Texan Holden gambles on a return to his roots

Bolton's new American signing hopes an FA Cup run can earn a trip to South Africa

If it goes to form, Bolton Wanderer's trip to Tottenham Hotspur tonight will barely cause a ripple but for the visitors' American midfielder, Stuart Holden, the game will provide a moment of real poignancy.

Born in Aberdeen to a Scottish mother and an English father, Holden's family moved to Texas when he was 10 and after proving himself at Clemson University, Holden earned a move to Sunderland under Mick McCarthy in 2005 but suffered a fractured eye-socket in an unprovoked attack in Newcastle just days later. He returned to the States where he made his name with Houston Dynamo and worked his way into the national squad.

Following the loss of his father, Brian, to pancreatic cancer a year ago, Holden produced the best season of his career and, in World Cup year, he agreed to leave the security of the MLS to join Owen Coyle in England, at Burnley and then Bolton.

The Reebok Stadium is just three miles away from Hindley, where Brian grew up and Holden was able to visit his father's grave with his grandparents for the first time on the anniversary of his father's death eight days ago. "The first anniversary of his death was last week," Holden said. "It was emotional but it was good. I was able to be there for my grandparents. It has been tough losing my dad and my biggest supporter.

"But last year started with that, which was tough for us all, then it ended up being the best year of my career to date. I have used his inspiration to influence my career in a positive way. His memory lives on and every time I play I know he will be watching and he will be proud this summer when I go to the World Cup hopefully.

"Dad got to experience my professional career back home in Houston and he was always my biggest supporter and No 1 fan. I know he would have been proud the day I signed here. I still wear the wristband he wore for six years – "Live Strong" – and have not taken it off to this day."

Holden, 24, whose brother Euan joined Danish side VB on a one-year deal earlier this month will cover that band in tape tonight to ensure it stays in one piece when he makes his debut in a much-changed Bolton side.

Although a thigh problem has meant waiting for his first taste of English football, fittingly for someone nicknamed "The Chameleon" as a youngster, he has quickly assimilated at the Euxton training ground. "The guys have been giving me some stick, saying, 'What are you? A Yank or a Jock?' My accent starts to creep back in a bit as I mix with the group but I still have the American tan," he added. "It is great to have learned the culture and coming back here made it the only place I wanted to play.

"I knew it was a gamble coming here. It could go two ways, I could come here and not play a game, which would really put my World Cup spot in jeopardy but I looked at it as a decision which would affect the rest of my career. I had confidence in my ability and the chance I'd been given. I felt I could start playing games before the end of the season. That will give me valuable experience which could help the US leading into the World Cup."

Holden hopes to be named in Bob Bradley's squad for the game against the Netherlands next week and is already looking forward to the prospect of facing England in South Africa on 12 June. "I have been watching Premier League games week in, week out now and watching football on the TV virtually every night," he said. "I am getting to see what England have. There is no secret that England is a great team with great players and that opening game is going to be pretty special."

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