Grant Holt – robust striker, tyre-fitter, non-league kid who fought his way to the Premier League – is talking about crying. His autobiography, out tomorrow, captures the resilience of his football journey but also carries some deeply personal memories.

The starkest is his description of the decline and death of his father, George, from cancer. This tragically happened at the outset of Holt’s professional career and cut down a man in whose steely, competitive image the centre-forward was formed.

Holt has discussed George’s influence, and his passing, several times over the years but rarely in the sort of intimate detail he has now committed to print. “My co-writer, Dan Brigham, is someone I’ve known a long time, but it was a weird scenario – him sat across the table, and I’m crying, reliving the story,” Holt says.

“It’s when you go into the depth of it that it gets you. But it’s a chapter that needed to be written. It would have been very easy to say he died, and that was it, but the whole story had to be told.”

It is 20 years since George died, aged just 40; a period when Holt, now 38 himself, was only just setting out on one of Cumbrian football’s most resonant careers. “As that time gets longer, you become more jovial, and remember the fun times, the holidays, the different things you did. It’s not as gut-wrenching. It’s just the landmarks along the way – getting promoted to the Premier League, things the girls [Holt has three daughters] have done. You think, ‘he’d have loved to see that’. But you try and remember the joy of what we had.”

It is also poignantly described in A Real Football Life that, because of his illness, George only saw his son play one Football League game. Holt, though, believes his subsequent rise, which peaked brilliantly at Norwich City, was still observed. “I always have that belief that whoever has passed on can look down and see what we’re doing,” he says. “That gives me comfort. Other people think it’s a load of nonsense but I believe he has seen what I’ve done.

“For me, it was never about doing it to make him proud. It was always trying to fulfil a dream he wanted to do [himself] but couldn’t.”

On this road Holt experienced a varied and eventually potent career, which included Sunday morning football, non-league grounding with Workington and Barrow, then life in all four professional divisions and 17 goals in his first Premier League season.

There is undeniable romance in this – and authenticity in his descriptions of an energetic childhood in his home city. There are tales of scraps and underage drinking, but also brotherhood and values. “Honestly, Harraby was a great place to grow up,” he says. “We had a community of people who were close. If something happened to you, you always knew someone was there to sort it out.

“Those things mould you. You knew you had to grow up, get a job, be respectful to others. When I talk to people about Carlisle I always say it’s not a tough place to grow up at all, but it’s a tough place in other ways – in that people have to learn on their feet. I’ve still got the same group of friends from back then and we all grew up quickly.”

Holt worked, whether carting crates of milk as a teenager or later fitting tyres for a living, and describes the time he was let go by Carlisle’s centre of excellence at 15, and moved into men’s football with the likes of Northbank and Harraby, as defining. It instilled a further hardness but also taught him that playing for the love of the game, rather than “chasing the dream all the time”, was what mattered.

“I talk in the book about going down with a hangover to play on a Sunday,” he says. “That’s how it was. There were maybe times you wouldn’t feel like it, but I didn’t want to let anybody down. They needed me to play. That stayed with me through my career. Whatever the level, I didn’t want to let my team-mates down.”

Holt believes his active childhood equipped him for what he eventually achieved. “We were always out, doing stuff. At weekends we went with my dad to football. He enjoyed playing and we’d kick around on the sidelines, go in the pub afterwards, get a coke, play some pool, come back and go out with our mates. We were always playing football.

“It makes me laugh now when I hear people saying about kids in academies, ‘you can’t do that, there’s too much load on them, they shouldn’t be playing for their school teams...’ Absolute nonsense. I watched the Liverpool-Man City Youth Cup final the other day and you’ve got young people going down with cramp. That wouldn’t have happened in our day because we learned to push through barriers. A lot of young players are being let down now because they can’t push through that barrier.”

In the book Holt talks about his love of Carlisle United, his regret that he never played for them, how close he came on occasions and the sometimes controversial times he faced them. He also admits that a match involving the Blues is the only one he cannot now watch with a purely analytical eye, as a coach.

“Everything goes out of the window when it’s Carlisle. I’m still shouting at them from the touchline. I would be screaming at Danny Grainger if he did a bad pass. Even though they are friends of mine, you can’t help it.”

What if he ever coached or managed United? “You’d have to take the emotion out of it. It [Carlisle] would always be a draw, because it’s them. We’ll see what the future brings.”

Holt’s past was best encapsulated when, in the hour of Norwich’s promotion to the Premier League in 2011, he disappeared into the dressing-room and scrawled on a t-shirt: ‘From the Unibond Prem to the Real Prem’.

Although he does not display memorabilia at home, preferring to dwell on memories rather than mementoes, he retains many items from his career, that shirt included. “It’s in the box, in the garage,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t get rid of that.

“It wasn’t planned – I just remember me and Anthony McNamee going in there 10 minutes before the end of the game, writing it, and having a beer on the sideline. That was such a massive moment. That group at Norwich…a lot of those players wouldn’t have been bought to play in the Premier League. So when we got there, it was all of us who desperately wanted to call ourselves Premier League players.”

This had followed spells at Workington, Barrow (twice), Halifax, Sheffield Wednesday, Rochdale, Nottingham Forest and Shrewsbury, while after his legendary time in Norfolk he represented Aston Villa, Wigan, Huddersfield, Wolves, Hibernian and Rochdale and Barrow again. Managers such as the tough, intuitive Paul Lambert are painted colourfully in the book, while a frustrating time at Wigan, when he was ostracised by Uwe Rosler (“an absolute disgrace,” he says), is painted unsparingly.

As a younger player Holt also had character-building spells abroad. “Lads in the lower leagues work damn hard to achieve a career and I wanted to get that across. [Before going to] Barrow the second time I was quite happy to chuck it in and work [for a living]. I’d had enough. Going there was the best thing I did because it gave me that joy of just playing football again.

“Someone once said to me, ‘Always try and say yes when you can’. If you do that you’ll be more likely to have a decent life. I could easily have said no to Singapore or Australia. But I went to Australia for four months, played in unbelievable heat and humidity, always running around because they didn’t keep the ball very much, and I came back to Barrow so fit. From there I went to Sheffield Wednesday. People will have seen talent in there, but it was the fact I was fitter, stronger, and I’d grown a bit wider because I’d been working. It was a good time.”

Holt, in a retirement which includes coaching at Norwich, a director of football role at Langley School and punditry work for BT Sport, also said ‘yes’ to an unlikely wrestling career which, on Sunday, will see him grapple in front of several thousand fans at Carrow Road.

“It’s a short life we’ve got, so why not?” he says. “As soon as they asked me, I said ‘absolutely’. Why not raise money for charity through having a muck about? You don’t realise how hard it is until you’re in there, but it’s good exercise. It keeps me entertained and my mind active.”

He also keeps his hand in with his more familiar vocation, turning out for Thurlow Nunn Premier Division side Wroxham: back at the sort of levels where he started, before the medals, plaudits and goals against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool which put him, briefly, in the international conversation.

“Not getting that call from England was probably my biggest disappointment,” he says. “But you can’t change it or dwell on it,” he says. “Once it’s done, it’s done. You just have to get on with it.

“The truth is, I never dreamed I’d have a career that would be worthy of an autobiography. The other day, when I physically held it in my hand, I thought, ‘Jesus, why have I, Grant Holt, got a book out?’ But I think when people read it they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

A Real Football Life, by Grant Holt with Dan Brigham, is published by Twocan and is available via

*See next week's News & Star for exclusive extracts from Holt's book