Grant Holt, football fandom and me

A tribute to a dying breed, and the narratives around him.

“My name is Juliet and I support Norwich City.” There should be meetings where I can introduce myself thus to sympathetic people, but there aren’t, so instead I’m sharing my sadness with you, dear reader, because my favourite team have sold my favourite footballer.

It would be hideously self-indulgent to just write a love letter to former City striker Grant Holt after his departure for Wigan Athletic, so really, I’m writing about the narratives I build as a football fan, and why I build them. (I removed the journalistic “we” from that sentence, you’ll be relieved to know.) And, in the two decades that I’ve supported City, no transfer has seemed to signify the end of a narrative as much as this one.

Speaking rationally, it makes sense. Holt joined Norwich in July 2009, after City were relegated to the third division (League One) for the first time in fifty years. Ten years earlier, Carlisle United released 18-year-old Holt, who took a job as a tyre fitter and played part-time for non-League Workington, Halifax and Barrow, around a brief spell in Singapore with Sengkang Marine. He joined Sheffield Wednesday in 2003, but it didn’t work out and he went to Rochdale; after two years there he signed for Nottingham Forest, starting impressively before struggling again at a bigger club. So he spent a strong season in the fourth division with Shrewsbury Town which led him, at 28, to Norfolk, the flagship signing by former City goalkeeper and new manager Bryan Gunn.

There, Holt starred in a surreal success story, with City’s rapid recovery and his own belated recognition as a strong, deceptively skilful centre-forward becoming intertwined. He made his debut as on the opening day of 2009-10 Norwich lost 7-1 at home to Colchester United – the single worst result in the club’s history. City responded by sacking Gunn – whose appointment, in hindsight, felt like some sort of Andy Kaufman-esque performance art stunt – and taking Colchester’s manager, Paul Lambert. Holt was twice top scorer and Player of the Year as Norwich won League One before shooting straight through to the Premier League.

But in the Premier League, Holt really exceeded expectations, and became a symbol of resistance to the homogeneity, commercialisation and globalisation of twenty-first century football.  He was already a hero to Norwich fans, not least for his hat-trick against rivals Ipswich in the Championship (indeed, this picture of Holt laughing during City’s 5-1 win in Suffolk instantly became my favourite football photograph), but very few thought that Lambert’s team, which retained several players from the third tier and recruited mostly from the lower divisions, would survive in the Premier League, and even fewer imagined that Holt would end the season with 17 goals and in contention for England’s European Championship squad.

The first game I went to that season was at Chelsea. I paid £47.50 for my ticket, almost certain that City would get thrashed, and expecting to hate every minute, but going because, somehow, I retained some hope that I might see something unexpected, even miraculous. Charmingly, in contrast to Chelsea’s expensive international superstars, Norwich started with six who had played in non-League football, as well as the attacking Holy Trinity – Holt, Chris Martin and playmaker Wes Hoolahan – who had fired them out of League One.

José Bosingwa put Chelsea ahead in the seventh minute, and I feared the worst. (Later, several friends told me that they’d seen me on Match of the Day here, “looking worried”.) But in the second half, the impossible happened: City played a long cross into Chelsea’s penalty area, Chelsea goalkeeper Hilário and defender Branislav Ivanović collided, the ball dropped and Holt volleyed a looping shot over John Terry, whose sprawling failure to stop it going in only heightened our euphoria.

Chelsea scored two late goals and won 3-1, but somehow, the whole endeavour suddenly felt less futile: our club could keep its identity and compete in the top flight (even if we couldn’t hope to win it). Holt’s success epitomised and emphasised this: his bullet header to equalise at Liverpool and his brilliant trap, turn and finish against Manchester United earned him national recognition, but his strikes in victories over less established teams were just as important – Holt’s unusual, almost unthinkable career path and his burly physique provided a thrilling counterpoint to the hyper-athletic modern footballer and the often hollow spectacle of the Premier League.

