Grant Holt’s home-town paper has been adding its congratulations to a local lad done very good – and recalling the time when the Canary skipper had to ply his trade in non-league football in a bid to kick-start his stalled pro career.
The Carlisle-born 30-year-old was the toast of Norfolk this week as he led the Canaries to back-to-back promotions via that 1-0 away win at Portsmouth on Monday night.
Once again his goals have proved instrumental in Norwich’s extraordinary success. This season he has bagged 22 league and cup goals to add to the 30 he grabbed in last season’s League One title triumph.
Put together he now has 52 goals from his 90 City league and cup appearances; little wonder that he is odds-on favourite to life the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy ahead of this Saturday’s final home game of the season against Coventry City.
Roll the clock back ten years, however, and the some-time tyre-fitter must have been forgiven for thinking his chance of the big-time had gone as he returned home to the far North-West to rebuild his career at Holker Street, the home of Barrow Town.
In the better part of two years, he would score 52 goals in 114 appearances for the Bluebirds. The School of Hard Knocks was about to find itself a star pupil as Holt stared adversity in the face, dug in and re-built his career again.
From there, he would earn his second ‘big money’ move back into the Football League – Sheffield Wednesday reportedly paying £7,500 for his services in March, 2003.
He had already been the subject of a £10,000 switch from Workington to Halifax when he was 18-years-old.
From Wednesday he went to Rochdale; from Rochdale to Nottingham Forest where another step back would await – this time to Shrewsbury Town, from where then-manager Bryan Gunn would snap up his services for a reported £400,000 in the summer of 2009.
Speaking to the North-West Evening Mail at the time of his spell at Forest, Holt clearly hasn’t forgotten those days at Holker Street – nor the people who helped re-launch his pro career.
“Things hadn’t gone well for me in the league with Halifax before that and I was given a chance by (then Barrow manager) Kenny Lowe to go and play football, play games, and it did me the world of good,” he told the paper.
“At the end of the day, it was that which got me my move back to league football.
“And I still speak to some of the lads I used to be with at Barrow. Bish (Simon Bishop), Graham Anthony and Lee Turnbull have all rung us. They all laugh at how well I’ve done, they can’t understand how I’ve done it to be honest.
“When I was at Barrow I thought the dream (of playing against Premier League teams) had left me, but it shows that if you work hard you get the rewards.”
Those rewards could even include following in the foot-steps of team-mate Adam Drury and lifting the famous, old Football League Championship trophy should QPR’s FA Disciplinary hearing find against the Rs over the course of the next 24 hours.
If nothing else, Holt can at least look forward to a starring role in a Promotion Parade around his new, adopted home city of Norwich; Russell Martin looks about the one Canary star who could deny him a second, successive ‘Player of the Season’ award.
The other, fascinating aspect to the whole Holt non-league rags to Premier League riches story is that he is not alone in seeing the ‘other side’ of professional football.
David Fox was let go by Manchester United as a 16-year-old; Andrew Crofts found his career at a cross-roads after being released by Gillingham; Simeon Jackson has done his time at Rushden & Diamonds; Martin was with Paul Lambert at Wycombe Wanderers.
Little wonder, therefore, that the Class of 10-11 know exactly what they have achieved – both individually and collectively.
No-one had football’s equivalent of a silver spoon in their mouth from day one; all have had to slog their way through the lower league trenches to get to The Emirates and Old Trafford next season.
Holt, speaking to Sky Sports at Fratton Park, had one other person to thank for making so many dreams come true.
“He’s done well,” said Holt, proving a master of understatement.
“He’s been fantastic. We know exactly what we get from him. He’s a fantastic person, a motivator and he’s been great for us.”
Holt might not be the only one holding a piece of silverware come the weekend; Lambert is up for the nPower Championship Manager of the Month award for April, whilst Jackson is up for the players’ equivalent.
Given the month that both parties have just enjoyed, they may prove to be the easiest decision facing the Football League authorities and sponsors tomorrow.