As a football supporter, there are images that stay with you. Some good, some bad. For a Bolton fan, one of the worst of recent years was that of Stuart Holden lying in agony on the turf at Old Trafford, after a horror challenge by Jonny Evans.
Amazingly, given the nature and complications of the injury, and some less than perfect medical treatment, the American made a comeback, that culminated in him appearing in 2013’s CONCACAF Gold Cup Final for the USA. It was here that he damaged the other knee which would eventually lead to retirement from football, but not before years battling against what lesser mortals would have seen as inevitable.
“It’s time to stop fighting my body. I’ve known for a while, but I’ve struggled to admit it to myself and to others. The countless sleepless nights, the aches and pains, and the constant mental battles were all signs pointing to a new path,” he wrote in his blog on Wednesday, shortly after the birth of daughter Kennady Rose.
Walking under a ladder, spilling salt, putting shoes on the table, opening an umbrella in the house. Holden must have done all of them on the same day – probably Friday the 13th, whilst breaking a mirror and impaling a black cat on the shards of broken glass. Has there ever been a footballer plagued by such lousy luck?
As a teenager at Sunderland, Holden suffered a shattered eye socket after being attacked in a Newcastle taxi-rank. Later, on trial at Leicester, his leg was broken in a game against non league opposition. Shortly after signing for Bolton, he suffered another leg break courtesy of Dutch psychopath Nigel De Jong, whilst playing for his country.
And of course, there was that knee injury caused by the recklessness of Evans, which was the starting point for the decline of Bolton that ended in relegation from the Premier League. The final comeback ended in March 2014, as he limped off after just 23 minutes of a specially arranged reserve game against Everton in March 2014.
Holden the player had boundless energy and although he frequently put himself in harms way, he was a precise tackler, adept at taking the ball and not the man. However it was his astute reading of the game that set him apart, remarkable when you think that he played less than a full season in English football. If Bolton lost possession, Holden would win it back.
But it wasn’t just the playing ability that endeared him to Whites followers. Despite his background, and a foolish youthful liking for Manchester United, he was one of us. Listen to him speak of his delight at playing for Bolton, or witness him sitting with the crowd at Ewood Park with Owen Coyle’s team involved in a vital relegation clash.
But back to those images – the better ones. Holden volleying an injury time winner against Blackburn Rovers, moments after the visitors thought they’d snatched a point with a late equaliser. Perhaps better, from a purist’s point of view was to see him stroke the ball home at Wolves, finishing off a brilliant passing sequence that he’d started and orchestrated throughout.
“It’s Holden. It’s fantastic,” enthused the commentator. It was, and so was he. Fair thee well sir. It was a privilege to see you wear the white shirt.
– Richard McCormick