WHEN new Falkirk manager Gary Holt arrives at Hampden with his squad for their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibernian today, he returns to the place where his playing career at club level in Scotland ended abruptly.
Holt had little idea, when he walked out onto the turf at the national stadium for Kilmarnock’s League Cup final against Celtic on 18 March, 2001, that he was playing his last game for the Ayrshire club. After the 3-0 defeat he was told in the dressing room by then Kilmarnock manager Bobby Williamson a deal had been done to sell him to Norwich. Two weeks later he made his debut for the English club.
Holt’s career kept him down south and he played for Nottingham Forest, Wycombe, and Lowestoft, while winning 10 caps for Scotland, before returning to Norwich as assistant academy manager in 2010.
Appointed as successor to Steven Pressley, who left Falkirk last month for Coventry, the 40-year-old took charge in his first senior post officially on Monday and will make his debut at Hampden knowing that the home of Scottish football has the capacity to throw up surprises on and off the field.
He said: “My last game at Kilmarnock was the League Cup final defeat against Celtic – but I had no idea whatsoever that was going to be the case.
“After the game Bobby pulled me aside and told me the deal was done, ‘see you later. You will meet Norwich tomorrow’. I thought okay, no problem, I will do as I’m told but to be fair I’ve got to thank him for that, I went on to have a great career down south which propelled me into where I am now.
“I can’t wait for the game. When you are at the national stadium, when you have a good crowd behind you and it’s live on television, you just want to impress. You are a big kid in a sweetie shop, you want to enjoy it and showcase your talents.
“I was licking my wounds after losing 3-0 but it was still a great occasion.”
One thing that did not change during Holt’s period in England is Hibs’ Scottish Cup record. They have gone 111 years since winning the trophy, which is just one reason he believes Pat Fenlon’s men will be feeling the heat against the Irn-Bru First Division club. “The pressure is on them, there is no doubt about that,” said Holt, who won the Scottish Cup with Killie in 1997 when, ironically, they beat Falkirk 1-0 in the Ibrox final.
“We are the underdogs. We’re the First Division club and they are in the SPL, and have good players. But we have to focus on what we are going to do.”