It wasn’t so much that Holt made me, or any other fellow fans, think that we could become professional footballers – I’ve had to accept that, aged 31, having never got past Horley Town’s B team at Under-12 level and subsequently undergoing gender reassignment, I will probably never play for Norwich (although I’ve not ruled out Ipswich) – but that people like us, who we knew and understood, could still get onto the other side of the touchline. We didn’t so much ignore his imperfections as celebrate them: Holt committed the most fouls in the Premier League for two consecutive seasons, and for the second, I wanted a trophy.

But, by then, the inadequacy and stupidity of the narrative around Holt had been exposed. In a few awful days, Holt first admitted that he had always voted Tory – even before he became a professional footballer – and then submitted a transfer request, and the middle-class fans who’d built up Holt as a working class hero had to reconsider. (Has this ever happened before?) It was a reminder that footballers are, you know, people, with opinions and financial choices to make and families and futures to think about – easy to forget when you’re used to thinking about footballers as faces on stickers or names on management simulations or people bought and sold according to expediency.

In the end, Holt said his transfer request was a negotiating ploy and stayed in Norfolk for one last, very different season. His relationship with the fans recovered but was never quite the same, and he scored half as many goals as new Norwich manager Chris Hughton adopted a far more defensive approach – and now things have changed a lot more. Slowly becoming established, Norwich have replaced Holt with Holland striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, after 1974 World Cup finalist Johan Neeskens recommended that he join. So it’s a new story – of my team competing on the terms of the Premier League, rather than despite them – but one that never would have begun without Holt. Somehow, I’m sure I’ll adapt.

Grant Holt of Norwich City in May 2013. Photograph: Getty Images

Juliet Jacques is a freelance journalist and writer who covers gender, sexuality, literature, film, art and football. Her writing can be found on her blog at and she can be contacted on Twitter @julietjacques.

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Tim Farron: We must not let racists hijack the EU referendum result

The Liberal Democrat leader says in an IPPR speech that "Britain is better" than "Farage, Le Pen and their ilk". 

Like so many people, I felt shocked and emotional about the result of the vote on 23 June.
 
I know many people who wept at the news.
 
I can understand that.​
 
Not because I love the specific institutions of the European Union, but because I feel European.
 
I also feel British. And English.
 
And northern.  And I don’t feel any conflict between those identities, in fact they reinforce each other.
 
But the result seemed to throw this balance into doubt.
 
And yes, I also felt angry.
 
I still feel angry now, but perhaps for a different reason.
 
Because never in recent history have we, in the political classes, let down the people of this country so disastrously.
 
And I make no distinction here between those who voted to Remain and those who voted to Leave.
 
They were battered with dodgy statistics. From both sides.
 
They were lied to.
 
On both sides too – though it is the NHS and the £350 million that particularly sticks in the throat.
 
And worse than that.
 
They were misled by lackadaisical politicians, playing games, who had campaigned for years to leave the EU – but hadn’t bothered to come up with a plan about what to do if it happened.
 
We, the political classes, have left a country bitterly divided as a result.
 
Between parents and children, families, neighbours.
 
Between the nations of our own union, who have worked and fought together for centuries.
 
Between us and our continental neighbours.
 
And now the biggest danger of them all.
 
That because of those divisions, we are in danger of letting malevolent forces hijack the result.
 
Plenty of my mates voted leave and I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of those who did vote leave are utterly appalled that Farage, Le Pen and their ilk now seek to claim the result as a victory for their hateful brand of intolerance, racism and insularity.  Britain is better than that.
 
But I’m not so blinded by those emotions that I don’t see the new divisions that are opening up between us.
 
New political boundaries which chop the old certainties of Tory and Labour into little pieces.
 
Because there’s a new battle emerging.
 
Between the forces of tolerant liberalism and intolerant, closed-minded nationalism.
 
And, of course, you know that, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, which side I’m on.
 
But I also know what side most people in this country are on too.
 
In the 48 per cent and also in the 52 per cent.
 
So let’s be clear about this.
 
I am absolutely committed to the cause of an open-minded, open-hearted United Kingdom.
 
United in every sense of the word.
 
Because, as Jo Cox said, we have more in common with each other in this country than what divides us. 
 
And, yes, I campaigned my heart out to stay a member of the European Union. And would do again given the chance.
 
