The man who saved Will Carling from '57 old farts'

Jon Holmes (left) is the camera-shy sports agent with a blue-chip client list and a reputation for honest brokering. But how does he go about running his business? Mike Rowbottom finds out
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The Independent Online
The events of the past week involving Will Carling and the Rugby Football Union have done nothing to diminish Jon Holmes's widely accorded status as the acceptable face of sports management. Indeed, Holmes's emergence as peace-broker between his client and the Twickenham top brass has now rendered him - to adopt the idiom of a brasher fellow agent - monster, monster acceptable.

It is possible to argue, of course, that Holmes was partly responsible for the whole brouhaha. It was after all he who suggested to the England captain that he might consider taking part in the Channel 4 programme which subsequently broadcast the infamous comment about '57 old farts'.

But it is Holmes who is the first to point this out. And as he also points out, Carling has laid no such blame at his door. Instead, there have been faxes of congratulation to his modest office in Nottingham from people he has never met.

That category of the population is significantly smaller for Holmes than most. He has made it his business to meet people in the last 20 years; those people have met other people. And fairly soon, Holmes has met the other people too.

He is an affable, unpompous businessman whose approach to his job - calling would perhaps be a better word for it - is reflected in the list of clients currently with his company, Park Associates. Among them are Gary Lineker, David Gower, John Barnes, Sebastian Coe, Paula Radcliffe, Will Carling, Rob Andrew, Mike Atherton, Adrian Moorhouse, and Tracey Edwards.

"I am a bit choosy," Holmes said. "If people don't feel right for us, I will say to them that they would probably be better with someone else."

Tap Holmes's list of people, and nothing too flaky will fall off. Good for the corporate image; good for sponsors.

Sometimes prospective clients come to him. Sometimes he sounds them out. Before he makes any decisions "I will ask some of the others about new people," he said. "They might say, 'he's a complete arsehole' or 'he's a good lad'."

Those clients who fall into the good lad category are dealt with in an adult fashion. Holmes, a 44-year-old who lives near Nottingham with his wife and three children, is a world away from the cigar-wielding, champagne- quaffing wheeler-dealers who Mould Careers and mouth their conviction that Winning Is The Only Thing.

"He's not a spiv," said the journalist and Channel 4 broadcaster, Brough Scott, who joined Holmes's group four years ago. "He's not greedy. He's not pushy. He's solid and sensible, and he knows a lot of executives and editors in TV and the papers. He makes you feel secure."

After an education at Oundle School and Leeds University, where he read political studies, Holmes spent an unhappy year as a trainee journalist on the Leicester Mercury before joining a financial services group.

Park Associates was formed in 1981, with much of the work involving two of Leicester's premier sportsmen, Gower and Peter Shilton. The latter connection was severed two years ago.

He is an exponent of the soft, rather than the hard sell. "You know that the people you deal with are special but you treat them like ordinary people in exceptional circumstances," he said.

"I have an objection to footballers being marketed like pop stars," he said. "Pop stars have a shelf-life of about two years." Needless to say, the picture of Will With His Kit Off in The Sun this week - more accurately, Will Topless - appeared without the agency's blessing.

Holmes sees his proper role in the backroom. He does not like - he really does not like - having his photograph taken. "You won't see many pictures of me because I am an ugly bastard," he says. "My clients are the stars."

Despite this, he assumed a high profile role in the Carling affair. "When the initial decision was made by the RFU, I said to Will 'I have walked this road before'."

Holmes has mediated behind the scenes between clients and sporting authorities before, notably on behalf of Gower and Lineker, who was criticised by the then England manager Graham Taylor. In Lineker's case, he was unsuccessful. But his knowledge of how things stood with the England players, and the press, and the RFU, helped him present Carling's position in a way which the RFU could respond to. "I thought they were going to cave in at some time," he said. "I was in the right place at the right time and turned the ball into the net."

It could be Lineker talking. But then, as Holmes himself says, like attracts like.