He gave us back our pride. Our club was at its lowest ebb for half a century. But a lumpy, unfashionable throwback called Grant Holt played an utterly vital role as the next three seasons became a joyous, unforgettable romp.
Thank you, Holty.
Others made huge contributions to the remarkable recovery. There was Bowkett at meetings with the banks. There was McNally bullying every penny to work harder. There was Lambert refusing to let his team take a backward step in any contest. There was the Norfolk Cafu blocking and breaking. There Wes unpicking locked defences.
But all of them, and all of us, needed a hero to translate all of that effort into goals.
So, as he prepares for Wembley and Europe with a club who cannot fill their ground, there is a palpable sense of loss among the legion of loyal, loud supporters who will always chuffing love Grant Holt.
He had reached his sell-by date, I think. And, frankly, I didn’t want to see a further diminution of his powers; didn’t want to see the mighty warrior reduced to walk-on roles as a bit-part extra.
Now we can just wallow in warm memories. And we have so many. On Facebook, Joe Ferrari, the club’s Head of Media, has gone for two from League One, both filmed by fans in the away ends.
There’s the fifth goal in the revenge thrashing of Colchester. As the ball is lobbed over the battered and broken home defence, a fan yells: “Go on! Go on Holty! Go on!” Our centre forward doesn’t actually touch the ball as Ben Williams flops forlornly at his feet. Holty sort of thinks the ball around the sprawling goalkeeper. Then comes a firm, side-footed finish and Holty wheels away exultantly to accept the acclaim he deserved so much and so often.
Chris Martin, ploughing through the mud, had given City an unassailable 2-0 lead by half-time. The Doc had shown all his Ginger Pele deftness to thump in a third and Oli Johnson had slalomed in a fourth. But, somehow, the game required the embellishment of that 90th minute Holt goal to put a big, final full stop on the statement about East Anglian dominance.
Joe’s other choice from season 09-10 is not a Holt goal. It’s a Holt assist.
It was March, and Lambert’s revivalists seemed to be on their way to the Championship. But at Huddersfield, they conceded a third minute goal and it wasn’t until 21 minutes from time that they equalised. Holty scored, natch.
Substitute Stephen Elliott, on loan from Preston, plundered a second five minutes later, so all the goals in the game so far had been at the end jammed full of City fans. With five minutes remaining, we were bouncing up and down, singing “Going up, up up!”, when another attack surged towards us like a crashing wave.
Our captain galloped clear, into the left hand side of the penalty area in front of us. “Go on Holt!” He looked up and slid a pass along the six yard box. It was too perfect for the desperate defender’s slide to intercept and too perfect for Elliott to miss.
The bonkers, barmy, explosion of unrestrained joy that goal provoked was because we knew. We knew then that we would be promoted. Norwich City really were on their way back. Thank you. Thank you, Holty.
My own absolute favourite memory of his incalculably valuable contribution comes from the Premier League. October 22, 2011. Anfield.
Craig Bellamy scored in the first half and, at half-time, Liverpool turned on one set of sprinklers: only one, quite specific set. They watered the strip of turf from the half-way line to the corner flag in front of us away fans. It was the wing on our right, which would be the Liverpool left. That was where Bellamy would be playing. Liverpool wanted to make it slippery for Kyle Naughton to turn so that Bellars could skip away from him.
But, with John Ruddy at his defiant best, City managed not to concede in the first third of the second half and in that besieged away end we dared to think, with relief, that we might only lose 1-0.
Lambert thought something entirely different. So he sent on Holty as a substitute. Pilks slung over a very decent cross from the right, and the ridiculously improbable happened. Jamie Carragher, Glen Johnson and goalkeeper Pepe Reiner congregated to deal with the threat but Holty was quicker and jumped higher than all of them. Thump. As good a header as you will ever see.
Goodness gracious, little old Norwich have scored in front of the Kop. How very dare they?
On the way to the match, my wife and I had been roundly patronised by Scousers, telling us what a nice club we supported, etc. But after the game, outside Anfield, a Liverpool supporter barged into my friends’ daughter, almost making her drop her blow-up canary. They weren’t patronising us any more, you see. They hated us, because we had shown them we were a proper team.
Thank you. Thank you, Holty.
I can’t think of him without remembering the demolition derbies. In the first, at our place, Holty’s hat-trick epitomised his attacking qualities: never giving defenders time to think or room to move, always ready (we can admit it now) to indulge in low-level illegality to better an opponent, always alert to an opportunity, always striking the ball like someone who knows he can score rather than someone who hopes he might.
For the second destructive derby – the game in that town in Suffolk in April 2011 – Holty was nursing an injury and his mobility was restricted. Come on, we can admit now that he was never exactly nimble. And that night in Suffolk, he was reduced to a hobble by a hamstring strain. Yet he kept going, kept chivvying, kept pulling defenders out of position.
At 2-0, he made one more painful run forward, prodded one more probing centre beyond the retreating defence and Simeon Jackson scored City’s third. It was the goal which brought the enemy to their knees. It was the run and the pass which made it. And, like the goal at Huddersfield which Joe Ferrari selected, Holty’s part in the humiliation of our neighbours demonstrated that he was often a provider as well as a sublimely gifted scorer.
So, would our club have hauled themselves up from the depths without him? Was his £400,000 arrival the most important signing our club ever made?
There is no way of answering those questions with certainty. But they are appropriate and justifiable thoughts.
In the 111-year history of Norwich City, there have been many great deeds by great men. There will be more to come.
But the peril we were in when Holty began his stay and the optimism with which we survey the scene as he departs tell a truly epic story. And with Grant Holt in the team the Yellow Army was able to march into grounds with a strut which matched his own unquenchable self-assurance.
He gave us back our pride. Thank you, Holty.