Wigan Athletic striker Grant Holt is proud to be old fashioned

AS Rickie Lambert rose to power home a header on his England debut, Grant Holt was sat on his sofa, crutches propped against the wall.

Holt was delighted for his old pal, a team-mate at Rochdale in 2005-06. But, at the same time, he knew it could easily have been him on the end of that cross.

It was Holt, after all, who blazed the trail for Lambert to follow. Both started at the grisly end of the game. Both steamed through League One on a tide of goals. Both rode the wave all the way to the Premier League. Both were 30 before they even kicked a ball in the top flight.

Both shrugged off doubts about being out-dated big men by terrorising defenders and scoring by the sackful.
Yet while Holt’s heroics with Norwich in 2011-12 were ignored, Lambert’s form for Southampton a year later was not. Even for a man who once worked in a tyre factory, that must grate.

“Football’s all about timing,” says Holt, now 32 and back in the Championship with Wigan. “Rickie had a fantastic year, but even Roy Hodgson said himself that he picked him because of injuries.

“Personally, I thought that was a little bit disrespectful because Rickie did brilliantly to force his way in. But it illustrates the point. His timing was good, mine wasn’t.

“How close did I get? I was literally inches away. Ahead of the Euros, I know that they rang Norwich to ask about my medical history.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get picked but you get on with it. Six or seven years ago, I’d never have dreamed that I’d even have a sniff of getting in the England squad. In the end, I came that close. To me, that’s an achievement.

“When I went to Norwich I was 28. No Premier League club would have bought me at that age, so I knew that my only chance was to get promoted. Had I done that two years earlier, maybe I would have been an England player.

“But I’m proud of the way I’ve done it. I’ve played at every level. I’ve worked my arse off to get here. And I can look back at the goals I’ve scored at the grounds I have and feel happy.”

Holt and Lambert celebrate at Rochdale
Holt and Lambert celebrate at Rochdale


That attitude underpins Holt. A full-time factory worker while playing at non-league Barrow, the Cumbrian also had spells in Singapore and Australia and didn’t even turn professional until he was 22.

And Holt says it is the memory of those days struggling to make ends meet that propelled him to the brink of international honours.

“People talk about money in football,” he says. “Well, I always remember when I was at Barrow, we used to have two games a week.

“We were on £75 a win, so if we lost, I had a tough week. If we won, I was £150 better off, which made a big difference.

“And that has been my outlook ever since – the only way you get financial rewards is by winning and having success. That’s why I take nothing for granted.”

So does Holt despair of today’s teenage footballer, who has an agent, a lucrative contract and enough cash that success on the pitch has no bearing on his life?

“It’s hard to say,” he says. “Kids in academies are very fortunate. They do need to be taught just what a great opportunity it is. But how do you do it?

“The realisation only comes when they’ve been released, they can’t get a club and they have to go back into the so-called real world. It’s like any job. You don’t know how good it was until it’s gone.

“Me, I’d worked. I’d played non-league. That’s why I know how good it is. If a lot more of them got a taste of life in the real world, or what it’s like to struggle with money, they’d realise how lucky they are.

“Listen, everyone who knows me will say that I’m the biggest moaner in football. I moan about everything – food, training, away trips. I’m a grump, basically.

“But none of that means I don’t feel fortunate. Every time I go on the pitch, I’ve got an extra edge because I don’t want to be back where I was nine years ago.”

Holt’s actions attest to his words. The striker was on a decent wedge at Norwich and could easily have sat out the remaining two years of his contract.

But having been the first name on the team-sheet under previous manager Paul Lambert, Holt was unwilling to settle for a bit part in Chris Hughton’s side.

“I always said I would never stay just for the sake of being in the Premier League,” he admits. “And that last year at Norwich, I just didn’t enjoy it.

“The way Chris wants to play the game, the style in which he set up – it just didn’t suit me. I was getting frustrated, I was getting annoyed in training. I’d just had enough, and I told him that.

No mercy

“I said I wanted to move in January. Chris said ‘Not a chance’. That was fair enough and I actually went back in the summer with an unbelievable attitude. I’d lost about four kilos, I was in great shape. But then the Wigan thing came up and it was too good to turn down.”

But also slow to take off. The knee injury that left Holt on crutches means he has played just six games for his new club. Now fully fit, he has instructed manager Owen Coyle to show him no mercy.

“I had a chat with gaffer and I said ‘Listen, whatever games are going, just get me in them,” says. “I don’t want resting for the Cups or in Europe. I just want to get play’.

“Now we’ve got something stupid like seven games in 20 days. That’s old school that, like when I was at Barrow. I can’t wait.”


LIKE Rickie Lambert, Holt was perceived as too old- fashioned for the Premier League, a lower league blunderbuss in a world of miniature magicians.

Yet both have proved the doubters wrong. In 2011-12, Holt scored 15 goals, more than any other English player besides Wayne Rooney.

Last year, Lambert equalled that tally to tie with Frank Lampard as the highest-scoring Englishman. All of which explains why Holt believes the jump in class isn’t so drastic.

Rickie Lambert scores for England
Rickie Lambert scores for England

“There are differences,” he explains. “Up there, it’s a game of chess. As a forward playing for a club like Norwich, you might only get one good chance in a game. In the Championship, you’ll get two, three, maybe four.

“I learned very quickly that my concentration had to be bang on every time the ball came into the box.

“But physically, it was easier if anything. Premier League defenders are used to small, nippy, technical players.

“They aren’t prepared for people like me and Rickie, who will get in their faces and give them a battle, try and dominate them strength-wise. You can catch people off guard.

“But maybe the biggest thing was that I didn’t worry about it. I went in thinking ‘I’m here now, I’ve earned my chance – now go and enjoy yourself’. I’m sure that’s what Rickie did as well.”

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