A HOLDEN OLD-IE!
On-pitch trauma and family tragedy have prepared Dean for Latics’ job
DEAN Holden may only be in the spring of his managerial career, but the Oldham boss knows all about the brutal truth of management.
The 35-year-old, recently appointed Latics chief until the end of the season, was with Steve Eyre when he was sacked by Rochdale.
“I was there when he took the call from the chairman firing him,” Holden said in a fascinating interview with Abu Dhabi newspaper The National.
“He was cheery when he answered, there were tears in his eyes when the call ended. I’ve seen many managers sacked. It’s never good, but football is all about results.”
If there’s a man who has the character to deal with the rough and tumble of life as a lower league gaffer, it’s Holden.
A life-long Manchester United fan, Holden’s career began at Bolton Wanderers. A 20-year-old defender, he was making his way in the game and on the verge of an FA Cup semi-final appearance against Aston Villa at Wembley.
But disaster struck when he broke his leg the week before in a challenge with Sheffield United’s Lee Sanford.
It wasn’t to be the only setback he would come back from. In 2008 his tibia and fibula broke after a late tackle by Stephen McManus while playing for Falkirk against Celtic.
It shows the measure of the man that when McManus came to visit him in hospital – with a gift of Daniele de Rossi’s Italy shirt – he went out of his way to make sure the Bhoys captain didn’t feel bad about his part in the incident. Having been a ball boy at Old Trafford the day of Dave Busst’s infamous horrific double leg break that ended his career, Holden had an appreciation his could have been a lot worse.
“I was sitting ten yards away and saw it all – it wasn’t very nice,” he recalled.
“I remember Peter Schmeichel and Brian McClair going for the challenge but the noise Busst was making was the awful thing that sticks in my mind. It was like when you hear two cats fighting. Then I saw Schmeichel’s face and his reaction was just horrific.”
Holden recovered to continue a career that went on to count ten different clubs, where his hard work and desire was appreciated by fans.
After leaving Bolton, he moved to Oldham, captained Peterborough and had spells at Shrewsbury, Chesterfield, Rochdale and Walsall. At Chesterfield he was part of the League Two title-winners in 2010-11. Seeing how his family enjoyed the championship win brought him great pride.
A picture with his dad and brother holding the trophy in the changing room hangs proudly on the wall in his parents’ house. Holden had always been striving to achieve.
“I was always the victim – everyone used to say, ‘He plays for Oldham but he used to play for Bolton before he broke his leg’,” Holden said at the time of his second injury. “It has taken me a long time to overcome that.”
The injury setbacks pale into insignificance alongside a true tragedy his family suffered in 2012.
Having been released by Rochdale at the end of the season, Holden took a family holiday in Lanzarote with wife Danielle, a former children’s TV presenter, and their children Joey, Ellis and 17-month-old daughter Cici. Tragically, Cici contracted rare bacterial blood infection meningococcal sepsis.
She died on the way to hospital after the infection spread through her body, causing her major organs to shut down. It was a devastating loss.
Holden found his solace in football. Without a club, he set about cold calling managers from the Championship down. Most didn’t answer and he didn’t leave a message. When they picked up he had his gambit ready.
“Hello, it’s Dean Holden. I’ve played 400 games. I’m experienced. I’ve got a great attitude. I want to play for you.”
He persuaded Dean Smith at Walsall to sign him. And the Saddlers fans took him under their wing, raising money through tshirt sales to boost the donations from former clubs Chesterfield, Oldham and Shrewsbury.
The money went towards a memorial garden at their sons’ school – St Mark’s Primary School in Worsley – and the Meningitis Trust.
“Sending messages is one thing but people putting their hands in their pockets is something else,” Holden said.“It means something to me and my wife and in some small, weird way it helps.
“You get messages on twitter giving you support. They don’t know you and it can’t bring Cici back but it helps give you a bit of a feel-good factor. It has given us a lot of comfort knowing people are thinking about us.”
Wife Danielle said: “I think he enjoys his football more now because he’s seen how bad life can be.”
Smith had seen the managerial and coaching lights go on in Holden’s head and soon gave him a player-coach role.
He helped young players along and went out on scouting missions. When the chance to become Lee Johnson’s assistant at League One Oldham came along, it was too good to turn down.
Smith said: “Could he be a manager one day? I think so. He definitely has all the attributes.”
When Johnson left for Barnsley, Holden stepped up, first as a caretaker before landing the job until the end of the season. The club say they’ll continue the manager hunt.
Holden knows if he can get results, the board’s search could lead them right under their nose.
PENSIVE: Dean Holden has had to overcome tragedy and setbacks in his life
MOMENT IN THE SUN: Celebrating winning League Two with Chesterfield in 2011