From S-League to EPL: Grant Holt's amazing rise Stint in Singapore gives striker the belief and desire to be where he is today
By Marc Lim , Tusdiq Din
Somewhere in Grant Holt's East Anglia home is a picture of the English Premier League (EPL) footballer in action for Sengkang Marine.
It was a shot taken 10 years ago, at a time and a place quite different from the global attention he gets now from playing in the world's most popular league.
Yet it is probably one of the most meaningful images he has of his football career - a reminder of the extraordinary journey he has made from a $4,000-a-month foreign import in Singapore's S-League to a $136,000-a-month striker, and one of the top goalscorers in the EPL.
It was a Thursday, three days before Norwich City hosted Aston Villa in the final game of the season.
But the 31-year-old club captain was visibly relaxed when he met The Sunday Times for an exclusive interview at Norwich's Carrow Road Stadium.
Unlike previous seasons when the tail-end meant promotion battles and relegation dogfights, his target for the campaign - to keep the club in the Premier League - had been met weeks before.
He described his debut season in England's top flight as a job well done.
'We just set a target to stay up, just to play and see what we could do, and it's gone better than we all thought,' said Norwich's No. 9, dressed casually in a grey top, maroon trousers and white sneakers.
'It's gone well.'
'Well' is an understatement.
He has notched 15 goals in the Premier League, second only to Wayne Rooney's 27 among the league's English-born strikers.
He is also among a rare breed of footballers to score against England's big four of Rooney's Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in a season.
It is little wonder then, that there were strong calls made by the likes of former England international Martin Keown that Holt be included into the country's Euro 2012 team.
And although he has not been named in Roy Hodgson's squad for next month's tournament, he still harbours hopes of representing the Three Lions one day, and reckons his exploits last season is proof of his ability as a potential England striker.
'In this division, you test yourself against the best anyway and nearly every centre-half you play in this division is an international,' said Holt, who rates Chelsea's John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic as the toughest opponents he has faced.
'You have Liverpool, you have Chelsea, you have Man United, they're all internationals or will be internationals, and you're pitting yourself against the best players.
'Everyone talks about how good the Premier League is, how we are the best and the biggest league in the world; if you can do it in this division then you can do it anywhere.
'I've performed at that level so I've no doubt if the international thing does come about, I'll be ready for it.'
Self-belief is important for any athlete, and for Holt, it is a trait he has in abundance.
Not many would have survived the arduous road he took to get to the Premiership - a journey spanning nine clubs in all top four levels of English league football, with stints in the non-league, interspersed with spells in Australia and Singapore.
The Carlisle native credited his time in Singapore for instilling the self belief that has served him so well in his career.
At a time when English footballers (Gary Linekar to Japan and Tony Cottee to Malaysia, for example) were only heading East at the twilight of their careers, Holt's decision to come to Asia was a gamble.
He arrived in the Lion City before his 21st birthday, a stranger to Asian football and culture. But he quickly became a crowd favourite at the Hougang Stadium, scoring 12 goals in 14 matches in a four-month spell with the club, which has since been renamed Sengkang Punggol.
'I think it gave me the belief and desire to say no matter where you play, you're going to be all right,' said Holt.
Sengkang coach Trevor Morgan, who brought Holt to Singapore from Australian club side Sorrento, could already see the burning desire in the young man.
Said Morgan, who now coaches in India: 'He was one of the first to come to training, taking shots and practising his first touch. Very easy player to coach, always open to instructions and willing to grind it out when the going gets tough, as you can see now at Norwich.'
It was self belief and desire that got him through his darkest days, just after he left Singapore in the second half of 2002.
He was about to sign for his hometown team Carlise United, but the deal collapsed at the last minute.
Without a club and contract, Holt, a former tyre-fitter, took up jobs in stores and factories. But he never gave up on his hopes of playing professionally again.
He went for trials and barely a year later, earned a contract with Sheffield Wednesday.
It was the start of an eventful few years which saw him move on to Rochdale, Nottingham Forest, Shrewsbury Town before Norwich, impressed with the 20-odd goals he had been averaging each season, snapped him up for £400,000 (S$807,000) in 2009.
It was a perfect fit.
Norwich earned back-to-back promotions to the Championship and then the Premier League, with Holt scoring 53 goals in those two seasons. His exploits earned him the club's player of the year award, an honour he was again bestowed with for his contributions in the recently concluded season.
Now settled in East Anglia, in the north-east of England, with his family - wife Fay, and daughters Evie, five, Erica, four, and Hatty, one - he spoke of his love for the club, their fans and the respect he has for manager Paul Lambert.
But the lure of better prospects at bigger clubs might be too big of a temptation.
With talk that Lambert could also move on, Holt, the subject of an unsuccessful bid from Glasgow Rangers in January, reportedly submitted a transfer request earlier this week, which has been rejected by the club.
His future may be uncertain. He may still go on to accomplish bigger and better things. He may even get that England cap he so covets.
But when Holt finally hangs up his boots, one things is certain: He will look back at Singapore and that picture of his time in the S-League with great fondness, and how they helped shaped his career.