TTE: You were born in Wellington, Shropshire. By that time your father John, a professional footballer with over 300 League appearances, played for the Wolverhampton Wanderers. How was it for you when you started with football as a child? Did it help having a father who was a pro or did it have also some negative effects?
Paul Holsgrove: I suppose it’s a bit of both. It’s definitely positive to have a father with that knowledge and experience in football. I was gifted in that way. On the other side you have to know that my father was a legend at Wolves. So, in my case it was a bit like “OK, you’re a good player, but your dad was top class”. People always compared and referred to him. You could say that there’s some pressure to that for sure, but I never felt like that. It wasn’t something that was conscious for me.
TTE: Your son Jordan went through the youth ranks at Reading and is now part of the first team. Did it affect him in some way that you were a former Royal?
Paul Holsgrove: Of course, it was in some way the same thing with him. Especially when you’re young and not yet an established player, people will always tell you about your dad. They’ll start talking saying things like “you look like a good player”, but then straight away they’ll go over to me and tell some story from when I played.
In the beginning there is a bit of that living in the shadow. I’m sure Jordan might have preferred sometimes to just concentrate on playing. But I think he has handled it really well and didn’t feel too much pressure. Again, on the other hand I can get him first-hand experience of how it feels like playing in front of 30,000 spectators, it’s not me guessing how that situation might feel, and that can definitely help him like it helped me also with my dad.
TTE: Similar to Jordan, who went last season on loan to Atletico Baleares in Spain, you have made also quite young your own experience abroad with Dutch side Heracles Almelo. How important was that year for you personally?
Paul Holsgrove: Absolutely awesome! My story there was that by that time I played for Luton Town, David Pleat was the manager. At the start of pre-season, he told that I was with the first team and would get my time to play. Two months later he told me that I was moved on to Holland! I’d never heard of the club before, but as I had been a more technical player, I was always quite open to some experience in a foreign league.
Overall, it was a bit of a hard one in the beginning, but it grew me up a lot. You become a man. When I spoke with Jordan about that experience, I told him that obviously I had no mobile phone to stay in touch with my family. I was totally on my own, with no idea about the language. I was just thrown in. But it helped me understand the life you’re leaving and what you want out of it. I’ve to say that this year made me more established as a professional footballer.
TTE: After one season in Almelo you went first to Millwall before signing in August of 1994 for Reading. What were your reasons for signing a contract with the Royals?
Paul Holsgrove: Generally, I had a good time at Millwall, Mick McCarthy was my manager. Unfortunately, during that season a had a lot of injuries. Towards the end of the campaign Mick and I had a bit of a falling out and he told me I could leave. In the beginning I had Watford with their manager Glenn Roeder coming in for me. That looked promising.
My agent by that time Barry Silkman told me about the interest of Reading who just had won promotion to the old Division One. I was told that they’d be really interested although that couldn’t sign me straight away. So, I had a trial and went on to train for some weeks with the squad. I just wanted to try and go for it. A funny story happened then around the friendly against Leyton Orient. I scored a nice volley, after that Mark McGhee came out of the dugout, looked to my agent and gave him the thumbs up. That was the moment when Reading signed me.
TTE: In total you made 86 appearances in the blue and white shirt, more than for any other team before or afterwards. Would you say that the time at Reading was the most successful of your career?
Paul Holsgrove: For sure! Unfortunately, I was affected with too many injuries again, but still I could make 86 appearances in my 3 ½ seasons. I was a regular player. These were really good times, I also met my current wife during my time at Elm Park. That’s also why we came back here after I finished my career. We’re living in Ascot. So, you can say that Reading became home.
TTE: Your first season at Elm Park was probably one of the best in Reading’s history with the Royals finishing second in the league and missing promotion only to Bolton in a 4-3 defeat at Wembley. What are your memories of that year?
Paul Holsgrove: Incredible! What a season! I have to say that Mark McGhee was a fantastic manager with Colin Lee his assistant. That summer we had Dariusz Wdowczyk coming from Celtic, Simon Osborn from Crystal Palace, Andy Bernal and I came in after a trial. There was a real good crop already with Ady Williams, who was becoming a Welsh International, Michael Gilkes with his speed, Scott Taylor, a great midfield player. You had goal scorers with Stuart Lovell and Jimmy Quinn, and then Shak in goal. The team was moulding well. I think the additions of us new faces brought it through.
Second to that really is momentum. We started off so strongly and kept that momentum going. Unfortunately, I broke my leg against Bristol City in October. That’s why I missed quite a bit of that season and it really affected me trying to get back into the team for the last games. It was a hard one to take because until that injury I was playing regularly, but when these things happen you have to accept it. The only thing you can do is support your team mates.
