In a country that churns out world-class hockey and football players by the busload, Coquitlam’s Craig Forrest enjoyed an extraordinarily rare and rapid rise up the soccer ranks to the English Premier League (EPL) and international play until his golden years in the game were, well, golden.

Forrest didn’t begin playing the beautiful game until age 12, only trying goalkeeper when a friend couldn’t make it to a game and he stepped in as a substitute. He liked it so much he stuck with it. As arguably the greatest soccer player Canada has ever produced, supporters of the game in this country are glad he did.

Unusually tall, lanky, and athletic, he played with Coquitlam Bel-Aire City and the BC U-16 and U-18 provincial teams. English scouts liked what they saw. In 1984, Forrest travelled to England and signed a two-year apprenticeship with Ipswich Town at the age of 17 and was soon training with the English national youth side.

While on loan to Colchester United, he made his professional debut in the 1987-88 season. He would stay with Ipswich for 14 seasons and well over 300 appearances for the Portman Road club. In 1991-92, he recorded 16 shut-outs and led Ipswich to a first place finish in the English Second Division and promotion to the newly formed Premier League. One of only 11 active foreign players in the EPL that season—a far cry from the cosmopolitan line-ups of many top English clubs today—he was the first Canadian to play in the newly-formed Premiership in the EPL’s inaugural 1992-93 season. After a short loan to Premiership giant Chelsea FC at the end of the 1996-97 campaign, Forrest joined West Ham United from 1997-2002.

Playing for Canada’s senior national side, Forrest was the country’s first-choice goalkeeper from 1988 to 2002 in an era when Canada was blessed with a number of fine international goalkeepers including Paul Dolan and Pat Onstad, earning 56 caps—the most ever for a Canadian goalkeeper. He still holds the Canadian shutout record, posting 19 clean sheets. He was also between the pipes for Canada’s famous 1-1 draw with Brazil a month before their victory in the 1994 World Cup.

But talk to even the most casual of soccer fans in this country about Forrest and inevitably the conversation shifts to the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup and Forrest’s golden performance. Going into that year’s Gold Cup, the North and Central American championship, Canada was considered a minor minnow even amongst this typically shallow pond of teams.

However, behind Forrest’s stellar goalkeeping, the Canadians displayed an uncharacteristic confidence, finesse, and clutch finishing knocking off Mexico and Columbia, two of the region’s strongest sides, on their way to an unlikely tournament championship. It remains one of the greatest moments in Canadian soccer history.

Forrest’s performance didn’t go unrecognized as he was named the tournament’s most valuable player and top goalkeeper. In those five unforgettable games, Forrest allowed only three goals and dramatically stopped two penalty shots.

In 2001, Forrest was diagnosed with testicular cancer and, after beating the illness, was forced to retire from the game in 2002. In the years since, many Canadians have grown to enjoy his commentary as a national soccer analyst on Rogers Sportsnet weekly Soccer Saturday broadcasts, in addition to Euro Cup and World Cup coverage.

Forrest continues to be held in high regard within world football. In 2005, the Canadian Soccer Association presented him with the Aubrey Sanford Meritorious Service Award. That same year, he was named Honorary Chair for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup to be hosted by various Canadian cities this summer. Forrest is also the Canadian FIFA Ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages, joining a select group of some of the finest footballers in the world who hold this distinction representing their country.

While British Columbia remains known worldwide for its abundant supply of timber from its sprawling forests shipped to all points of the globe, in the world of soccer this single Forrest remains our greatest international export.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.