GRANT HOLT once gave an interview to Cumbria Life magazine in which he stated that his childhood dream had been to play for Carlisle United, his home-city club. Perhaps it’s as well it has never happened.
He came close once, nine years ago. Having been released by Carlisle’s school of excellence as a teenager, Holt started to make an impression in non-league circles with Workington Reds, won a move into the Football League with Halifax that didn’t quite work out, and in 2002 was offered his big chance: A return to Brunton Park. Or so he thought.
It wasn’t to be. Holt did well on trial in pre-season, even scoring in a friendly against Celtic at Brunton Park. According to Holt, Carlisle agreed to sign him, but couldn’t complete the deal because they were under a transfer embargo, a legacy of going into administration. So he went to play in Singapore for three months until they were able to sign players again.
But when he came back, the deal was off. “Everything was agreed and nailed on, so I was gutted to be told I wouldn’t be signing after all,” Holt said in that Cumbria Life interview. “I should have had the contract signed and sealed before I even got on the plane to Singapore.”
Instead of signing for his home club, Holt was jobless and skint. But he had a stint with non-league Barrow, and his career quickly began to pick up again, with other league clubs taking an interest. He went first to Sheffield Wednesday, then to Rochdale, where he would cross paths with Carlisle again.
It was March 2004. Dale and Carlisle, both fighting relegation from the Football League, met at Spotland. With the match poised at 0-0, Holt raced clear on to a Willo Flood pass and went over the challenge of Carlisle keeper Matt Glennon. The referee gave a penalty and sent off Glennon.
“It was a shocking decision,” said Paul Simpson, Carlisle’s then-manager. Gary Jones scored the penalty, Holt added another goal in the second half, Rochdale won 2-0 and stayed up. Carlisle were relegated.
It later emerged in a couple of newspaper reports that, despite the controversy, Holt had celebrated by returning home to Carlisle for a night out. Now it’s a lovely city, but they are passionate about their football team up there. He might have been more sensible keeping his head down for a while.
There was, it seems, one more attempt by Holt to get involved with the Carlisle football scene, and that ended badly, too.
According to the Cumberland News, Holt made a surprise appearance at a charity six-a-side tournament in the city in the summer of 2005 – and allegedly broke an opposing player’s leg in an accidental collision.
Since then, Holt’s only footballing appearances in the city have been as a visiting player. That’s probably for the best. Norwich may seem a long way from home, but Holt’s probably less likely to find trouble there.
Last on MOTD: Norwich 2 QPR 1
Commentator: John Roder
It’s a long journey from Workington Reds to Norwich City, whichever way you look at it. (On the train, you could probably do it in about two-and-a-half days.) But at the age of 30, Holt has finally made it to the Premier League.
Paul Lambert has mainly used the striker as a substitute this season, but he’s been very effective – coming on to score point-saving goals against Liverpool and Blackburn last month, and getting a winner against QPR on Saturday.
That’s not bad for a striker who cost £400,000 from Shrewsbury two years ago. Put it this way: Holt’s tally of four Premier League goals this season is double that of Andy Carroll, who cost £34.6million more.
Holt may not get too many starts this season, with Lambert generally preferring to use Steve Morison as a lone striker. He’s clearly trying not to think about that too much, though.
“How wary are you of becoming known as Norwich’s Premier League supersub?” Holt was asked after the game by Match of the Day’s John Roder.
“It’s not a tag I really want,” the striker admitted. “I want to score and I want to gain points for this football club. If it means me coming on every week – or every other week – and scoring, I’ll take that.”
Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, his boyhood team were beating Colchester 1-0, to remain on the fringes of the League One play-off race. Yet among some members of the Brunton Park faithful, the fact that they missed out on Holt still rankles.
As Carlisle News and Star columnist Jon Colman put it earlier this summer: “The real scandal that should have United’s faithful howling at the moon every night remains the time in 2002, when Roddy Collins observed a young trialist named Holt banging one in against Celtic in a friendly, rubbed his chin and thought: ‘Nah.’”
They’re doing OK without him these days, though.
1. Fulham: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
2. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
3. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
4. Wigan: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 2)
5. West Brom: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
6. Swansea: 2 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
7: Wolves: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
8. QPR: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
9. Bolton: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
11: Liverpool: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
12. Norwich: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
13. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
14. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
15. Everton: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
16. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
17. Stoke: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
18. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
19. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L = On second last (Bolton 0 Everton 2)
3L = On third last (Stoke 3 Blackburn 1)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)