For a player who once complained he was too unfashionable for England, the sight of Grant Holt in an old 1920s grandstand at a greyhound track this week seemed pretty fitting.
In an era when Manchester United players invest in racehorses, Holt – who will face the champions with new club Wigan Athletic in tomorrow’s Community Shield – is an unashamed fan of the dogs. “There’s a bit of snobbery towards it that there shouldn’t be,” he says. “People have the idea of an old man going along with a paper under his arm but it’s a great night.”
Holt, a victim perhaps of a different kind of snobbery when as a burly English centre-forward he started banging in Premier League goals for Norwich City, is speaking at Coventry Greyhound Stadium where his new racing club SMGH Racing – set up with his former Norwich colleague Steve Morison – will be competing.
It is cheaper than the thoroughbreds of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen – “They’re on different money,” he says – but still a significant investment given the involvement of trainer Jim Daly and plans to “breed our own”. They already have a Messi and a Norfolk Canary, and Holt hopes a goal tomorrow will inspire another name. “If I score, we’ll name the next pup Wembley Wigan.”
He has scored at Wembley once before but it came when he was captain of Inglewood Junior School in the English Schools FA’s Smiths Crisps Shield final. “Go on YouTube – it’s there. It’s a great header. I was a dominating centre-half then. It was 10,000 teams and a little team from Carlisle ended up winning. We were on Saint and Greavsie.”
That was at the start of a circuitous route around the football world for the Carlisle trainee which began at Workington and Barrow, has taken in eight league clubs and stop-offs in Singapore and Australia, but yielded no further Wembley success.
The closest he came was a League Two play-off defeat with Shrewsbury Town but he sees no reason why the FA Cup holders – 4-0 winners at Barnsley in their first Championship fixture after relegation – should fear United. “We’re two weeks ahead of them in pre-season, which gives us that little edge, and if you look at our team that played last weekend, most of them have been in the Premier League,” he says. “It’s probably a bit of an even game, to be honest.
“The good thing is a few of our lads have only been [at Wembley] a few months ago and they know what it’s like. No matter what they say about the FA Cup it was fantastic that Wigan won it, just for that difference, instead of the same teams.”
He does not think United’s dressing room will be upset by Rooney’s wish to leave. “It’s all a bit of waffle really and I don’t think it’ll affect them whatsoever,” says Holt, who had Rio Ferdinand as a guest on his BBC Radio Cumbria show on Tuesday. “They won’t be bothered about what Wayne Rooney’s going to do. If he leaves, Man U will probably go and spend £50m on someone else.”
Holt’s own departure from Norwich, where he scored 78 goals in 168 appearances, came at the right time. “I am just ready for a new challenge, I was ready to go,” says the 32-year-old, one of 10 players signed by new manager Owen Coyle. He is looking forward to playing in the Europa League – “it is something I’ve never done” – and is encouraged by his debut goal at Barnsley. “I have always been a slow starter so for me to get off and running last weekend bodes quite well.” Fast out of the traps is just how he likes it these days.
Grant Holt and Steve Morison are part owners of SMGH Racing Club, proudly sponsored by Ladbrokes. For more information go to steveandgrantsracingclub.co.uk