The Incredible Holt: Ex tyre-fitter putting the skids under Premier League's elite
'From the Unibond Prem to the Real
Prem', read Grant Holt's T-shirt when Norwich won promotion last May. It
has been quite some journey.
England's third-highest scoring
striker this season, Holt is bullying defences in the air, scoring goals
at the most famous grounds in the country and leading the line
brilliantly as Norwich prove they are in the Premier League to stay.
But it was not so long ago that the 30-year-old was told to leave his home club Carlisle and became a part-time tyre fitter.
Rising to the top: Norwich's Grant Holt, who played for Workington aged 17 (below)
Holt was a centre half failing to make the grade back then so took a job as a tyre fitter, getting up at 6am for work and playing park football in his spare time.
It was then that he switched to becoming a striker, a move which caught non-league Workington's attention and took him on the first step of a tumultuous journey plagued by struggles and tragedy but ultimately ending in considerable success.
'He joined in 1998 when he was 17,' said Steve Durham, who worked closely with him at Workington.
'We'd just been relegated to the North West Counties League but he helped us come back up at the first attempt, scoring nine in the last six games of the season and winning our Young Player of the Year award.
'He was still a tyre fitter back then in Carlisle and I remember him always asking for an extra hot dog from the lady in the kitchen.'
But it was his appetite for football rather than hot dogs that was challenged when a move to Halifax didn't take off and then his father George, who he was close to, died from cancer aged 40.
It was an horrendous blow for such a young man but one that spurred him on for the rest of his career.
'I wasn't bothered about football,' said Holt. 'My dad had travelled all over the country to watch me playing for Halifax. Now I try to be as good as I can to make him proud.
'He's not here to see me do what I wanted to do, which is a shame. But hopefully he is looking down on me and feeling really proud of his son. I've had a lot of knocks and disappointments that I've had to bounce back from.
'Maybe there's a determination and inner-strength in me, but I think it comes from my dad. He is acting as my inspiration.'
He settled back into his football at
Barrow, scoring 54 goals in 114 games – but not without a little
polishing from manager Lee Turnbull.
'I taught him about making runs
across the centre halves and how to head the ball because he used to get
underneath it when he first joined us. He was a fun lad. I remember him
rolling around the dressing room having mock fights with his
Let's get physical: Grant Holt is a throw-back to the days of bullying centre-forwards
Holt also had a real sense of
adventure, travelling to Australia where he played for fun a few times
for a team in Perth before being persuaded by their manager Trevor
Morgan to join his new side – Sengkang Marine in Singapore.
Only two English strikers have scored more goals than Holt this season in the Premier League:
Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 13
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea) 9
Grant Holt (Norwich) 7
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham) 7
Peter Crouch (Stoke) 6
Danny Graham (Swansea) 6
Darren Bent (Aston Villa) 6
But would his style suit
international football, where referees are quick to penalise physical
players His record in the Premier League this season suggest it could
be a problem…
Grant Holt 49
Tim Cahill 42
Alex Song 41
Marouane Fellaini 41
Charlie Adam 40
'He did well, scoring 15 goals in 17 games,' said Morgan, now in charge of East Bengal in Calcutta.
'One thing he found difficult was that referees penalised him a lot for his style over there. You can't use your body as much.
'We used to have a couple of thousand at home games. But it felt less as the crowd don't chant like they do in England – it was more polite applause. We had a nice standard of living over there and all lived in a block with a swimming pool, gym and sauna.'
After his summer in Singapore, Holt returned to Barrow and soon got his big move after Turnbull recommended him to Sheffield Wednesday manager Chris Turner.
'He scored three in the first half an hour and Chris leant across the dugout and said “how much do you want for him”.'
The answer was 7,500 but, as Barrow press officer Phil Yelland explains, the deal didn't work out as either party hoped.
'We negotiated a good deal for add-ons but, unfortunately, he didn't really do well at Sheffield Wednesday and went to Rochdale, so our chance of making a fortune had gone.' said Yelland.
'He still cares about the club and did pitch up on the terraces once or twice last season. Maybe one day he might come back to play for us.'
At Rochdale he again found form and a manager who backed him, scoring 34 goals in 75 games and earning a 300,000 move to Nottingham Forest.
But again, just as it seemed he was moving in the right direction, he struggled again, eventually leaving for Shrewsbury after some tensions with manager Colin Calderwood.
This time there would be no more backwards steps as the then Norwich City manager Bryan Gunn signed him for his recently relegated side.
'When I saw him for Shrewsbury, his striker partner had been sent off and he dominated the back four on his own,' said Gunn.
'There were a few clubs after him, including Colchester, whose manager was Paul Lambert.
'The main reason we were able to afford him was that lots of fans were prepared not to take a price cut in their season tickets when we were relegated, with director Michael Foulger saying he would match whatever the difference was for the transfer kitty that summer.'
It was money well spent.
High praise: Paul McVeigh (left) says Holt is an inspirational figure and Paul Lambert (right) is reaping dividends
Lambert took over from Gunn and made Holt captain and he responded with 53 goals in two seasons as Norwich clinched incredible back-to-back promotions.
Former teammate Paul McVeigh had his medical at Norwich on the same day as Holt and is still firm friends with the 30-year-old.
'He is an inspiration on the pitch and he organises the social life. He relishes it, bossing people around. He's so down to earth that even when we were in the Championship he was still driving his tiny little Citroen or Peugeot around.
'He used to drive up and down to Carlisle from Norwich all the time to see his family.'
This season has seen Holt finally reach the top.
He's proved to be a handful, scored plenty of goals and made his mark on plenty of defenders along the way.
In his current form, a call-up to Fabio Capello's England squad does not sound like a completely crazy suggestion.
'People have doubted him each time he has moved up a league,' said McVeigh 'but he's scored at Stamford Bridge, Goodison Park and Anfield this season. He's proved everyone wrong again.
'I think being 30 will make it hard for him to get picked for England but he has proved he is a natural finisher and is playing well enough to get a chance.'
If that ever happens, he'll have to get a new T-shirt printed.