudden Forman was linking up with his former youth team boss, and training with Wolves at Castlecroft.

But even then, as he secured a contract, footballing fate would step in once more. Little’s stay at Molineux was to prove short-lived.

“I made my league debut in the first game of the season against Cambridge, then didn't play for a bit, and when I went back in scored my first ever goal as we won 2-1 at Scunthorpe,” Forman recalls.

“I remember Malcolm Beard, formerly of Blues and Villa. was Brian’s right hand man at the time, and he said to me after the game, ‘that will be the first of many, Matt’.

“I felt that I had found my team and my place, and had a manager who was behind me and was supporting me.

“Then the following day Brian was sacked!

“I was so happy that I had scored, in only my second appearance, and we had been given the day off so I had gone for a stroll and to buy all the papers.

“I would always collect the cuttings, and I was chuffed to read the bits about the game and the fact that I had scored my first ever goal.

“Then it came on the news that Brian had gone, and that Graham Turner was coming in as permanent manager as his replacement.

“Given it was Graham who had released me at Villa, I suddenly went from absolute elation at scoring my first goal and thinking I might get a run in the team to wondering what was going to happen next.

“What can you do though? I was under contract and just had to get on with it and give my best and see what happened.

“On the plus side at least Graham knew me from Villa, and with Wolves being a few divisions below it was a different situation.

“All I was hoping was that he would give me a chance and an opportunity, and he did that, giving me a run in the team for the next ten games or so.”

And the first goalscorer of the Graham Turner reign which would drag Wolves up by their bootlaces from near extinction to the brink of the top flight?

None other than Matthew Charles Forman.

A glancing header in a 2-1 win against Tranmere got the Turner era off to a flying start, but, needless to say, the Chorley trilogy was lying in wait just a few short weeks later.

With their ground under redevelopment, the first game of the first round tie was played at Bolton, with Andy Mutch’s goal cancelled out by painter and decorator Paul Moss, bringing things back for a windswept and soaking Molineux night for the replay.

Anyone who has had any connection to Wolves’ media department over the last 20 years will be well aware of the curse of the programme cover.

Stick a player’s photo on the front and they are bound to be injured the day before, dropped, or, in the case of Richard Stearman, photographed pointing into the distance – on the day it emerged he was leaving.

Well that wasn’t the case for this one.

Forman’s photo adorned the programme cover, and Forman scored, a lovely diving header from Steve Stoutt’s cross before Chorley equalised later, again through Moss.

Then came the second replay, back at Burnden Park after Chorley won the toss, and the calamitous 3-0 defeat which led to one newspaper carrying a cartoon of a coffin with a Wolf inside the following day.

“I can’t remember too much of the first game but with the footage I remember more of the last two,” says Forman.

“I know with our results beforehand, there was a bit of a mix, but we had been doing o-k.

“It was my first experience of the FA Cup, and I was very excited, and just thinking if we could get through a couple of rounds we might have the chance to go and play at Manchester United, or go back to Villa.

“Clearly it wasn’t to be, and Chorley produced the giant-killing act.

“How on earth it happened, and we played like we did, I just can’t really explain as we put out a strong team.

“The coach journey home would have been full of shock and devastation and complete silence.

“Nobody wanted that to happen, but once it does, you have to pick yourself up.

“The papers next day were really scathing of the players and of the club, and it was the darkest hour wasn’t it? Possibly the lowest ever point of Wolves’ history.

“I think it took a month or so to get it out of a system as a team, but when we did, things started moving in the right direction very quickly.”

By this time of course, and sat in the stand at Burnden Park, were a couple of young men by the names of Steve Bull and Andy Thompson.

They were to go on and make an incredible contribution to Wolves’ history, and, a few weeks after Chorley – and as the squad continued to grow with further key additions like Mark Kendall and Robbie Dennison – the juggernaut cranked into gear.

And just maybe the C-word associated with that dismal November night was actually 'catalyst', the lowest point Wolves could sink to before the revival which would so memorably capture the imagination of the Molineux faithful.

Wolves won 16 and drew two of their final 21 games of the season, agonisingly finishing fourth in the Fourth Division which, up until that season, would have secured automatic promotion.

But it was the first season of the play-offs - of course it was - and, having come through the semi-final against Colchester, Wolves were beaten over two legs by Aldershot.

Forman was in and out of the side during that exhilarating run, including scoring his fifth – and ultimately final – Wolves goal in an Easter Monday victory at Exeter and then completing 90 minutes of the season finale win against Hartlepool when Bull grabbed his first hat trick and fans swarmed the pitch.