But a nation divided against itself can’t stand.
 
Nor can it hammer out a way forward from the current impasse.
 
And our combined history cries out for some more inspiring political leadership.
 
Which can say that, in or out, we remain an open-minded, outward-looking nation.
 
Which can say, in or out, we will be European and British and from our own towns, villages and cities.
 
And be proud of all of them.
 
Which can say to those from other countries who have committed their lives alongside us in the UK: we will stand by you, no matter what.
 
Let me just say that again.
 
We will stand by you.
 
As we stood by each other across Europe in the Second World War.
 
We will stand by you, who have chosen British communities to live in.
 
Not only that but we need you.
 
If the tens of thousands of people who make it possible to run our schools and health service were to worry about our commitment to them...
 
So much so that it threatens their commitment to us...
 
It would seriously undermine services that are used by some of the most vulnerable people in this country.
 
The Conservative and Labour parties may have so forgotten themselves that they’ve missed this urgent consideration.
 
But we haven’t.
 
So I make this absolute promise.
 
To use what power we can muster, to make sure that those who have committed their lives and families to this country will be protected.
 
That no kneejerk populism will be allowed to threaten them or uproot them.
 
And I ask now all the many candidates for high positions in Westminster to join me in this undertaking.
 
I don’t just say this as the leader of a political party.
 
I don’t just commit my own party to this.
 
I speak as a Member of Parliament in one of the most open-hearted nations on earth.
 
I speak as a proud citizen of this country.
 
We will not stand by to let Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen dictate our policy, our direction, or our morality.
 
So, yes, I campaigned to remain.  I’ll carry on campaigning to remain.
 
But we have gone beyond June’s referendum now.
 
There are more fundamental, more urgent issues that we must face today.
 
Existential issues about our nation.
 
About what they’re saying about us in the rest of the planet.
 
The newspapers.
 
The investors.
 
About protecting neighbours and friends born in other countries from hate.
 
So, yes, I recognise and understand the motivations of many of those who voted the other way to me.
 
I’m a white, working class, middle aged, northern male.  By voting remain, I pretty much confounded the predicted behaviour my demographic might suggest!  And for once it put me at odds with lots of the people I grew up with. 
 
Who are as proud as I am about the same things I’m proud of in our country.
 
I understand their fears for their own communities.
 
I completely get why being talked down to by Cameron and Osborne, threatened with a ‘punishment budget’ might push even the most internationalist person to vote leave! 
 
And nobody ever said the European Union was perfect. Least of all me.
 
Its aspiration of peace and co-operation in Europe is vitally important.
 
It still is.
 
But I’m aware that the reality of the EU can often be inflexible.
 
I understand that people’s liberal commitment to local communities, which I absolutely share, sometimes led them to vote differently to me.
 
I understand those who voted for Brexit and their frustration about the way that the big banks were allowed to torpedo the economy.
 
And torpedo so many people’s lives.
 
Without sanction. Without even a loss of bonuses.
 
While those who have tried to make a more tangible contribution their whole lives, have been sidelined, bullied and left behind.
 
I understand that, possibly better than any other leader.  Because whilst South Lakeland voted remain, it was the only place in Lancashire or Cumbria that did.  And I grew up in and I belong to the very part of British society that most heavily voted leave. 
 
And yes I understand their fears that their communities have been changed. Maybe even overwhelmed.
 
Not so much to satisfy Brussels, but specifically to reduce the wages of the big food manufacturers. 
 
Or the cleaning contractors.
 
Or the care homes.
 
Because what June’s vote did reveal, above everything else, is how angry people have become.
 
And though we might argue about the reasons for it, their anger is justified.
 
We have banking institutions that have let them down, suffocating their businesses.
 
We have an economic policy that favours the rich over everyone else, middle class, working class alike.
 
We have a housing crisis that’s consuming our children.
 
We have a Treasury so cut off from reality that they urged people not to vote for Brexit – because it might mean property prices would rise more slowly.
 
As if people weren’t struggling now to get a foot on the housing ladder.
 
To help their children scrape enough together to rent a place of their own.
 
