x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Grant Holt has more than proved his point at Norwich City

The striker has scored in all four tiers of English football, and this season he has come off the bench to net crucial goals in the club's first season back in the Premier League.

Norwich City's Grant Holt has scored four goals so far this season, three after coming off the bench.
Norwich City's Grant Holt has scored four goals so far this season, three after coming off the bench.

The role of a super-sub can be a double-edged sword. While it almost guarantees involvement, it means a footballer is overlooked when the manager names his initial 11.

But as perhaps the Premier League's most influential replacement this season knows, there are worse things than beginning on the bench.

"It's not a tag I really want but it's a squad game," said Norwich City's Grant Holt. The late arrival who scored equalisers against Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers as well as Saturday's winner against Queens Park Rangers, has provided Norwich with an extra four points from their last five games alone.

Playing in a fourth division in as many years, a footballer who spent years among the game's foothills is reaching new peaks. Now 30, the Norwich captain had topped 150 career goals before he appeared in the Premier League. In his early 20s, his target was to get into the league: the Football League, that is.

At the age of 16, he was released by his hometown club, Carlisle United. It was the start of his wilderness years, but he was reinvented as a player.

"I was a centre-half back then and I went off to play park football," he said. "I was shoved up front and did well. In fact, I did so well that Workington came in for me and I combined that with working as a tyre fitter.

"Hard days, really. The work wasn't too difficult, but it was dull and I needed the money."

His prolific form for Workington brought a move to Halifax, then in what is now League Two. It proved another false start, personal tragedy derailing his career. His father, George, died of lung cancer.

"It came out of the blue," he said. "It absolutely wrecked me. I needed to go home and football was on the back burner. I wasn't bothered about it."

When his contract with Halifax expired, Holt moved to Singapore, scoring 12 goals in 14 games for Sengkang Marine, and returned to England expecting Carlisle to offer him a deal. For the second time, they didn't. In administration, they were unable to sign anyone.

Instead, Holt headed to non-league Barrow, averaging better than a goal every other game despite other commitments. "I had years of fitting football around my work shifts," he said. "When I joined Barrow, I was working in the storeroom of a food factory by the docks. Having had a normal job - and not earning a lot of money - puts you in good stead."

He finally turned professional in 2003, signing for Sheffield Wednesday. It was a breakthrough of sorts, but a year later he dropped a division to join Rochdale.

At lowly Dale, Holt had to wash his own kit, but he finally proved he could score goals in the Football League. That brought him to Nottingham Forest's attention. The striker was voted Player of the Year by fans in his first full season there but, after helping them win promotion from League One, he was cast aside.

That was in 2008. At 27, he was back in League Two when Shrewsbury made him their record buy. It proved £170,000 (Dh968,393) well spent; Holt scored 28 times to earn a £400,000 move to Norwich.

Yet, after one league game, his purchaser, Bryan Gunn, the Norwich the manager, was gone. It may have looked like yet another decision to backfire for an unlucky footballer; instead, it proved his big break.

A stop-start career suddenly acquired momentum. Gunn's successor, Paul Lambert, made Holt captain. He scored 30 goals to help Norwich win League One, a further 23 to earn promotion from the Championship. A man who used to earn £140 a week in non-league was now in the millionaires' paradise of the Premier League. Fittingly, the former pauper opened his account against Chelsea.

"Just seven years ago I couldn't have imagined anything like this," he said. "It's been a long slog. It's taken me a while to get up there."

While, with Steve Morison displacing him as the lone striker, his workload is reduced these days, it is a far cry from the times when he had a full-time job to fit in around football.

"You'd get up at 6am, then do a day's work, have some dinner, get in your car and drive for two-and-a-half hours to [somewhere like non-league] Alfreton," he said. "You play, get home at 1am. Then you're back in at six." In comparison, as the former tyre fitter and factory worker knows, getting 20 minutes as a substitute in the Premier League amounts to a privileged existence.

sports@thenational.ae