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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Nice Profile of/Interview with QPR's Ex...Ian Holloway

The Times
From The Sunday TimesMarch 04, 2007

The Big Interview: Ian Holloway

The Plymouth manager has had to wait for all the good things in his life: his wife, his precious children and footballing successPaul Kimmage
The interview is creeping towards its third hour and Ian Holloway is being pricked by the doubts that have afflicted him since childhood. We have been talking about his ambitions in the game and I have reminded him of something he once said about managing a Premiership team: “Nobody is going to want to hire a bumpkin from Bristol.”

“Yeah, well,” sighs the Plymouth Argyle manager, “some of the things that have been written about me . . . I’m getting plaudits for being a comedian - I’m not a comedian, I’m a football manager and I want to manage at the highest level. I took a while to get there as a player and I’ll take a while to get there as a manager, but I’m going to get there . . . But I don’t think my accent helps.”

“You don’t?” I ask.

“I listened to [an interview with] me on the radio the other day and thought, ‘Good gracious! Would I want to employ a bloke who sounds like that?’ Because these chairmen, you’re not going to entrust somebody with your club and your business if he doesn't sound right, are you?”

“But what about Sir Alex Ferguson and his salty Glaswegian tongue?” I observe. “You wouldn’t call that cultured.”

“Yes, but look at the history of management and how many successful Scots there have been - loads of them. How many successful Bristolians can you name?”

“Fair point,” I concede.

“Well it is, isn’t it?” he says. “David Moyes is another one [a Scot]. At the time he left Preston I was second to him in the table and his budget was double mine [at QPR] at least. We fell away that year and he went on to Everton, but that’s life. I want to be a Premiership manager, but I want to take a team there. I’ve been very loyal and I’m going to be loyal because I believe in loyalty.”

“But what if that’s your downfall?” his wife Kim interjects. “When you look at other managers and how they walk from one job to another or contrive a situation that gets them a better offer.”

“I don’t want to be like that,” he insists. “The world can be how it is, but I want to be who I am. I can only live the way that I want to live. I can only be me.”

But who exactly is Ian Holloway? And why do many regard him as a man in a league of his own?

THIS is a story of a boy and a girl. The boy is sitting behind the manager’s desk at Plymouth Argyle FC on a cold, wet Tuesday afternoon. The girl is sitting opposite. Their story begins years before, on a bus in the suburbs of Bristol when the boy spots the girl and is transfixed by her beautiful face. A month later they meet at the school sports day, where the first prize is a date. He was small and a bit feisty, but she quite liked his legs.

The boy has a passion for football. Week after week, the girl stands on the touchline and follows his games. Three years later they are still going strong when he signs for Bristol Rovers. The boy makes progress. Fame and glory await. Kim says she loves him; Ian gets cold feet.

Two years pass. Kim meets a new beau and decides to get engaged. Ian meets new belles, but they are just not the same. He signs a deal to play for Wimbledon but his goal in life has changed. He misses Kim. He wants his girl.

“I’ve made a terrible mistake,” he confides to a club-mate at Bristol. “I really love this girl.”

“Forget her,” his friend replies. “There are plenty more fish in the sea.” But he cannot let go. He borrows a friend’s dog and starts taking walks past Kim’s home. The sight of her beau’s car parked outside is driving him insane.

On the eve of his departure for London he decides to knock on her door. “Look,” he says, “I’m leaving Bristol tomorrow, but there is something I want you to know: I love you; I have always loved you; I always will love you. And if I die tomorrow, at least I’ve told you now.”

Too late. The damage was done. The boy moves to London and begins preseason training. The month is July 1985 and he is the most expensive signing that Wimbledon, of the Second Division, have ever made. One afternoon, midway through the season, he takes a phone call from his mother.

“Have you heard about Kim?” she asks. “Do you know she’s really ill?”

“What do you mean by really ill?” he snaps.

“She’s in hospital with cancer.” The boy jumps into his car and drives immediately to the hospital in Bristol. The girl watches him come striding through the doors and in that moment everything changes.

