11/12 Review: 9. Grant Holt
It all seemed so easy, when I volunteered to write this thing. Then, that murky Friday afternoon, not a week after the season ended, things changed. Grant Holt had put in a transfer request. I sat at work, wide-eyed, unblinking, unspeaking. My boss even said ‘you can go home, Zoë, if you need to.’ Eventually I mustered the strength to whisper, ‘but I love him…’
Since that day I have been trying to summon the strength to write a review of Holty’s season, but the pain has been too great. There are still so many questions left unanswered. We’re left treading on eggshells trying to play it cool, not saying anything in case we make the situation worse. I don’t know about you though, but I’m desperate to be standing on a windswept hilltop screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘WHY, GRANT? A THOUSAND TIMES, WHYYYYYY?’
And so it has come to this. I have had a generous measure of gin. I will start at the beginning, back when things were so much simpler, when the raw pain of that Friday afternoon in May and the tear-stained, wine-soaked weeks which have followed would never even have crossed our naive little minds. From the next paragraph onwards, I shall write as if none of this transfer request nonsense EVER HAPPENED AT ALL.
Grant Holt is a superhero. I don’t say that lightly, or without due consideration. People seem to think that a large part of Holt’s charm is his ‘everyman’ quality, the ‘normal guy’ you’d just see down the pub. However, I beg to differ.
There is absolutely nothing ordinary about what Holty has achieved since he rocked up in Norwich, pudding-basined, portly and smiling, three years ago. Goals in 3 different leagues, 3 consecutive Barry Butler Memorial Trophies, the man might have well have flown to the moon and back (with his superhero cape fluttering serenely behind his newly ripped torso).
Speaking of his torso, I have often been accused of spending far too long drooling over the Big Sexy Bastard’s body, but it simply cannot go unnoticed here (thank goodness, it is far too difficult to ignore his raw sexuality completely). I have a poster of Holty on the back of my toilet door which is a picture taken during the League One season. Compare him with this year’s Holt, and it could be a different man. No less handsome, of course, but there used to be a whole lot more of him to love. The effort that Holt has put in to improve his fitness has reaped rewards.
It’s not that I ever tire (tyre?) of reading of Holt’s extraordinary rise through the tiers of English football – but I don’t need to re-hash it here. Perhaps what is worth bearing in mind, though, is that t-shirt he wore on the last day of our Championship promotion season: ‘Unibond Prem to the real Prem. Wow.’ When we think about him, what he has done for us, we must always remember the truly staggering nature of his achievements. It puts it all into perspective.
I need to get on with the matter in hand; the story of Holty’s season. A slow start; as it was last year, and to some extent the year before that. Superheroes have crises of confidence, too. Perhaps he had taken to heart the motto of the uneducated: ‘yes, but does he have what it takes to score at the highest level?’
When Holt doubts himself, he drifts – morphs even – into a far less likeable version of himself – the tormented hero struggling with his demons, the Incredible Hulk looking in the mirror and realising he doesn’t suit green. He falls over far too easily, complains constantly at the referee, doesn’t jump for headers and then charges around like a headless chicken (I utter the words ‘please don’t kill him Holty’ far more than I expect I should). Many people, those who don’t watch him every week (and even some of those who do, insert mandatory abuse of Messrs Lawrenson and Hansen here), see only this behaviour when they think of Holt. But when he is flyinig, when he is brimming with confidence, the dark side disappears. He is a heart-warming, inspirational, joy to watch. His majestic first half performance against Arsenal, for example: bullying – yes. Annoying the defenders – yes; but there was no complaining, he competed for every ball and he constantly gained possession in the most unlikely places. That is Holty the superhero. That is the Holty we love.
Holt’s goals populate the landscape of the season, standing proud as landmarks, making sure we never forget what happened, and that He was a part of it. There was the header against Liverpool which left Reina and Carragher shell-shocked, prone on the floor; the last minute penalty to equalise against Blackburn which he took because he didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with missing it. There were his goals against Newcastle (H) where we were imperious, the match that finally made me realise that we weren’t going to be relegated. His goals against Everton and Wolves were sheer class. The joy I felt when his strike against Man Utd flew in was unbridled. And of course, there was Swansea. He had been riling the home fans before the game, and got booed throughout. The stage was set for Holt. Of course he delivered. He bloody loves games like that. Norwich City Football Club, over the last three years, has redefined itself because of games like that.
It was all still a bit of fun when we saw him holding up that card at the darts saying ‘Holty for England’. By the time he wasn’t named in Roy’s squad, however, there was genuine outrage – not only from Norwich fans, but from large sections of the English public – because he should have been there. He finished the season second only to Rooney in the frankly non-existent league table of ‘Englishmen what score goals’. He had scored against some excellent teams. He is Holty. Perhaps he was never going to be picked, because of who he is, what team he plays for, and where he has come from. It is my belief that those factors are precisely why he should have been selected. We’ll never know now, of course, but he could have done something amazing. We all know how much it would have meant to him as well – my heart started breaking off in splintered shards as he congratulated the equally deserving John Ruddy on Twitter.
One of the reasons that superhero stories resonate with generation after generation is that there is a fallibility, a vulnerability behind the extraordinary powers. These imperfections remind us, even warn us in fact, that superhero-hood may be thrust upon any of us ordinary folk at any time. Grant Holt may be far from perfect (his grammar alone has made this grown woman shudder) but in my opinion his flaws only serve to make him more appealing. The man, with his lopsided grin, tattooed wrist and Captain Marvel underpants is otherworldly. Yes, Grant Holt is a superhero. And, for now, he is ours.
Please don’t leave us…