Chaplains Corner: Kevin Holt

This week Grant comes face to face with defender Kevin Holt in our Chaplain’s Corner interview.


You probably have an idea by now about some of the questions I may ask you but because you have played for a few teams you have your own special icebreaker question. If you were building a defence from current and former team mates, who would you have playing alongside you?

The goalkeeper would be Scott Bain, who I played with at Dundee. He is obviously a really good goalie. I used to travel with him to training and got to know him quite well. He got his chance to go to Celtic on loan and really made the most of his chance. The circumstances of him leaving Dundee probably didn’t do his reputation a lot of good but he got his head down and worked hard. If he had a bad attitude he wouldn’t have got to where he is now so ability wise and because of his professionalism he is someone I can look at and take inspiration for my career. His career is a good lesson, in not letting negative things derail you. If you trust in your ability and work hard you can get to where you hope to end up.

Right back would have to be Chris Mitchell. In the year that we won promotion to the Championship he came in and was brilliant. He arrived at Queens from Bradford and no-one really knew who he was but he turned out to be the life and soul of the place. Sadly we all know what happened to him but when he was here he was just a great guy.

For my centre backs I would go for Chris Higgins for some of the same reasons as Chris Mitchell. Chris Higgins was a great character about the place and he was very easy to get on with. That Championship winning year we had a great dressing room; we had lots of nights out, training was fun every day and Higgy was a huge part of that. He obviously did really well as a player while he was here as well.

My other centre back would be Darren O’Dea who I played with at Dundee. When he came to Dundee I was excited thinking this guy has played for Celtic, he’s played abroad and he’s played for his country. He wasn’t always the easiest to get on with. He didn’t make life easy for younger players and would talk to them directly. At the same time though, he tried to help them. He didn’t give younger players a hard time but he didn’t give them special treatment either. He basically treated everyone in the first team the same, whatever age they were, and I liked that about him. Obviously you can’t be too hard on young players because you wouldn’t want to demoralise them but he managed to coach whilst playing and I thought his ability to do that was amazing.


It’s interesting you say that because I’ve wondered sometimes if getting the idea in your head that you are ‘only’ a young player can give you a bit of an inferiority complex? In that sense being treated as one of the boys, whatever age you are, could potentially be a good thing.

It makes you feel like you should be there. It’s not helpful to think that you aren’t as good as other people or that maybe you’re a bit lucky to be at the club. Really, if you are at the club then you’re there for a reason and you have an equal chance to prove that you have the right to be on the pitch. One player might be on their way up, another might be on their way down and a young player who thinks they are going the wrong way can find themselves getting two or three games and suddenly feeling confident and deserving of their place. I think a lot comes down to how the club treats players and how strong the individual player’s mentality is. Everybody has been through some stage in their career when they knew they had ability but mentally, they weren’t quite at it. Nobody really walks straight into a club and automatically feels at home. There are a lot of factors; especially how the staff and other players treat you that will determine if a player, and especially a young player, will be successful at a club or not.


That’s a brilliant answer Kevin and it gives me some understanding of why so many of the younger players really appreciate you a lot. I heard a rumour that when you played for Dundee, you still lived in Dumfries and commuted so my next question is what does Dumfries mean to you?

I did have a flat in Dundee when I signed for them in the summer of 2015 but in December that year my girlfriend Heather, now my wife, discovered she was expecting our first child.

I had signed a three year deal with Dundee and expected to be there for the long haul but we had to have a conversation about whether she would move up as well. In the end, with both our extended families being in Dumfries, and especially with it being our first child, it made more sense for her to stay at home in Dumfries. We were both quite young parents so it made sense to get plenty of support around her. The more secure she felt as well, the better I felt so I did spend a lot of time travelling.

The club were very good and I spoke with the manager at the time, Paul Hartley, and told him the situation. He was aware that that the baby was due in the summer and it just so happened that my daughter was born one day before pre-season training started. There was obviously a bit of adjusting to do and travelling wasn’t easy but even then the manager told me that if I needed a rest, the club could get me a room at the local Hilton hotel. I tended to use that if we had a double session and I was training again the following morning. If we had home matches, the club would also put Heather up in the hotel if she wanted to stay.


That sounds like the club were really good with you.

To be fair, they were really helpful, so living in Dumfries and playing for Dundee wasn’t as bad as it maybe sounds when you hear stories of me commuting up there. The club were very conscious of helping make sure I didn’t overdo the travelling but the strange thing is that when I was travelling the most, I probably had my best season ever.     


So for someone who loves home so much what made you go abroad to play and what did you learn during your time in Cyprus?

When I was coming to the end of my time at Dundee I made a decision in the January that I would probably leave at the end of my contract. I was able to play through the last few months of my contract and I did get some offers and spoke to some other clubs in Scotland. Originally my plan was to try and get a club closer to home, either further south in Scotland or in the north of England.


Not Cyprus then? (Both laugh)

What happened was that Stephen Pressley took over as manager of Paphos and phoned and asked if I’d think about going there. It was so random because in the January my whole family had booked to go on holiday to Paphos in the summer. We didn’t know anything about football in Paphos; it was just a family holiday. When the call came in the April or May I explained that were all going to be in Paphos on the 1st of June so Stephen said he would arrange for people from the club to come and meet me and show me around the area, the stadium and the training ground. The idea was that if I liked what I saw we could then talk about a contract while I was there. It was good that Heather was also there and she and her mum did a bit of a tour and we all thought ‘why not give it a go?’ Looking back, I don’t think we would ever have considered it if the holiday hadn’t already been booked. It felt like fate had intervened.