“I had really strong feelings for Ian,” she explains. “I was heartbroken when we had finished and didn’t feel I was ready to go back with him, but I think it’s only when you are up against it that you realise what’s important. I thought, ‘Who do I most want to see coming through that door?’ It was Ian. I didn’t know whether I was going to come through this or not, so I just went for it, really.”

The cancer - Hodgkin’s lymphoma - started receding. She ended her engagement to the beau and moved to London with the boy. Two years later, in May 1987, they were married. The doctors warned them not to expect children, but within a year a first son was born. They called him William. There was something in the name. THIS is the story of a man and a boy. The man was Bill Holloway and for his first 13 years he lived a very contented life until his father was killed in the Blitz. It was a week later when the rep from the life assurance company knocked on the door. “Is your step-mum in, Bill?” asked the rep.

“Who?” Bill replied. “Flo, your step-mum, is she home?” And Flo came racing down the corridor, screaming: “No!”

She had never told Bill that he was adopted (“step-mum” was the only way the rep could think of to describe their relationship). He carried the anger with him for years.

Bill was a terrific footballer and looked set to sign for Bristol Rovers at 18, but the manager, Bert Tann, couldn’t make up his mind. Bill got frustrated and decided to join the Royal Navy. He moved south to a base in Plymouth and was travelling on a train one afternoon when he met Jean. She didn’t care for the navy. Her father had been a seaman and a drinker and she aspired to a better life.

“You’ll have to leave the navy if you want to marry me,” she insisted. So Bill left the navy and they married and settled in the Bristol suburb of Cadbury Heath.

The marriage was blessed with three children: a boy, John, who was academically gifted; a girl, Sue, whose favourite sport was hockey; and finally Ian, the football-playing apple of his father’s eye. “I was with Dad all the time from a very young age,” Ian recalls. “I was kicking things before I could walk, and that was lucky, because football was a way to get close to him.”

The man and boy spent a lot of time on football fields together in the years that followed. “I hope you like football, son,” Bill would say. “I’ve met some lovely people through football and it’s a wonderful game.”

Bill was the boy’s biggest fan and critic as he set his sights on the stars. He watched every game from the touchline, urging Ian to achieve the career he might have had if he hadn’t joined the navy. Sometimes he pushed too hard.

“At 16 or 17 I couldn’t sit in the same room as him because he was so critical,” Ian says, “and it was always dear old Mum in the middle of it. ‘Why don’t you leave him alone, Bill? Why don’t you stop moaning?’ Nothing I did at a certain time was right. His fears and hopes were being given to me, but I didn’t need them.”

Relations mellowed when Ian turned professional, but after a promising debut at Bristol Rovers, his career went into tailspin after 14 games with Wimbledon and he was farmed out to Brentford on loan. “If you don’t join in at Wimbledon, you don’t last,” he explains. “I was flying up and down [to Bristol] worrying about Kim and I developed glandular fever.

“I went to Brentford and it all went wrong. Kim was back with me then and we had bought a flat in Croydon, but my football was just rubbish, to be fair. My dad couldn’t cope with it. I was toiling, really toiling, and it was hard for him to sit in the stand. ‘You may as well pack it in and come back and play for Bath City’, he’d say. And that was a right dent in my confidence. Because he always made me believe that I could do it.”

The turning point was something he would never have imagined. In December of 1987, six months after he married Kim and returned to Bristol Rovers, his father was felled by a massive heart attack.

“The night we lost him was a Wednesday,” Ian explains. “It was horrendous. His breathing was terrible. We were all there with him. They resuscitated him three times and told us he wasn’t going to make it.

“I couldn’t stay in the end. I had a cup replay at Rovers on the Thursday and I knew he would have wanted me to play, so I went back to Mum’s house at about seven in the morning. An hour later they came back and said, ‘It’s over’.

“I played that night. I went into the game with so much aggression and determination and it never left me after that. My football started to pick up again - it was almost as if he was in my boots. It gave me the determination to get on with it again.”

“What was it about his death that provoked that change in you?” I ask.

His eyes well with tears.

“I got angry, I think . . . I felt cheated really . . . He was 59, that’s no age, is it? I can’t describe it, really. I just wish I could have seen him once more to say, ‘Give us a hug’, because he was an old-fashioned geezer, a man’s man, boys aren’t allowed to cry . . . I just got angry at the thought of the rest of my life without him. I wanted him to see my kids. That is still the worst bit for me, that he has never seen any of my children.”