About the final at Wembley I talked a lot also afterwards. Bolton had one big advantage: they had the experience of Wembley. They had played some weeks before the Coca-Cola Cup final there. Wembley kind of drains you, it affects you emotionally and therefore also physically. I remember that we came in at half time leading 2-0, nearly scoring a third one. But looking at the players at that moment they looked shot, physically drained. We put too much in. Too much, too quick.
TTE: A mayor strength was certainly the good team spirit within the squad. With whom of your ex-colleagues did you spend time most? Are you still in touch with some of them?
Paul Holsgrove: My closest three were Ady Williams, Simon Osborn and Andy Bernal. When I moved to Hibs I played also with Stuart Lovell. Archie is also a good friend of mine. But in general, we were really such a tight group, there was no hatred at all. Many of us were in the early twenties to mid-twenties. We weren’t married, we didn’t have children - we were young, aspiring boys. And when we went out together, we went out together, with a big group. The camaraderie was excellent.
That was also evidential on the pitch. There was a real closeness and a bond between everybody - a real unique thing in football you don’t find too often. I might not see one of my team mates for six or seven years, but when we meet it’s like they’re my brothers. You just click straight back into normality. I talk to Ady every now and then although I haven’t seen him as much as I like, and he’ll probably say the same about me. As a journalist he is still quite involved with Reading and now writing over the performances of my son. That’s very interesting.
TTE: You left Reading in November ‘97 to join Crewe Alexandra on a non-contract basis. After that among others you played for Stoke City, with whom you returned to Elm Park, Hibernian Edinburgh and Slough Town, hanging up your boots in 2001 at Windsor & Eton. How would you value your career overall?
Paul Holsgrove: When I look back now, I would say that it was a relatively hard start. You always need a bit of luck, a bit of guidance and a backing of a coach. In my case Mark McGhee was really the first one who gave me that. It’s like having a jockey on a horse - if you got a jockey that controls the horse, but lets it go when it needs to, then you get a lot more out of it. Prior to McGhee I didn’t have that. It was always more of a battle.
Another factor that influences the career are injuries. I had quite a lot. I remember playing at Millwall - we had a reserve match on a Monday. Manager Mick McCarthy came in at half time and told me to play from the beginning with the first team on Wednesday against Wolves. Five minutes from the end I broke my arm and I was again out for some time. That was the scenario, you can’t moan about it. But I was quite unlucky with all the injuries. Even though I don’t look back now with disappointment, it was a great time. I was fortunate to be a professional footballer. I played at a very good standard and enjoyed every minute being on the pitch.
TTE: Did you stay involved with football after you finished your career?
Paul Holsgrove: Not really. After finishing my career, I felt a bit like getting cheesed off of football. My friend Mixu Paatelainen, with whom I played at Hibs, told me to get my coaching badges because he wanted me as coach. I just didn’t want to do it, I decided to walk away from football. What did become quite apparent is that Jordan wanted to be a player as well. By the age of seven he was already at Reading, like a mini-professional. I was involved from the beginning looking at him four to five nights of a week. I suppose that become my new football drug. The drug I didn’t know I was missing, but maybe I was.
TTE: As mentioned before your son Jordan is now back at Reading, being part of the first-team squad. Is it also something special for you to see him wearing the same shirt as you did? How do you rate his opportunity this season?
Paul Holsgrove: It’s amazing to see your son on the pitch. I never wanted that Jordan felt pressured - that’s also how my father was with me. If he decided he wanted to be a footballer I back him, I help him as much as I can, and that’s how it has been. Later it was a very comfortable decision for me to see him choose the academy of Reading, because he had the chance to go to Fulham as well.
Nigel Howe for example was already at the club when I was playing. Again, you feel this club is your home. And if you just look back to the academy’s history, they brought some great players through. When Jordan was about 13 or 14, I could say to him: “Look at this player that’s being moved up. Look at that player that’s being moved up.” There was a positive trend with young players, also because of the people around. You had Sir John Madejski, there was Lee Herron, you had Eamonn Dolan, God bless him! There was continuity within the club. That changed a bit in the recent years. It made everything more difficult.
His opportunities this year? You can never say. Now there is again a new manager - that’s also something where the game changed to when I played. To say that a manager has some six months to prove himself is just ridiculous. When you’re a young player, can you give the manager 20 games at a level he wants to keep his job? It changes so quickly, very difficult to get in and stay in the team. As a father it’s a bit frustrating, but we have to wait and see.
In the end, I just want him to have a career. Jordan has enough quality to be a professional. If he gets that opportunity at Reading, then great. If not, he might have to move on. The most important thing is that he enjoys himself and is happy.