Grant Holt is in no mood for winding down following a reinvigorating season with Hibs.
The 36-year-old striker departed the club at the end of their Championship-winning campaign after his contract wasn’t renewed. Having endured a couple of injury-disrupted campaigns prior to arriving at Easter Road last summer, the iconic former Norwich City player will take on his next challenge buoyed by the knowledge he can still handle the rigours of a long season after starting 29 of Hibs’ 46 competitive games and coming off the bench in another ten.
The fact he was delivering his best form for Neil Lennon’s side at the business end, and particularly in the big matches, adds to his belief that he still has plenty to offer in his late 30s.
“One of the main reasons I came to Hibs was because I wanted to play regular football again,” Holt said. “When Neil called me, he said ‘I know what you can do, I want you to come and enjoy your football again and give us some of your experience to get us out of the division’.
“It took me a while to adjust but I think after Christmas, everyone started to see the real Grant Holt.
I think it was around December that I started feeling like I was getting back to the level I was capable of in terms of fitness and sharpness. You can never teach yourself to do what you do in football matches – it all comes from playing regularly. It probably took me a bit longer to realise exactly what my job was in the team and learn how to play in the division, but after the turn of the year, I think people started to get what my game was all about and what I did for the team.
“I was coming on to a scoring run towards the end of the season but the main thing for me was that I felt I was a lot better after the turn of the year. I think most people could see that I was bringing more to the team than just goals. I was there to get the team up the pitch, rough people up a bit and get under people’s skin.”
As a man who has scored close to 200 career goals, Holt was disappointed that only seven of them came in a green-and-white jersey. The fact he netted three times in his last four games for the club, however, suggested he was coming to the boil nicely ahead of Hibs’ return to the Premiership next season. Although he would have been open to extending his stay at Easter Road in ideal circumstances, Holt, who regularly travelled back to his family home in Norwich over the past season, is philosophical about his time in Edinburgh ending after just ten months.
“I think I could have gone up to the Premiership and made an impact,” he said. “I played 39 games so I think that shows how fit I am, and I was getting better and better as the season went on. But I’m not stupid – I’m 36 now and the club have got to look at other things. I spoke to the club and the manager a while back. I said what I wanted and they said what they wanted and it just didn’t really work out. We just had different ideas, and I had a feeling we wouldn’t be able to make it happen.
“It’s been a tough old year travelling up and down, so on reflection it was possibly the right decision for both parties. I had the chance to sign for two years last year but I chose to sign just for one year because I didn’t know how I’d get on with the travel and how my body would be. I had a good season but I knew we’d have to have a discussion at the end of it. I’m different to the other boys because I’m 36. I spoke to the club and it just didn’t work out in the end. At the end of the day, I’ve left the club on good terms, which is what I wanted to do. I could ring anybody at the club and speak to them about anything. You want to leave it on a good note, and that’s what happened.”
“I’ve got the utmost respect for the manager and the staff at Hibs and I’m really grateful to the fans for the send-off I got at the end of the season. I think everyone probably knew from my demeanour that I thought that would be my last game [against St Mirren]. I knew before the end of the season that it didn’t look like an offer was coming, so I said my goodbyes to everyone. I still speak to the boys now – I keep getting snapchats off them. We had a great group of boys and at some point in the new season I’ll be back up to watch them.”
Holt has won promotions in England and played in the illustrious top flight down south, but he insists that winning the Scottish Championship gave him as much satisfaction as any of his career accomplishments.
“Of course it does. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the game or what you’ve won before, you’re in the game to win and achieve things,” he said. “To get the satisfaction of winning any title, it’s hard work. It doesn’t matter what level it is. People will look and say it was only the Scottish Championship, but anyone who’s played in or watched that league will know it’s a tough league to get out of.
“Teams come to Easter Road and try and frustrate. At times it was tough, but we just had to find a way to break them down. Sometimes we managed it, other times we didn’t but the main thing is that we won the league at a canter.
“I’m delighted at what we achieved in my season at Hibs because the aim was to win the league and we did that. We wanted the Scottish Cup as well but unfortunately we couldn’t get to the final.”
Holt did as much as anyone to try and get Hibs back to the final with some barnstorming performances against Hearts and Aberdeen.
“I think you’ve got to look at the Hearts and Aberdeen games,” when asked for his personal highlights from his stint in Scotland. “I really enjoyed testing myself against the Premiership teams, and I felt we did ourselves justice against both teams. We lost to Aberdeen in the semi, but they’re a really good team and we gave them a good game. I still think we should have beaten Hearts at their ground and then we spanked them [3-1] at Easter Road. It should have been more than it was. That game will live long in my memory. There’s nothing better than winning a night match against your local rivals and having 20,000 people singing Sunshine on Leith after it.
“When I first went up, I knew quite a bit about the club but I didn’t realise how big it was and how big it could become. I was only there one year but it will live long in the memory. I loved it.”
Holt has been turning his attention towards coaching of late, and he was grateful for the chance to assist Grant Murray with the Hibs development team for a spell last season. His priority for just now, however, is to continue playing. He will take time to assess his options over the coming months. “I don’t know what’s next,” he said. “I’ll just wait and see. I’ve done a lot of travelling over the past year. I’ve had a great year but it always takes a toll on your body.
“I’m at home now, so I’ll spend a few weeks with the family, switch off from football and see what happens over the next four or five weeks. I want to keep playing as long as I can. A few clubs have been in touch with my agent but at this moment in time I just want a few weeks off to spend time with my kids and go on a couple of family holidays. I’ll wait and see what offers are there in a few weeks’ time, pretty similar to what I did last year. It didn’t work out too bad for me last year, did it.”