After writing a few negative/realistic pieces, depending on your point of view, over the weekend, I thought I’d better comment properly and positively on the retirement of Grant Holt, who I think is the best striker I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching pull on the yellow and green jersey.
I’ve been watching Norwich City for a long time. My first game was a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road against Leicester City in 1978 but I can’t tell you much about it as I was just seven years old. I’m sure Google could help me with who scored etc but I’ve never been bothered to check it out because I like to keep the memory that I have as it is. I do remember that it was a night game, it was cold and we sat in the old South Stand, complete with wooden seats and I know I enjoyed the experience.
Fast forward another seven years and I started to go regularly with my mates. In those days there was a special entrance for kids with a sign above it at the turnstile which read “Boys £1.50.” Great days and that’s when my memories of matches and particular players really kick in.
I’ve seen some of the best of Norwich City’s recruitment over the last 40 odd years and I’ve also seen some of the worst.
In terms of strikers, I’ve watched Mick Channon, John Deehan, Kevin Drinkell, Robert Fleck, Chris Sutton, Mark Robins, Iwan Roberts and of course, Grant Holt. I’ve also watched Darren Beckford and Dean Coney.
I happen to think that Grant Holt is the best striker I have ever seen in a Norwich City shirt. The fact that his tenure as the club’s goal scorer in chief coincided with our most recent successes helped, naturally.
Of those other illustrious names above, I think that only Robert Fleck came close in terms of visible effort, sheer will and determination but I always think of him as a scorer of great goals rather than a great goal scorer. If you’re old enough, you might remember his volley at Millwall to win a televised game 2-3 in January 1989. City had taken an early 0-2 lead only for the Lions to roar back and equalise, setting up a second half in which City were overrun and only stayed in the game due to heroics from Bryan Gunn. Right at the death, Flecky scored the winner from a Micky Phelan cross and I maintain that no other player in yellow and green that day could’ve scored that goal.
Getting back to Holt though, his goal scoring was nothing short of epic while he was a Norwich City player and there is no doubt that we saw the best four years of his career here in Norfolk.
I remember his debut in the 1-7 mauling from Paul Lambert’s Colchester United on the opening day of the 2009-10 season as the away fans chanted “Welcome to League One.” I also remember that he didn’t stop running throughout. He never gave up and that was what he was all about.
Holt’s attitude, both personally and as a leader of men were what stood him above his teammates. He led from the front and he led by example. His 30 goals in that League One promotion season was a herculean effort and he followed that up the following season as he continuing as the club’s top scorer. He wrote his name into City folklore with a hat-trick in the 4-1 demolition of Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town. It seemed to me as though he had decided that at this late(ish) stage of his career that he was going to the Premier League and that he was going to drag us all with him, which he did.
Suddenly he was benched though. Norwich had been promoted to the top flight again and Lambert had bought Steve Morison from Millwall, as competition for Holt. It seemed to me as though he felt that Holt might not be up to the Premier League but how wrong he was. A series of substitute appearances in the opening weeks/months of that season brought goals and his header to equalise at Liverpool summed it all up. Lambert realised he had to play Holt and he then regularly started to find the net again.
Plenty of people feel that Holty was nothing more than a blunt instrument with no pace or skill, not to mention that he was overweight. Another series of ridiculous myths. He may not have had Wes Hoolahan’s first touch or Elliot Bennett’s pace but he was no slouch either. His goal at Goodison Park showed that he had skills in his locker as well as just headers and he ended that season with 15 goals. That meant he was the second highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League behind only Wayne Rooney. How and why Roy Hodgson decided to take Andy Carroll to the European Championships that summer, rather than an in-form target man is known only to him.
The departure of Paul Lambert to Aston Villa though brought about the beginning of the end for Holt at Carrow Road. First of all, he put in a transfer request, to my absolute horror, but stayed when Chris Hughton insisted that he be given a new contract on improved terms. Holt only got 8 goals in Hughton’s first season in charge and cut a frustrated figure at times as he was asked to play the role of a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. It didn’t work out too well and Holt was sold the following year to Wigan for £2m.
The move to Wigan under Owen Coyle didn’t go so well though and Holt got injured, struggled for form but then had one more crack at the Premier League as Paul Lambert took him on loan to Aston Villa, again to my horror.
What really convinced me that Holty was the best though was when I met him a couple of years ago at a breakfast business meeting laid on by Norwich City for my mate’s company. He invited me along, knowing I was a big fan and I am eternally grateful.
They say you should never meet your heroes and to some extent that’s true, having met a few celebs and sportsmen over the years but everyone is human and everyone has good and bad days.
Holty was open, friendly and engaging as he talked about his career and what he wanted to do afterwards. He posed for photos, signed stuff and was generally a top man. Before anyone chips in “But he was getting paid to be nice”, maybe so but that doesn’t matter to me. I’m in the camp that thinks 90% of the time you can judge a book by its cover and my opinion of Holt was improved even further because of that day.
Every once in a while a player comes along who resonates with the entire fan base because of what they do on the pitch. Holt was a goal scorer par excellence in his time at Norwich and he led by example via his performances. Did he personally ever have a really bad game?
He was our leader and sadly, he’s yet to be replaced. Hopefully, he can instil some of what he’s got in the young lads at Colney as he takes up a new coaching position. It’s certainly good to have him back around the place.