Forever you read stories about how highly-rated youngsters fail to make the grade at Premier League or Championship youth academies, before dropping down into the lower tiers of English football.
But it is not too often that we appreciate those players who have worked their way up from the very bottom in order to achieve their boyhood dream.
From the lowest depths of non-league football, Northampton Town winger Ricky Holmes is a prime example of someone who has conquered all during his path to becoming a professional footballer.
Having started his career at Chelmsford City, Holmes has gone onto become a Football League regular, representing twice FA Cup winners Portsmouth, play under Netherlands and Juventus legend Edgar Davids and even play for his country on the international stage.
With Holmes now fully focused on helping the Cobblers achieve promotion from League Two this term, Shoot spoke EXCLUSIVELY to the forward about his love for Northampton, the brutality of the fourth tier and the contrast between professional.
You joined Northampton on a permanent basis back in late January. Now playing in your first full season at Sixfields this term, how are you enjoying life at your new club?
“It has been stop-start this season. I have had an injury towards the back end of last season. I rode it through and had an operation on my groin in the summer. I have come back for three games and now I have had back spasms, so it is a bit of bad luck! But I love it here to be honest, that is why I signed on permanently in the first place.”
Northampton finished 12th last season, bang in mid-table, 10 points adrift of the play-offs. Are the Cobblers capable of breaking into the top-seven this season?
“Yeah, I think we could have done it last season. I mean we were two points off at one stage and then a big player for us, Marc Richards, got injured. He was the top goalscorer at the time and led the line well. We never really recovered from that, we took some bad defeats after. But if we don’t finish in the top-seven, I think we would have failed as players and as a group.”
You have had a mixed start to the season. Does that represent just how tough and open League Two really is?
“Yeah, definitely. I mean look at Wycombe. Everybody wrote them off last season but consistency gets you into the play-offs in this league, so you have got to stay consistent. Like I say, we made a good start to the season, everything was riding high and then we had a fall from grace really, which can help you because you can get ahead of yourself otherwise.”
Last season you scored five goals in 38 appearances in all competitions for both Portsmouth and Northampton. What is your personal aim this year?
“Well I came here and got five, so I hadn’t scored for Portsmouth. I have looked at double figures. The way we look, we are an attacking threat. The gaffer [Chris Wilder] gives us license to roam around a little bit which seems to suit me. So I am aiming for double figures. But I have just got to get on the pitch to get the first one. Hopefully I will get 10 goals.”
Manager Chris Wilder is now in his second full season in charge at Northampton this campaign. What have you made of his impact since arriving at the club?
“Yeah, brilliant. When I came here, I think they were fourth from bottom or something. It was a big opportunity to come and play under him. I know he was always trying to sign me when he was at Oxford [United] but that never managed to happen. He has always been an admirer and I have always admired the way he plays – high tempo, high intensity football. I seem to benefit from it when I come here and do well, so hopefully we can go on in the future.”
Is he perhaps the best manager you have played under?
“Yeah, definitely. His experience and organisation seems to fall into place and like I say, he plays my kind of football – high tempo and he lets us get on the ball. Lets me kind of have a free role at the top of the pitch.”
You started your career at non-league side Chelmsford City. What is the contrast like between non-league and professional football?
“Not having to work! I mean I was working at a Goals with my mates, so it was a good laugh. But going from a nine to five job to training, then back to a nine to five is totally different. The pressure is a lot different at this level. I mean you are always under pressure and the stress becomes more advanced but I love it. It is my boyhood dream. So when I had the opportunity, I couldn’t turn it down.”
What was it like to represent your country at semi-professional level when you turned out for the England C team?
“To be honest, it felt like I was playing at professional level! You get treated exactly the same; you get all the gear, the training, where you stay, the food etc. It was spot on. It was great and you end up with a cap as well. Exactly the same cap; different stripes obviously, but it was a good opportunity for me and I enjoyed every moment of it.
“I remember the game well actually, it was a shame it was down in Exeter though – miles away. But I remember it well and I enjoyed my time.”
You made your professional debut for Barnet at Chesterfield’s launch of their new Proact Stadium back in 2010. What can you remember from that day?
“It was a proud moment. I had finally made it through because there was a lot of speculation when I was in non-league. But I signed a contract there, even though Peterborough [United] were bidding for players and they had put a few bids in, same as [Crystal] Palace. But nothing ever actually happened to materialise. It was just a big achievement for me to get on. Obviously it was a big occasion for them, I think it was a sell-out and it is a lovely stadium there.”
In June 2010, you earned a move into the Football League with Barnet, where you played under former Netherlands, Ajax and Juventus star Edgar Davids. What was it like being coached by a legend?
“That was some experience! I mean when he walks through the door you are in aura of him. Although by the end of it, I’m not sure I was in aura of him [Laughs]! There were long days; he was very thorough. I mean we were out there on the training pitch for a long, long time. But he was another manager that was good to me. He always played me. But unfortunately it got cut short because I broke my foot in February and never played again for him or the club because it took me until the end of the season to recover. He was a mixed bag. Some days he was brilliant, some days he would be on you. But I think he just demanded such high qualities from where he had been and unfortunately he didn’t get the results to keep us up.”
You joined Portsmouth in 2013. What was it like playing for such a big club at this level?
“First season; fantastic. I mean we underachieved, but I signed there because I definitely thought they were a team that were going to get promoted. If Portsmouth come knocking on the door, you can’t turn it down. The fanbase is terrific and the whole surroundings were brilliant but it didn’t seem to work out on a personal note. It did in my first year; finishing as Player of the Year, but after that it went downhill.”
How big and passionate is their fanbase?
“They are the best. You don’t see a kid in the street without a Portsmouth shirt on. You don’t see a football shirt like I do back home in Essex – every team from Arsenal to Manchester United. They are through and through – fanatical. They do put a bit of pressure on you but that is why you play football.”
Northampton are also a decent sized club in this division. With the players you have brought in, do you think everything is moving the right way this term?
“Yeah, definitely. I mean the summer signings; you look at the fact we have brought in Nicky Adams and David Buchanan, who have played at a decent level for decent clubs and you have played against them a lot of times. Like I have said before, if we don’t achieve then we have failed as a group.”
Now to a player that left the club, Ivan Toney. How do you think he will fare at a club like Newcastle United?
“He has got all the attributes. I mean he did brilliant last season. He was a part-player last year really because our Rico [Richards] was doing well upfront, but he still managed to chip in with 10 goals at 19 years of age. It was a great achievement for him and he deserves his move. To be honest, he won’t have a better opportunity of signing for a club like Newcastle. If he throws it away, it is his own fault. But he has definitely got a chance.”