When it comes to mentors, Gary Holt has not chosen wisely if he values face-to-face encounters.
One of them is in Africa, while the other is in Birmingham. Strangely, it is the mentor in Africa – Bobby Williamson of course, under whom he played with great success at Kilmarnock – who he has seen most recently. Williamson popped in to visit him at Falkirk last week on his brief return to Scotland after helping the Kenyan club Gor Mahia to the league title within six months of his arrival.
Paul Lambert, who first encouraged Holt to become a coach, is harder to pin down. However, no-one could accuse the Aston Villa manager of abandoning his pupil as he took his first steps as Falkirk manager last season.
It is hard to forget how it all started for Holt, whose first game in charge happened to be a Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibernian at Hampden. Having been three goals up at half-time, Falkirk eventually lost 4-3 on what proved a traumatic baptism for the young manager, who had been recruited to replace Steven Pressley.
That day seems a long time ago now, as he sits at Hampden clutching his manager of the month award after steering Falkirk to within five points of the Championship summit. He has since admitted to being left dazed by that Hampden experience but he was heartened by the thoughts of others, who were clearly sensitive to what he had endured.
“Paul’s quite hard to get hold of at times then all of a sudden he’ll phone you two or three days in a row to see how you are,” said Holt.
“It’s not so much advice – he likes to see how you are. He lets you talk and talk and then he says one line that leaves you thinking – ‘yes, you’re right.’
“It’s quite interesting, after the cup semi-final, he phoned me within about five minutes of his game finishing just to see how I was. It came up on my phone. I was thinking his own game was still going on as I’d just been listening to it in the car.”
Remarkably, Lambert had heard about the result from Hampden and decided to phone Holt straightaway to give him a pep talk. He had not even spoken to his own players following the 1-1 draw with Fulham that afternoon, which meant Villa were still in relegation peril. “He said ‘how are you’ and I said ‘well I’ve had better days’. He said ‘forget it – your team were excellent. Put it to bed and move on.’
“I said ‘how did you get on today?’ and he said ‘forget me, I don’t matter.’ He just wanted to see how I was. That’s a special trait to have – to think of others when he was under pressure as well. I don’t think he even did the press after his game. He phoned me straight away to tell me to move on.”
Lambert was central in Holt’s decision to step into coaching when he recruited him at Colchester United, after the pair had worked together on a manager-player basis at Wycombe Wanderers. Lambert’s offer to Holt was on the proviso that he came as a coach as well as player. Holt was not so sure.
“I told him I didn’t really want to coach – I wanted to play until I was 40 and I was only 36 – and I hadn’t done a coaching badge or taken a session,” he said. “If he hadn’t asked me to do that, I wouldn’t be sitting here now. He said I’d learn on my feet and make my mistakes with the under-20s.”
As for Williamson, Holt is glad to see his former manager “in a happy place” again, after being sacked by Uganda earlier this year. “Bobby Williamson was over last week and he came in to see me,” he said. “They’ve just won the league and they only train in the morning because of the heat so he’s got a lot of free time. So it’s either Skype or a phone call. You see or hear him sitting by the pool and you think there’s something not right here.
“He keeps saying ‘why would I come back?’ he trains in the morning, does something in the afternoon like look at facilities and then the rest of the time he sits by a pool reading his book.”
Holt has found being manager at Falkirk is not quite such a laid-back existence. With so many youngsters in the squad – six teenagers started Saturday’s 3-1 win over Raith Rovers – he says he had to live a more “24-7” existence. “There are lots of things to deal with off the pitch,” he says.
“I go home and the wife is like: ‘you look knackered’. And I feel that way. That’s just the job, you give so much. You are sitting reading a story to the kids and the phone goes and you say: ‘I really have to take this’. If we can get a day off on a Wednesday and my phone goes off, I won’t take it. I will get back to you, but I believe you have to have one day a week as a complete down day – whether it is a Wednesday or a Sunday. I try and be a normal person for a few hours.”
With four sons, ranging in age from 16 to four, Holt certainly needs to allow himself some family time. But back at Falkirk he describes it is “a home from home” as he continues to guide his young team towards the ultimate goal of promotion.