“If you put that Chorley game to one side, once we sorted ourselves out, we really did start to steamroller teams,” Forman recalls.

“Whether that was the determination of the manager and the players to get back on track after Chorley, whether it was the influence of the new faces as Bully got going, we found some momentum.

“I was in and out of the team, and you could sense there was something special happening and the crowds started going up as well.

“Win a couple of games and people started coming back to watch, and the joy of winning football matches for the fans and the community was returning.

“Fans knew they were going to come to a game and see Bully and the team score a few goals and get the three points – there was that belief once more.

“There was a fantastic buzz inside the club at the time, and Garry Pendrey was doing a tremendous job behind the scenes.

“Graham was the manager, and Garry was the link between him and the squad, and did a superb job of geeing up the team.

“Garry was the one who would come to the back of the bus, chatting to the lads, playing cards.

“He was also a very good coach, and we also benefited from Barry Powell coming in with his experience at the time as well.”

Even though Wolves missed out on promotion, things were looking good.

Six months post-Chorley, a new squad had developed.

Forman was flying, still involved in the first team, and, even with the arrival and promise of more new faces such as Keith Downing and Phil Robinson to come, he put pen to paper on a new one-year contract.

Then, of course, football fate struck yet again.

Forman picked up salmonella food poisoning in the close season, became very poorly and spent two weeks in hospital.

A risk of being contagious delayed his return to Wolves, he missed pre-season training and was then left playing catch-up as the team set off on an inexorable surge to the Fourth Division title.

And it was a team that barely changed in personnel throughout.

Forman was back in the reserves, and actually lifted the Birmingham Senior Cup as captain that season, and appeared on the substitutes bench for the first team at Crewe when Wolves had fixtures on both January 1 and 2.

But soon into the New Year, he broke his metatarsal in training, prompting another six-week absence, and soon the season was over as was, subsequently, Forman’s Wolves career.

“That first season went so well for me, coming into a big team, making almost 30 appearances, chipping in with five goals,” he says.

“For the team maybe it was a blessing not to go up in the end, because the nucleus was there ready to go and over the next two years they stormed the Fourth and Third Divisions.

“For me, the food poisoning came at the worst possible time and meant I missed all of pre-season.

“I was always one of those near the front in the running in pre-season, I had a good engine, and I remember Graham Turner telling me I would have been a good match up there for Phil Robinson, who had joined from Villa where I had played alongside him previously.

“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel properly fit again until around Christmas time, and by then the team had practically won the title already!

“There was no way I was going to be able to break in, and it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to get another contract.

“I did get to go and watch the Sherpa Van Trophy final at Wembley, which was a great occasion in front of 80,000, and a brilliant day for the whole club.

“I was also at the ‘do’ that was held afterwards at the Civic Hall, which was absolutely packed, and provided another great memory.”

Memory however, was all football would soon become for Forman.

Having been released by Wolves, Ally Robertson, whom Forman had learned so much from, put a good word in with Bobby Hope, then manager of Burton Albion, at that stage a top non-league club, and so he was able to continue playing on a part-time basis.

But he was already thinking further ahead, looking more at the bigger picture, with a desire to pursue a more stable and sustainable career path rather than the nomadic football existence with its associated pitfalls and insecurities.

“I have always been a great believer that you are dealt your cards and you respond to them as best you can,” Forman explains.

“In football some managers will like you, and like what you offer to the team, and others won’t, while you might also get injuries which you have no control over.

“For me it was always an honour to go to Wolves, and even though they had gone down through all the divisions, I was so glad to be there and pull on that famous gold shirt.

“I sometimes compare myself to Andy Thompson, a great player who had a great career, who was a similar age to me.

“He was bought from West Brom, I arrived from Villa, he went on to play over 300 games for Wolves and I played 29!

“So much can happen in a career, and having been released by two different clubs after two years at each, I just thought that was probably it for me.

“I just didn’t want to keep doing that every two years, keep being disappointed, and then have to go somewhere else and try again.

“It wasn’t like I had any pro clubs coming in for me after Wolves, or in fact that I had anyone coming in for me after leaving Villa.

“It was through acquaintances that I landed my opportunities, Brian Little getting me to Wolves, and then Ally Rob to Burton via Bobby Hope.

“It was time for me to get myself sorted out, and go into something more permanent for the future because a career as a professional footballer just wasn’t to be.

“I had already started going to Bournville College of Art to study photography while I was at Wolves, so I had already started thinking about something different.

“There was always something in me that made me want to better myself.”