THIS is the story of a couple who couldn’t have kids. William Holloway was born, three months after his grandfather’s death in March 1988. A few months later, Kim became pregnant with twins. Ian was thrilled. “My brother is nine years older than me and my sister is six years older, and it was too big a gap. We wanted two, close together, and we ended up with three. It was unbelievable. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I mean people think, ‘Twins, that’s great’, but when you’re on your own looking after them and they both start crying, who do you pick up first? It’s a nightmare.”

Chloe and Eve Holloway were born in 1989. They laughed like perfectly normal infant girls and cried like perfectly normal infant girls, but after 14 months their parents began to suspect that something wasn’t right. Their twice-yearly hearing tests had been puzzling.

Two months later, at the age of 14 months, they received a visit from a specialist at home. She sat the twins on the living-room floor and instructed their parents to leave the room and sneak in behind them. The twins both looked around.

“There, you see,” the Holloways smiled, elated.

“No, that’s the vibration of the floorboards,” said the specialist.

“Well, people come to the door and they’ve heard them,” Ian countered.

So she produced a huge bell from her bag. The twins didn’t even blink when it was clattered behind their head. “No, they haven’t,” she said.

The girls were profoundly deaf. “We had our tears, didn’t we?” Kim says, smiling at her husband. “We got in the car after the top bloke had said, ‘There is nothing we can do about this type of deafness’, and we knew that was it, there was no way out.”

“But you don’t know what it means, do you?” Ian recalls.

“You’ve no idea,” Kim concurs. “There was somebody singing on the [car] radio and I thought, ‘God! They can’t hear that. What does it mean if you can’t hear anybody?’

“I went out and got as many books and learnt as much as I could. We decided, ‘Right, we need to communicate with these little babies’, so we started using sign language and learning simple ways to get their attention, like turning the lights on if you are calling them. And immediately they started signing back.”

The family should have ended with William and Chloe and Eve, but a year later Harriet (“an invention from the Lord”, Kim says, laughing) was born. Like her two sisters, she was profoundly deaf. Ian was distraught. “It’s funny,” he says, “but I wasn’t that upset with the twins because I knew we had to deal with it, but when Hattie was deaf as well, I just went on one, really.”

“In what way?” I ask. “I had a couple of days where I was really angry again. I went to work and wouldn’t speak to anybody. I was all over the place. I would wander round the ground thinking about life: What the hell? Why us? And I just felt for my son.”

“That’s a bit weird,” Kim observes. “Yes it is, isn’t it?” he agrees. “I don’t know why I’ve said that, but I just felt it was really difficult for him. Everything we’ve done is for the girls and he’s our oldest, and the oldest gets put upon a lot of the time and I just . . . I don’t know, even now, whenever we see tiny little kids talking, it just wipes us out, because our kids never had that between them.”

THIS is the story of a player who reached the summit of his art at the age of 29. How do you explain it? The 240-mile round trip each day from Bristol to Queens Park Rangers for training? The strain of rearing four kids under the age of five — three profoundly deaf - and he suddenly starts delivering the performances of his life?

“Your experiences in life mould you,” he says. “Everybody gets hurdles and if you jump them, great, and if you don’t jump them . . . well, they’re not going to go away so you might as well try and jump, no matter how scared you feel. That’s all we’ve tried to do. The kids and the deafness was a huge worry and a hurdle for us but we just jumped, didn’t we?”

He gestures to Kim.

“I think football was a release for you,” she opines.

“It was,” he agrees. “I was always a bit of a worrier, but I was so engrossed with changing nappies and helping Kim that I didn’t have time to worry. I used to think things to death as a player and you become very self-centred. I’m a better person now because of these things in my life . . .

“And I’ve always been very determined. Every night when Match Of The Day was on, I would sit there and think, ‘God, I could do that’. And then Gerry Francis took me back with him to QPR and I finally did.”

Holloway, a midfielder, spent five seasons in London in the early 1990s and played 150 games in football’s top division before returning to Bristol in the summer of 1996 as Rovers’ player-manager. He had never even served a term as a captain before and raised the stakes immediately by taking a huge mortgage on a huge house in the suburbs.

