Norwich City Cult Hero: Grant Holt – man of the people, master of the art
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images
There can be few arguments over Grant Holt’s status as a Norwich City cult hero – Chris Lakey takes a look at the striker’s career
The term cult hero is very liberally used. Ditto ‘legend’ ... thrown around so much that, like the crocodile’s tears, in the end they become meaningless.
Just a couple of little stories about Grant Holt first as evidence, if you like, of his credibility as a cult hero and a legend. Without a shadow of doubt.
First, let’s turn the clock back to the first away game of the 2010-11 Championship season, at Scunthorpe. It took City until the final minute to crack the Iron open, and it was Holt who scored. He duly came out for post-match press interviews, but as he walked towards the assembled throng, he pointed at yours truly and suggested I go forth and multiply. I was a bit shocked, to say the least - seems he’d taken a dislike to a story I wrote suggesting he might miss the start of the season. In fairness, he was probably within his rights.
Anyway, a few weeks later, he lifted his ‘media ban’ and was available for interview again. We were at Colney and I remarked on how nice it was to speak to him again. He smiled, winked ... and never a word was said about it again.
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Fast forward to February 8 this year. Holt, now 39, is now playing for Wroxham and it’s a huge game at Trafford Park where a formidable Stowmarket Town side are the visitors. Big crowd, great atmosphere. Holt is in his element. He’s chatting all game: to the crowd, to team-mates, to opponents, and always to the ref. As he waits for the whistle to start the second half, he’s poised on the halfway line, not far from fans. He starts chatting in the general direction of a few. “I needed half-time. Nice to have a beer,” he says mischievously. They laugh, not quite sure what to think. The whistle blows. “Only joking,” he shouts as he sets off. “...I had half a dozen jager bombs.”
The fans love it.
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You see, whichever way he talks to you, he is one of us, An ordinary bloke who has done an extraordinary job. And, it has to be said, extraordinarily well.
After his advice to me at Scunthorpe I sulked a little and said “he’s just a tyre fitter from Carlisle”. Not my best judgment, but there was a bit of truth in it, Working class hero. Cult hero.
Holt signed for City in the summer of 2009. He came with a little bit of a reputation as a bit of a hard man, the sort who’d leave his foot in. But it was more an element of kidology in the way he played. He was hard, but he wasn’t dirty. He looked liked he could get under the skin of an opponent, to become the superior one of the battling beasts. Holt was in charge and that’s probably why he smiles a lot on the football pitch. That’s another thing: I have never asked him how much he enjoys the game, but from afar it looked like too easy a question. As well as the team contribution, Holt provided a 90-minute one-man show.
Holt’s career had taken him on Cook’s tour of the footballing world: not many players would have been on loan from Halifax to Sorrento in Australia. Singapore was a stop-over as well. Holt added the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest to his CV before 20 goals for Shrewsbury attracted City’s attention and Bryan Gun signed him on July 24 for around £400,000.
Holt played in the disastrous 7-1 opening defeat by Colchester but scored a second-half hat-trick days later in a 4-0 League Cup win at Yeovil - Gunn’s final game.
Paul Lambert took over and Holt – a player the new manager had wanted to sign for Colchester but couldn’t raise the cash – flourished. Lambert’s first game in charge was the 5-2 home win over Wycombe - Holt, made captain, scored twice. The love affair had truly begun.
City climbed the table and won promotion. The following season they went up again, into the Premier League. It was the stuff of dreams – and Holt was dream-maker-in-chief.
In his first season, a decade ago, he scored 24 league goals, following it with 21 in the Championship, including a hat-trick against Ipswich which in itself is usually enough to guarantee cult status and the freedom of the city.
The Premier League would be the acid test – but Holt was not overawed. Remember the magnificent header against Liverpool at Anfield? Or, again on Merseyside, his neat turn and shot against Everton? Those two goals debunked the theory that Holt was just a big front man. He was far from that. Ipswich had discovered that when he rolled out every trick in the book. But his Merseyside goals proved he wasn’t a flat track bully. His timing at Anfield was immaculate, the header firm, but perfectly placed: no guessing, no closed eyes. Anthony Pilkington cross, bang, beating Jamie Carragher and keeper Pepe Reina to the ball. At Goodison it was just sweet foot movement in a crowded area.
Holt was a jack of all trades, master of them all.
He was the Premier League’s second-highest English scorer in 2011-12 and there was talk of an England call-up for Euro 2012, but Roy Hodgson resisted. We all know how that ended...
The first three-time winner of the Player of the Season award, Holt’s City career saw him score 68 league goals in 135 starts before he departed for Wigan in 2013, his time as a City player over. The game took him up to Hibs for a while, although when his regular flight back to England ended, so did his time north of the border. He moved back to Norfolk, played a few games for King’s Lynn, went back up north to Barrow and then returned and still plays for Wroxham.
Still playing, still chatting, still tormenting. Still scoring goals.
Grant Holt: cult hero. End of.