Better himself he has, and Forman has now been working for almost 20 years as an art and photography teacher in Manchester.

It has been somewhat of a long and winding road to get there.

This has included initially coaching football on Camp America between Wolves and Burton, then becoming the first member of his family on his Mum’s side to obtain a degree, in design and photography from Staffordshire University.

That included an exchange programme with the Royal College of Art in Antwerp, once the educational home of Vincent Van Gogh no less, which later led to Forman and a friend going out to live in Belgium for a couple of years, including showcasing his work in exhibitions.

There was also time spent working as a chef in Birmingham, but eventually, it was via meeting now wife Jakki on one of his trips to America, that life took a different turn.

Jakki would go on to take a teacher training course for art and design in Manchester, and on regular visits to see her, Forman became interested in the work she was bringing him from pupils.

He himself then completed a PGCE, landed a job at a school in Rossendale near Blackburn before, as he has been for the last 20 years, working at Whalley Range High School in Manchester.

Working his way up to Head of Art, Forman relinquished that responsibility a few years ago to ensure he could make the most of family life, with Jakki and their three children – Lottle, 12, Archie, 11, and Kitty, 9.

Still very much enjoying teaching, even amid the considerable challenges of online tuition during the Covid-19 pandemic, working at Whalley Range also offered Forman a way back into watching football.

Situated a mile away from City’s previous Maine Road home, the school pitches used to be used by the club’s youth team, and the tickets received in return saw Forman volunteer as one of those tasked with overseeing visits to matches.

“I hadn’t been to a match, or even near a football pitch, for the best part of a decade,” he explains.

“I had actually played at Maine Road in the Central League for Villa all those years earlier, and when I first went to a game again, I just fell back into the moment.

“The smell of the hot dog stands, the walk from the school to the ground with the terraced houses, being back inside the stadium, it took me right back to my early days of being involved in football.”

The reconciliation has continued, and Forman and Archie are now season ticket holders at the Etihad, whilst he has also brought him to Molineux to watch Wolves.

Forman got in touch with experienced Wolves journalist David Instone, via his Wolves Heroes website, which opened up fresh connections and also saw him join many other former team-mates in attending Bull’s 30thAnniversary dinner in WV1 at Molineux back in 2016.

“It was amazing to be back in the stadium as it is now, and to see the pitch lit up at night,” says Forman.

“I was just standing there looking out of the window at it and an older guy came over to me and we were chatting about the fact I used to play out on that pitch.

“I said I had promised my lad that I was going to go to the club shop the next day and buy him a pin badge or scarf.

“This guy took off his pin badge, gave to me and said ‘here you go, give him this one’.

“That was a lovely touch and it was so nice to be back with the fans again, chatting, signing autographs - I hadn’t experienced that for 30 years but it felt like I had never been away.

“It is always nice not to be forgotten, and not just to be a number or a mention in a book, and I have loved getting back in touch with people in recent years.”

Forman, who has also turned out for Wolves Allstars in recent times, clearly has no regrets about bringing an end to his football career, after what was effectively one full season of chances with Wolves.

Twenty-nine appearances in all competitions. Five goals. And experiences to last a lifetime.

“I know that there are thousands upon thousands of Wolves fans who would have swapped places with me in an instant,” he says, without any hint of regret or sadness that his footballing adventure was over not long after it had begun.

“And I feel very, very lucky that I played for the clubs that I did and had the experiences that I did.

“I don’t have any regrets about anything, I had my moment, and from there it just wasn’t to be.”

And Chorley, even Chorley, has to be included within Forman's highlights, for very personal reasons.

“That goal might be the only positive to take from the Chorley games, and it has stayed with me for almost 35 years,” he explains.

“It has taken on that cult status among Wolves fans now hasn’t it? People saying it was the hardcore heavy duty fans that were at that second replay, and as time has gone on it has become a barometer for how bad things were at the club in those days.

“It is funny because Wolves are such a great team now and almost reached the Champions League last season, but any fan under the age of 40 wouldn’t have experienced that defeat and might not know just how awful it was.

“But for me, Chorley and that goal, kind of got me back in touch with people at Wolves again, and the fact that it's the only one of my goals that is on video is very special for me.

“Special because with my lad now being a big football fan, I wanted to try and show him what his old man used to do, and now, with that goal on the internet, he can show all his mates, and tell them that one day his Dad used to play for Wolves!

“That is a really proud thing for me to be able to think about.”

So there you go, nearly 35 years on, as the two teams prepare for the filming of the sequel at Victory Park on Friday – maybe the original Chorley trilogy wasn’t completely bad after all?

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