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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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I will always be that fat kid from Cumbria, says Norwich striker Grant Holt

Grant Holt’s goal-scoring exploits have lit up the Premier League – but don’t accuse the former tyre-fitter of being an ego-driven superstar.

Grant Holt photo
Grant Holt

“I will always be that fat kid from Cumbria,” insists the man currently outscoring £85 million pair Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll put together.

In a world dictated by flashy cars and the latest celebrity fad, the 30-year-old marksman is proud of his humble beginnings.

Starting out as a £50-per-game apprentice in the North West Counties League with Workington Reds, Holt’s rags to riches story would challenge the word count of War and Peace.

Now, Norwich City’s £450,000 bargain-busting talisman stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the game’s greatest.

The boy from Carlisle refuses to believe his own hype, despite outscoring Luis Suarez, Rafael van der Vaart and last year’s golden boot winner Dimitar Berbatov.

Remaining grounded, Holt modestly says: “Those stats sound great. To be mentioned in the same breath as players like of that ilk shows how far I’ve come.

“There is more to come though. I am in the best shape of my life – I have lost a stone and a half and I feel great.”

Life wasn’t always so rosy for Holt, whose career began as a 17-year-old fresh out of school.

A defender by trade, he was forced into the man’s game as a makeshift striker at Workington.

Adapting quickly, Holt’s scoring exploits were instant. Nine goals in the final six games secured Reds’ promotion.

“Playing at that level has definitely hardened me to the demands of the Premier League,” he says as he prepares to take on Manchester United on Sunday.

“It’s a lot easier knowing players aren’t just trying to break your legs now.

“In the non-league, players are brought in just to bully young lads. You get kicked for 90 minutes, but I’m proud of my roots.

“I will probably be the only player who goes from Workington to the Premier League and that’s a massive honour for me.

“But I will always be that fat kid from Cumbria who is flying the flag for our county in the big league.”

During that one season in West Cumbria a star was born. The Carlisle-born frontman can count the likes of Halifax Town, Barrow and Sengkang Marine in Singapore among his former clubs, as well as stints with Sheffield Wednesday, Rochdale, Nottingham Forest and Shrewsbury before finding a new lease of life at the head of the Canaries attack.

Looking back at his time in Workington with a wry smile, Holt paid tribute to his former club when he captained Norwich to Premier League promotion.

A T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘From the Unibond Prem to the Real Prem’ adorned his body as all around him was engulfed by a sea of yellow.

Holt says: “I have come from such humble beginnings, it felt right to celebrate my past.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life leading Norwich to the Premier League, but I will never forget where it all started.”

Holt’s CV reads like a patchwork example of how far hard work can go.

Named in three PFA teams of the year, he also topped the League Two scoring charts with Shrewsbury (28).

Paul Simpson’s play-off losing side also named Holt Player of the Year; an award he’s also won at Nottingham Forest and Norwich.

Despite all the accolades, there is still a gaping hole; not fulfilling his boyhood dream of playing for his beloved Carlisle United.

Coming agonisingly close on three occasions is one hat-trick Holt is not proud of, and an issue he aims to rectify when his Carrow Road contract runs out in 2014. He says: “I still have two years on my Norwich contract, but I’ll always be a Carlisle fan.

“I would love to end my career with them, but only if I felt I could do the shirt proud.

“I would not join just to say I played for the club I love. I would have to feel I was able of helping them.”

A lifelong fan – he was there to watch Carlisle’s defeat at Brentford on Monday – Holt came close to a Brunton Park move in 2002 and twice in 2008.

Agreeing a contract with ex-boss Roddy Collins while playing in Singapore for Sengkang Marine, the flamboyant Irishman reneged on the deal when Holt returned to England.

He says: “All I had to do was put pen to paper, but the contract never came.

“I was desperate to sign, especially after scoring in friendlies against Newcastle and Celtic, but Roddy said the club had no money and the deal was off.

“Not signing for Carlisle United is my biggest regret in football.

“To wear that blue shirt in front of the Brunton Park fans would be amazing. I would have worn it with pride, but so far it wasn’t to be.

“I have been lucky enough to play at Brunton Park against Carlisle, but it’s never the same.

“I don’t want to score against Carlisle, I want to score for them.”

Transfer deadline day: January 2008, Holt again came close to signing for Carlisle. Neil McDonald wanted to push through a deal, but the board refused to pay Nottingham Forest’s £175,000 asking price.

“I was happy to take a pay cut to join,” he says.

“All I wanted to do was play for Carlisle. To come so close to joining and miss out was hard to take and I ended up on loan at Blackpool.

“My agent offered Carlisle first refusal in the summer, but they still said no so I dropped to League Two, scored a few goals for Shrewsbury, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

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