“I made myself have to do it,” he explains, “with the size of the house I bought. By getting into debt, I was making sure I didn’t have an excuse, otherwise I might have packed it in.”

His new life as a boss was all-consuming. “The only reason I got the job was because I could do two jobs for the price of one, but it doesn’t work — you can’t be a general overlooking the battle and be in the battle. There was a lot I got wrong. It was a monster, totally consuming. Every thought I was having was about the game. I’d be sitting with my family eating my tea and thinking, ‘Is he fit?’ And to care about the club like I did - I took everything so personally.”

“There was a point,” Kim says, “when I didn’t know whether it was worth what it was doing to you because you were pretty unhappy most of the time and angry.”

“Yeah, the adjustment was very hard,” he says. “People say they want to be managers, but it’s not easy - you’ve got the fans, the players and the board and you’re the wedge between them all. And the Rovers-City [rivalry] was a nightmare. The house was burgled; I had seven punctures in my car; Kim came home one afternoon and half of our garden furniture was going over the back wall. We ended up buying two rottweilers.”

After five years of impressive hurdling at Bristol Rovers and a further five of pulling rabbits out of hats at QPR, he sits proudly behind his desk now at Home Park in Plymouth - the last non-Premiership manager still standing in the FA Cup. His team hosts Watford a week today with a place in the quarter-finals to the winner.

What’s the secret, you wonder? How has this scrawny, unfashionable man, earned so many plaudits, reached so many heights and travelled so far? In a word: Bill.

“I remember I had this argument at school one day,” he says. “I was hit by a bigger kid and I came home and Dad said ‘What was that all about then?’ And I said, ‘Well, I said something about him’. And Dad said, ‘Oh, never talk about people, son, talk to people’. It was a lesson I never forgot.

“I love dealing with people. I’ve got a huge enthusiasm for life. I’ve always been high on being around people. And the psychological side of things is amazing . . . I’ve got two daughters that literally came from the same egg that split, identical twins that came from the same sac. Watching them grow up has been absolutely fascinating. Why are they so different?

“So life and people fascinate me. My family life has shown me the importance of having empathy with people. To understand and consider what it is like being deaf has taught me a lot. I like to reward good behaviour. If someone doesn’t behave, I don’t reward them, but if they do, I reward them well and I believe I get that back 10-fold.

“The people here are fantastic. These boys are a very good team. They’ve been champions twice in the past and that spirit is still here. They work really hard for each other. I believe we’ve got a chance to build and be a success story.”

“What of the success of the top Premiership managers?” I ask. “I’ve read of your respect for Jose Mourinho.”

“I believe he understands people,” he says. “I think he knows the game; I think he knows the business; I think he has trained himself and knows how to lead. And he has so much drive. I had the drive to be a footballer and I’ve the drive to be a manager — he was an interpreter. He never played the game, but he worked with these great people and trained himself up and I admire his determination.”

“You identify with that?” “Yeah, I can see what he’s doing and he’s brilliant at it. I’ve never worked with players who have got more money in the bank than they can spend. How do you motivate them? That will be the challenge.”

The interview ends. The boy and girl escort you to the door and are thanked for their time. What a swell couple. What an amazing ride. Lucky guys.

Paul Kimmage nominated for third prestigious award

Paul Kimmage has been shortlisted as sports journalist of the year for the British Press Awards, the most prestigious awards in domestic journalism. It is the second year in a row that he has been among the ?ve leading contenders for the award. He is among 10 Sunday Times entries on the shortlists.

Kimmage was nominated for his interviews with Matt Hampson, the prop forward tragically injured while training with England’s under-21 team, and Sir Geoff Hurst, which shed new light on the World Cup hero’s life after 1966. The third piece considered by the judges was Kimmage’s diary from the Tour de France last summer which saw him cycling a brutal stage of the race over the mountains and re? ecting on his love-hate affair with the race and the sport.

It is the third nomination Kimmage has received in recent weeks. Last month he was named on the shortlists for feature writer of the year and interviewer of the year at the British Sports Journalism Awards. He is going for his third win in succession in the interviewer category The Times

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