Once again though in the December of my first season, Heather discovered she was pregnant again and she decided that she would like to return home to have the baby in Dumfries. I did have another year of my contract left there but the club were very good and cancelled it in the summer. In the meantime I was able to talk to Queens and was settled back in by the time my son was born in August 2019.


So apart from the weather, what was the one big difference you remember between playing in Cyprus and playing here?

The Cypriot culture is just so relaxed. There’s no rush to do anything. The football is a lot more technical over there and that could be because there are so many nationalities playing there. We had seven or eight languages spoken in our team so the manager had to walk us through the drills very slowly and deliberately so everyone could keep up. In this country, everyone knows the drill so things are much quicker. Everyone knows that Scottish football can be 100 mph and it even took me about a month to get used to the fact that everything is done much faster. You can see how players coming from abroad might take a wee bit of time to adapt to playing in Scotland.    


In your career journey so far what do Queens mean to you?

Oh, everything! When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was play football. My earliest memories as a kid involve playing football. My dad used to play football and he even had a short spell at Queens, though I don’t think he played any first team games. He played for Dalbeattie Star and teams like that and I would always go and watch. At the end of every game I would play on the pitch until it got dark.

Queens gave me my opportunity to play at, I think, under 10’s or under 12’s. I was playing for Lochar Thistle and remember playing in the Cassie Cup, a wee 5 a-side tournament at Locharbriggs Primary School. After that, Queens kept phoning me and asking me to go to training. I refused to go because all my friends played at Lochar and I didn’t know anyone at Queens. It turned out that one of my friends and team mates at Lochar also later got the call from Queens so I agreed to go if he did. I don’t think I would ever have bothered if he hadn’t gone because at that age I was more interested in playing with my friends than playing for Queens. I much preferred the idea of playing locally with my friends at Lochar rather than travelling to Clyde or Cowdenbeath or places like that. It just made more sense to me at that age though now I’m obviously very glad I took the step to go and play for Queens and then stick it out through all the age groups up to under 19’s.

By the time Kenny Brannigan was Queen’s manager I was part-time with Queens and part-time in a local bank. I worked 2 days in the bank and trained 2 days with Queens but Kenny told me that if I wanted to be part of the first team I would have to go full time with Queens and spend more time up the road with the first team squad. My wages at the bank were better than my wages at Queens and I remember my mum telling me not to give up my good job in the bank. She would say: ‘Don’t leave. Don’t leave.’ (Both laugh)


Is she proud of you now?

She’s at every game and even when I was in Cyprus she was at every game. She just fell in love with it. When my dad was playing she never went to watch him but now they are both at every game and I think she is very happy with how things turned out.    


I don’t want to keep you much longer but I did want to talk a little bit about Chris Mitchell. This has been a really happy discussion so far so I don’t want to suddenly make it all very sad but I need to ask you if you’ve seen the landscape changing in football since 2016 in terms of player welfare? When I interviewed Lewis Kidd he felt that there was a lot of talk around the issue of pastoral care but maybe there was still a need for more action.

I understand where Lewis is coming from but talking is maybe the main point. Even with kid’s football now we’re talking about things like how safe it is to head footballs. The PFA have produced help cards about anxiety and depression and these things are widely available. When I started it was never like that. The PFA were there but you would see them once a year for a group chat. The way they have developed resources and ways for players to make contact in secret about welfare issues is great. What happened to Chris and other players who don’t necessarily take their lives but fall out of football because they experience a downward spiral through gambling or other problems; players who end up in a bad place with relationships and families, have help available now. Players who feel they have nowhere to turn can call a helpline and speak confidentially to someone who is a specialist. It’s good also that help is available from within football because your own private GP might not understand or might know you too well.


That’s the same for me. When players want to talk about something serious they tend to meet me somewhere else for a coffee and a chat. They don’t necessarily want to talk in front of everyone.

In football people put on a shell. Underneath, you don’t always know what is going on and Chris was a prime example of that. Monday to Saturday he was the happiest guy in the place and he was everyone’s best friend right up to the time he took his life. It just shows you that however well you think you know someone, you don’t always know what is going on underneath.

Sometimes this is a hard industry to be in and having the PFA offering services and people like you coming to the club is massively important.


It sounds in general now that you think football is in a better place.

Definitely, though I think there are still issues, things are developing quite fast. When I compare my experience in the under 19s to what I see in the under 19’s today, it’s night and day. Football as a business is more focussed on the whole player experience rather than just what happens on a Saturday and efforts are made to ensure players are looked after off the field as well as on it.


You are far from being an old boy yet so what are your hopes for the rest of your career?

When I came home in the summer it was about wanting the club to do well. When I was away last year, Queens were in the relegation play off. I had spoken to Billy (chairman) and Gary Naysmith before I went to Paphos and had an understanding that if things didn’t work out in Cyprus I would let them know. I haven’t come home to play it safe or take it easy. I’ve come to the club to be successful. We have Dobbie here who scored over 40 goals last season. At Christmas we were doing well so the potential of the club is here to do well. We’ve shown this year by beating teams like Ayr and Dundee United that on any given day we can be a match for anyone in the league.

For me, Queens should be trying to get into the top four and Livingston have showed that once you do that, anything is possible. The team unity they had drove them up to the Premier League and they aren’t a bigger club than Queens. So for me if Queens can make it into the top four and potentially then get into the Premier League, that will ideally do for me. I had offers to go to the Premier League when I came home in the summer but I want to see Queens in the Premier League. I can remember when we were challenging before; the fans at the games, beating Rangers and Hibs and being in the top four. It made the town a happier place with people speaking to you all the time about Queens and it also attracts fans into the stadium. Trying to get the club back to that position where I think they should be is a big desire for me.


That sounds like a really positive place to end and I reckon everybody that reads this interview will share your desire.