#6 – Matt Holland
It was not the tears Matt Holland shed as Charlton were relegated from the Premier League that epitomised the character of the man. Nor was it his Player of the Year worthy performances in the Championship campaign that followed. It wasn’t even those two stunning goals he scored at Goodison Park in consecutive seasons.
For in the torrid 2008/09 season, during which a Charlton in crisis were routinely humiliated on their way to relegation to the third tier, Holland was forced to fill in at centre-back on a number of occasions.
For all the qualities the former skipper possessed, and continued to despite being in what would prove to be his final season of an excellent career, there was no suggestion he was suited to a role at the back.
He might well have operated in a deep midfield role in the final few seasons of his career, breaking up attacks before starting new ones with relative ease, but his defensive skills were those that were best used slightly further up the pitch. His height, a few inches under the recognised minimum height for a centre-back of 6ft, also an issue.
Alas, in those handful of appearances at centre-back, you could not fault Holland at all. In a season that saw some rather questionable defending by some rather questionable defenders, the then 35-year-old proved to be dependable in his unfamiliar role.
In fact, he was dependable to the extent that I may have allowed myself to be excited when centre-back became a position he was capable of playing on Football Manager.
But should there have been worry, and then surprise, that Holland could do more than a reasonable job at the back? In every single one of his 215 appearances for the Addicks, there was selflessness, unrelenting determination and, no matter how difficult the situation, quality on show.
That he so professionally filled a void in a nightmarish final season as a player sums up Holland perfectly. The ultimate pro, the ultimate performer and the ultimate fighter while at Charlton.
And those were characteristics that stood out at the worst of times, and the best of times. A player that graced the Premier League with class multiplied by an amount of effort that made you sweat just watching him patrol Charlton’s midfield.
In fact, it’s something of a frustration that my first season in residence at The Valley came a year after Holland arrived in SE7. Snapped up from Ipswich, for who he missed just two league games in six seasons, for a bargain fee of £750,000, he immediately claimed the armband at Charlton. His leadership and outstanding performances in an ever-present campaign playing a vital part in the Addicks achieving their highest ever Premier League finish.
Then, like receiving a present for Christmas but not being able to get a hold of the batteries to use it until Boxing Day, I was forced to wait to witness Holland in the following season. A rare injury, picked up in the opening game of the season away at Bolton, meant he missed more games in the first two months of the 2004/05 season than he did in the previous eight seasons combined.
But when I finally got to see the skipper in action, in the Centenary game against Newcastle United, it proved to be worth the wait. It was immediately evident that Holland was the lynchpin in Charlton’s side, and a player of unreal class.
He made the game seem so simple. His composure when receiving the ball allowed him an extra second to look up and pick out the next pass perfectly, his reading of the game so good that he was rarely not in a position to break up opposition attacks and his endeavour unrelenting but never out of control. Skills and abilities that are so often taken for granted, but when seen consistently create a top quality midfield player.
And Holland was exactly that – consistent. Rarely was there a performance anything below excellent; never was there a half-hearted display. The current crop of Addicks could do with emulating Holland’s attitude.
It did, however, mean he rarely stole the limelight. His selfless nature, doing the dirty work so his team mates had more freedom, accounted for that. Those volleys against Everton and battling on despite a rather bloody head against Palace aside, it was, like his performances, a consistent stream of praise rather than the occasional ‘wow’.
Although replaced as armband wearer by Luke Young, and then oddly Darren Bent, in the following two seasons, Holland remained captain at heart. The perfect leader and representative of the Addicks.
So the response when, despite his best efforts throughout the season, the side he still effectively led had their relegation confirmed in 2007 was to be expected. Holland cared as much as anyone inside The Valley about his club as Tottenham condemned them to relegation.
He also cared enough to fight on, and regain the captaincy he deserved as the Addicks returned to the Championship. In a side that was on the verge of falling apart all season, Holland held it together. That he received over half the vote for POTY despite playing just once before the final week of November says it all. A class above in a horrid side put together by Alan Pardew.
In fact, Holland was one of two players I had any sort of attachment to in his final season at the club. The experienced head and his young disciple, Jonjo Shelvey, the only players who played a substantial part in that campaign who think of fondly. The rest hardly fit to play alongside such a Valley legend.
And so it ended in despair. His final two games saw Charlton throw away two goal leads to draw 2-2 on the pitch he had patrolled with distinction for so long. The first of those draws confirming the club’s relegation to League One.
But when those torrid season are mentioned, and the embarrassing performances retold, so often is the professionalism, determination and class of Holland also brought up.
That Ipswich Town fans share similar feelings adds extra weight to the character of Holland; rarely does a player become a legend at two different clubs. Both sets of supporters will contest that Holland is there’s, but regardless, he’s a Charlton icon who gave fans something to believe in in unbearable times.