Holt hopes fans can reclaim stake in football after 'big bomb' of Super League
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Now is the time for football fans to rise up and reclaim a stake in the game they love, after the collapse of the European Super League coup - says a man who knows a thing or two about the English pyramid.
Norwich City legend Grant Holt kicked off his career in non-league with Workington and Barrow, played throughout the Football League and spearheaded the Canaries' drive from League One to the Premier League.
The determined striker scored 23 top-flight goals in two seasons before being controversially sold to Wigan in 2013, eventually winding down his career in non-league again with Barrow, King's Lynn and Wroxham - where he was still playing this season prior to the Covid-19 pandemic ruining the Eastern Counties League season.
Last night the 40-year-old was at Thorpe St Andrew School to surprise Norwich & District Sunday League side Salhouse Rovers, offering some coaching tips during their training session on the 4G pitch - staying true to his roots during a week that rocked football, as 12 clubs tried to breakaway as permanent members of a European Super League.
“When I spoke to Your Move and the EFL about getting involved in the scheme and what it was, I was absolutely delighted that they asked me to be involved, I’m a big advocate for grassroots and non-league," said Holt, promoting the Your Club, Your Kit competition.
“Then you talk to the guys about non-league and this is how I started, general chit-chat, and then you see the big bomb that comes in this week and you actually sit back and reflect, have we lost that understanding of what grassroots is, understanding of how hard it is, where people come from?
"We talk about a kit like it’s just a kit but to a team like where my little girl is, a kit is £150 for a full kit, then we talk about the training kit where the parents have to provide it, then we talk about the parents getting them there.
“Everyone wants to remember all of that is why we see the Jamie Vardy stories, or mine, Glenn Murray’s, the sacrifice that people make for non-league grassroots, there’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into it.
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“I think that’s where, this week, you think £110million a year’s not good enough? You need another 250?! You’re already getting sponsors giving you millions and millions a year.
“It makes you sit back and think that something needs to happen, regulation needs to come in. It’s been talked about for years, independence coming in, and I think the pandemic has escalated that.
“More than ever clubs are struggling. Grassroots, non-league, everything along that, families, just people alone struggling to have money.
"Now’s the time when fans need to stand up and fans need to take more ownership back, they need to have more of a say in terms of what’s wrong with football, why aren’t kids going, why are kids that play on a Saturday or Sunday not going to these non-league games or Football League games?
“There’s a big problem and it needs to be looked at. I think everybody is forgetting that the whole crux of it is the grassroots."
The striker, who scored 78 goals in 168 games for Norwich, hopes that Canaries fans will realise how important it is to go and support their local non-league clubs next season when City are away from home or don't have a 3pm Saturday game.
He also shared in the delight of most supporters in seeing the ESL breakaway collapse at an almost comical rate, as well as the grovelling apologies from the owners of the Premier League big six: Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham.
“Of course it’s going to fall apart, the fans aren’t going to stand for that," he said. "Some of those clubs could probably sustain not having a fan in the door because they’ve got enough going on.
“But the thing is once those fans stop going in that door, the sponsors will stop doing it, if there’s a boycott from the fans.
“The biggest thing is that if you put a sanction on one player that he can’t play for his country, I still believe, I don’t care what anyone says, if you put that sanction on, there’s not many mercenaries who will say I’ll take the money and not play for my country.
“That’s what I believe and I hope that is still the case because I know from my point of view that would have been the ultimate thing to ever do.
“I’m still hoping and believing that the players would just revolt and if the players revolt, that’s the end of it.”
Holt scored Premier League goals against all but one of that so-called 'big six', with only Tottenham evading him.
That included a memorable equaliser at Liverpool, scoring in a dramatic 3-3 draw at Arsenal and notching the winner in a 1-0 home victory over the Gunners, as well as during the 3-2 win at Manchester City in what proved to be his final Norwich appearance.
The former tyre-fitter now works as an ambassador for City and has a part-time academy coaching role, so has seen the progress made at the club in recent years, defying the odds to earn a second Championship promotion in three years despite being a self-funded club without wealthy benefactors.
"People from the outside looking in think we went up from the Championship and didn’t spend any money – and went down," Holt continued.
“Then we’ve done it again this year and if we don’t spend money and go down, they’ll say Norwich are a 'yo-yo team'. They don’t look behind the scenes.
“They don’t know that we’ve spent millions on the training ground now, it’s unbelievable now compared to when I was there. The thing I used to say that annoyed me the most about Norwich is the day I walked into the training ground, four years later they were in the Premier League and the only thing that got changed was the showers.
“Now I walk in and I go to the academy building, go and have a coffee with the lads and we’ve got our own room, facilities for them, the new gym, the hydro pools, the SoccerBot360 passing drills to make players even better.
“I can see change but because people can’t see £45million for a centre-forward or £28million for this player, that’s the problem. You’ve got to sustain what we’re doing.
“We need to have a good recruitment department, which we have from top to bottom. We’ve got players that keep coming through the door, we keep churning out players like Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons, Emi Buendia, because that’s our model.
“We make sure we’ve got all the young lads coming through, we’ve got Andrew Omobamidele coming in for the last five games and has done fantastic, that’s not a fluke.
“It’s not the years of gone by when you chuck the kid in. Look at how well Max has done, Ben Godfrey, Jamal (Lewis), these aren’t flukes, Tyrese Omotoye coming on this year, Josh Martin.
“We’re in a position where we know where we are as a football club, that’s funded by the owners being able to let Ben Kensell to get on with the finance side of it, Stuart Webber to get on with the football side of it and have the foresight to let them deal with it.
“To leave those people who are doing a fantastic job to make everything work, that’s where we’re at as a football club. So you take the 'yo-yo' out of it and we’re in a brilliant position.
“When I first came in we were on the brink of going into administration. Now we’ve got success on the pitch and we’re very successful off it. That is success for me.
“We’re talking about grassroots and when you look at the Community Sports Foundation, the work that’s going on there and the work with the partnership that’s been going on for years has got even stronger.
“They bring local grassroots players in to make them even better to then take them into Norwich City, that’s what we’ve done as a football club.”
- Holt is supporting the nationwide Your Club, Your Kit competition on behalf of Your Move, official communities supporter of the EFL. To help your local grassroots team and enter the kit competition visit www.your-move.co.uk/kit.