We have people treated like cattle with zero-hour contracts.
 
We have those who worked as pillars of their community all their lives...
 
Running small businesses.
 
Managing farms...
 
Making a difference...
 
Only to see themselves gazumped by salaries ten or a hundred times as much by cash-hungry bankers in their twenties.  The devastation of our communities n the Lakes overwhelmed by excessive second home ownership is a case in point.
 
In short, we have an underlying, aching discomfort which goes to the heart of the reasons for the immediate crisis.
 
More than a discomfort.
 
It is a great and abiding fear, gnawing away at the heart of our society.
 
And we have a political class, which I don’t particularly like having to accept I’m a member of, which has abandoned people disastrously to their fate.
 
I believe that, in the national interest, we remainers and brexiters can most of us understand the motivations of voters on the other side to us.
 
We’re able to see beyond the stereotypes.
 
And to say together.
 
This open-minded nation will survive.
 
It will survive because these Liberal values are shared by so many of us. 
 
The right to say ‘this is who I am’. ‘This is who we are’.
 
And the enterprising commitment to challenge the big bureaucracies and the big businesses from below.
 
That’s why we will defend people wherever they came from originally.
 
Those who were born and bred here who are locked out of success by boneheaded cuts in adult education.
 
But also the Polish families who have work three jobs just to pay the rent, but who still help to run the school fete.
 
And the refugees who provide lynchpins to hospital after hospital from one side of the country to the other.
 
Right across the nation, and woven together, from Cornwall to Caithness.
 
Again, I say this not just as a party leader.
 
I don’t just say this to commit my party to it.
 
I say it as a proud citizen of this country.
 
With a shared history that’s always been outward-looking.
 
Connected through trade to other corners of the world in a way that no nation ever was before.
 
We provided the international language of the world.
 
We led the world in industrial development, moral development and scientific development.
 
And we stood up against tyranny even when it didn’t threaten us directly.
 
When all over Europe, those suffering under occupation, risked their lives to huddle around their wirelesses to listen to broadcasts from London.
 
There never was a moment in our history when we pulled up the drawbridge.
 
There never will be.
 
It just isn’t true that Britain voted to do that.
 
So that’s also my commitment as leader of the Liberal Democrats.
 
To listen to that fear and take it seriously. 
 
And then to hammer out and enact a more humane, more successful, more effective way of doing economics.
 
More challenging, more enterprising and more ambitious.
 
Which shares the rewards of success so that the state doesn’t have to step in so much.
 
To take on the real vested interests that hold us back as a nation.
 
The zero hour contractors.
 
The speculators.
 
The monopolists.
 
Those who would hijack people’s anger for their own racist agenda.
 
So that we can shape a fairer nation.
 
But also keep those outward-looking British values of tolerance and mutual respect that we all believe in.
 
Because there are going to be difficult, maybe dark, times ahead.
 
We’ve been made a laughing stock abroad.
 
We’ve had to watch the shaming pictures of Nigel Farage sneering on our behalf in the European Parliament.
 
We have to find a solution when both the biggest national parties have preferred to unravel than to take a lead.
 
But I’m a Liberal.
 
I believe in people.
 
And I especially believe in our people.
 
In their sense and their humanity, whether they voted to stay or to go.
 
People have been let down for decades by short-termist politicians who put the needs of one part of society above the rest.
 
Now, in the wake of the Brexit vote those divisions are more exposed than ever before.
 
With our country facing huge challenges…
 
– from inequality and injustice to an NHS in crisis and an economy in jeopardy –
 
…we are left with a reckless, divisive and uncaring Conservative Government and Labour fighting among themselves with no plan for the economy or the country.
 
That’s why the Liberal Democrats are needed more than ever.
 
We are the real voice of opposition to the Conservative Brexit Government and the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.
 
Britain is the most sophisticated and welcoming and innovative nation in the world and, in or out, we will stay that.
 
And we Liberal Democrats will do whatever we can, in Parliament and outside.
 
To reshape the way the nation works, to bring it back together.
 
To stay civilised. 
 
To stay united.
 
Because, wherever we were born, we love our country.​
 

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.