When Chris Holtby talks about his son Lewis, the future Germany international and current Bundesliga star, the pride in his voice is unmistakable. So too is the Yorkshire accent.
The story of Lewis Holtby and the midfielder's rapid rise this season with Mainz, the current unbeaten leaders of the Bundesliga, is remarkable for many reasons, not least that this new phenomenon of German football is still eligible to play for England. The captain of Germany Under-21s, he qualifies through his father Chris who was born in RAF Hospital Cosford in Shropshire in 1961 and brought up in Britain.
While the door is still open for Fabio Capello to name Holtby in his England squad on Monday for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro next month, it is understood that the England manager is not considering that option. Still just 20, Lewis has made up his mind that he wants to play for Germany, a decision endorsed by his father – who is still very much an England supporter when it comes to international football.
Chris spoke to The Independent this week to set the record straight on his son's international future and to clarify the details of the family history which have been the subject of scrutiny since Lewis' case was highlighted nine days ago in a British newspaper. The Germany squad for their next two Euro 2012 qualifiers is named today, although it is not until next month that Lewis is expected to be selected by coach Joachim Löw for the friendly against Sweden on 17 November.
Chris, 49, said that Lewis, who was born in Germany and whose mother Heidi is German, had his full support. "As a professional footballer, playing for Germany is the way to go for him. It is my feeling as well to be honest. I have never put pressure on him to play for England. He is German, this is where he learned his trade. As English as I may be, he should play for Germany.
"He is lucky that he has the opportunity to play for England. If Joachim Löw doesn't want him – and he has got one hell of a midfield – then there is the option of England. Hand on heart I would be as proud of him playing for Germany as playing for England. My feeling is 100 per cent that he should play for Germany but with the option of England if Germany don't want him.
"Lewis has said himself how proud he is to be captain of the [Germany] Under-21s and if he suddenly decided he wanted to play for England that would be his career over here [in Germany]. I said jokingly to him that if he wanted to win titles then he would have to play for Germany. Like every other Englishman I have sat there watching the team over the years and been disappointed."
Like his father Harry, who now lives in Hexham, Chris joined the RAF at 16 and was stationed in West Germany in 1981 where he met Heidi. He completed two tours of the Falklands Islands after the war there and returned to England in 1984. The family went back to Germany in 1988 where Lewis was born two years later. Chris left the RAF in 1992 but stayed in Germany and now works for a Japanese company in Duisburg.
The Holtby family have always had mixed loyalties in international football. As recently as the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Chris recalls that Lewis, his older sister Kirsti (the only one of the three children born in England) and younger brother Josh wore England shirts during a family day out at the fan zones. But they also feel a strong affinity with Germany and their hometown of Gerderath, near the Dutch border.
"The only person who had to adapt to life in Germany was me," Chris says. "I had to learn the language and get a new job in the country. The kids have lived here and were born and brought up here. Josh [who is at the Borussia Mönchengladbach academy] has told me that he will play for England. He still wears his England shirt!"
Lewis played for Germany Under-19s against their English counterparts at Colchester United's ground in November 2008. "My dad and most of the family came," Chris says. "I'd never heard them shout for Germany before! England won 1-0. People recognised we were English and couldn't understand why we were shouting for Germany. All I wanted was a draw."
So how would it feel to walk up Wembley Way to watch his son play for Germany against England? "It would be difficult," says Chris. "I would have mixed emotions but obviously I would be backing my son all the way. I have always been there for my kids and they come first before national pride. It is only football.
"I am so proud of Lewis. He just amazes me all the time. I have to pinch myself that Mainz are top of the league and that there is talk of him being picked for England or being picked for Germany. They keep a league table here in which players get points for assists and goals and he is top of that. There has never been so much written about him and the family as there has over the last few weeks and I just want to get the facts right."
A good amateur footballer, Chris had a trial with Luton Town and after moving to Germany played in the first team of his local side Sparta Gerderath, also Lewis's first club, until he was 41. Lewis was scouted by Borussia Mönchengladbach's academy as a child. He left them at the age of 14 to go to Alemannia Aachen in the second tier of German football. Two seasons ago, aged 17, his career took off when he broke into the first team. "He had one hell of a season," Chris says. "I know I'm his dad but he absolutely lit up Aachen. He brought the smiles back to people's faces. We couldn't believe how quickly it happened. Suddenly there were English and German teams looking at him and then along came Mr Magath."
He was signed by Felix Magath at Schalke in the summer of last year but found his chances limited there last season. He spent the second half of last season on loan at Bochum, who were relegated. This summer he was in demand again as a loan signing and it was the Mainz coach, Thomas Tuchel, who impressed him the most. Mainz play Hoffenheim tomorrow as leaders of the Bundlesliga having already beaten Werder Bremen, Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich. If they win they will break the record for the best-ever start to a Bundlesliga season.
The trademark goal celebration of the team's young stars, Lewis, Adam Szalai and Andre Schürrle – they mime playing in a band – has earned them the "boy band" nickname "the Bruchweg boys" (after Mainz's stadium). They duly played up to the image by appearing on German television's equivalent of Match of the Day last weekend miming with instruments.
"Lewis's story is a good one and I am proud as punch of him," Chris says. "What amazes me about Lewis is how he conducts himself. He can talk to anybody. I am sure he would talk to Capello. But he will have to tell him that Germany is his first choice."Reuse content