by Ian Wilson
As I write this article, Grant Holt is turning 31. Not only does this make me feel old (I’m officially older than both Holt and the oldest, most ancient player at the club, Adam Drury), but it also made me realise how obsessed I’ve become with our tubby, clumsy looking journey-man striker. I’m a big City fan, yes. But I never ever know when their birthdays are, and I’d known Holt’s was due for sometime. Even his builders put a sign on their van celebrating the day.
What’s not in doubt is that Holt is a hero in these parts. Since his arrival from Shrewsbury in July 2009, Holt has scored goals for fun – he’s averaged more than a goal every two games, banging in 58 in 113 appearances. It’s not just the goals though, it’s his all-round effort and contribution. Holt is a man who clearly loves his job, and for him every day, every game, every minute of every match is precious – and it shows.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re not a City fan, I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking he’s overachieving in a talented young side. He’s one-dimensional, slow, overweight and except for the goals his all round play is poor. Well you’d be wrong – very wrong, and foolishly short-sighted.
When we signed Holt, I was really pleased. I’d heard of him before, seen him play a couple of times and knew he would be the big target man we were looking for to help stabilise the club (or hopefully get us out of League One). I thought if we got promoted to the Championship, he might do OK and get a few goals but was probably not good enough to help us get into the top half. As it turned out, he hit the ground running and following his hat-trick against Ipswich in November 2010 never looked back, again becoming our top scorer.
It was a shock to get promoted last year, and only in the last half-dozen games did any of us start to believe it was a possibility. However once promotion back to the Premier League (we were founder members after all) was achieved, even the most ardent of City fans would have looked at the squad and Holt in particular, with a healthy dose of realism.
When we were promoted in 2003/2004, big characters like Malky Mackay and Iwan Roberts were disposed of. Most fans recognise this as a mistake and realise that even keeping big Iwan to throw on for 10mins at the end would have been beneficial – those types of players are the soul of the club. So, when Steve Morison and James Vaughan were signed last summer we all assumed this would be Holt’s role – that of compassionate cameo.
After starting the first four games, and gaining no wins, Holt was unceremoniously dropped. Back on October 2011 I wrote an article for Vital Norwich entitled ‘Holt Your Horses, Grant’ following the trip to Old Trafford. Holt had not been picked for 3 games, and was even not coming on as a back-up striker, merely kicking his heels on the bench. I wrote that he hadn’t adapted well to the level and I recall tweeting that we should have sold him to Leicester City in the summer when they offered £2.5m. He kept falling over, looking for fouls and it wasn’t working, his touch looked poor and his head was down. I effectively wrote him off and I’m not proud of that.
Now, when we were in the midst of getting promoted last year, Holt did his hamstring at Watford, but had to finish the game as all three subs had been used. He couldn’t move at the end of the game. However, 3 days later he played 90 minutes against Forest, limping around the pitch. He scored the first himself and set up the second. 6 days later he played 83 minutes in the 5-1 victory of Ipswich, and was brilliant. Mark my words: You cannot write this man off.
So how did the much-maligned no. 9 actually respond to being dropped to the reserves mid-season? In typical Holt fashion. Ian Culverhouse assistant manager explained, “His attitude was first class and to be fair he has been a little unfortunate to be out of the side at the moment,” he said. “He is chomping at the bit to play and him going out and playing like that and putting a hard shift in gives the gaffer something to think about.”
In late October he came off the bench to score a superb header at Anfield, and then came off the bench again to equalise from the spot in the 93rd minute against Blackburn. He finally announced himself as comfortable in the top flight with a double against Newcastle in December and has not looked back. Quite simply, the guy is a revelation.
Against Spurs on Easter Monday, he was exceptional. He made Ledley King look like a mug and covered miles of ground. On the train back, I heard pockets of Spurs fans describing him as ‘unplayable’ and ‘immense’. Then there’s the double he got at Swansea, where constantly ridiculed for being overweight throughout the game he celebrated by taking his shirt off, revealing his muscular physique. I wish I was as fat as Grant Holt.
Whatever life throws at this man, he will triumph. He is super-human, but in spirit more than body. He is exactly what we are missing in the England setup, with his irrepressible will to win, his self-confidence and his enduring passion. Quite simply, Holt has to go to the Euros with England. Those who think he shouldn’t go need read my piece in October.
Today he takes on the best team in the league, Manchester City. He’s already scored a screamer against Man Utd and I wouldn’t bet against him doing some more damage today.