Dog and duck grounding drives on Holmes

Pompey winger Ricky Holmes Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey winger Ricky Holmes Picture: Joe Pepler

Ricky Holmes has no intention of taking a breather, his heart won’t allow it.

The tireless winger, characterised by his lung-busting Pompey shifts is in a hurry, wasting time is not a consideration.

What’s more, the 26-year-old is savouring every single gallop of his prized existence as a Football League performer.

As a late developer, Holmes endured an eventful climb into the professional game to the point of ending his latest campaign crowned Pompey’s player of the season.

Released by home-town club Southend United at the age of 16, his path to Fratton park would negotiate through non-league football, university in Cambridge and the building site.

There was also a job at PlayFootball, the same company whose Hilsea premises are now sharing the Blues’ new training ground.

At the age of 22, Barnet offered him his way into the Football League, and – four years on – Holmes has no intention of slowing down.

After all, the popular winger has plenty of time to make up for in a game he oozes boyish passion for.

He said: ‘I have come from the depths.

‘I have come from literally the Dog and Duck into the pro game, I have taken the hard route, but it has been enjoyable the whole way.

‘I used to play with Paul Benson for a team called White Ensign on parks pitches in Southend, he’s a nice bloke and a good player.

‘We would play Saturday and Sunday football together, turning up in your kit, going home in your kit, going straight to the pub afterwards and paying your subs.

‘After that I got into non-league football and if you look at any former non-leaguer who gets the chance they will give it 110 per cent every time they go out on the pitch because they are well-grounded.

‘The likes of Jed (Wallace) and Wes (Fogden) also come from non-league and we just appreciate it a lot more I think, we don’t take it for granted.

‘I was released from Southend when I was 16, went to college, went to university, played under an Academy at college, moved into Chelmsford reserves, made two appearances and then got straight into the first-team when I was 17, so I did my trade at non-league.

‘I loved it at that level, it was one of the best times of my life to be fair. The whole group were together, a lot of us came from building sites into training so it was really enjoyable.

‘I would also do a little bit of building work just to keep ticking over and if you come off the building site and into doing what you love in the form of football you appreciate it more.

‘The camaraderie in non-league is second to none to be fair and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there in my later days.

‘Some of the grounds were right dives, then to come to a big stadium like Fratton Park you do appreciate it more and want to give something back.

‘Then when I was 22 I got into the Football League – it shows there is time for everyone really. I was a latecomer, but it got me well-grounded.’

Holmes would spend four seasons at Chelmsford, scoring 49 goals in 154 appearances, winning England C recognition in the process.

Several times the Clarets would turn down offers for their contracted winger from Football League clubs in an attempt to hold out for the highest bidder.

He finally departed in the summer of 2010 as a free agent to further his playing career, resulting in signing for League Two side Barnet.

It would also indicate the end of his days working at PlayFootball.

And while Pompey’s fifth training home in 18 months represents a fresh start for Andy Awford and his playing squad, for Holmes the memory cannot help but be stirred.

He added: ‘I worked at PlayFootball in Southend, I did all the admin stuff and got offered the assistant manager’s role – then made it pro with Barnet.

‘I was working with all my mates, I really enjoyed it there, now it’s funny we will be training at the one in Portsmouth.

‘I did a lot when I was outside the Football League, I stayed on at my college, did two years there, then went on to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge for my third year.

‘I studied Sports Science, so have my coaching badges and know the sports science side – and once football finishes I’m looking to get into teaching, probably PE.

‘It’s a head start on everyone else who have come through the youth system and all they know is football. I have been there and worked as well and know I have a few things to fall back on.

‘A lot of the boys think “What are we going to do in the future?” because at this level we don’t earn enough money, then we have to go into the big, wide world.

‘Well I’ve touched foot on that side and have something to fall back on, so I take every year as it comes.’

At Barnet, Holmes would make 107 appearances and score 14 goals, once again establishing himself as a crowd favourite.

He was sidelined with a foot injury, however, for the final three months of the 2012-13 campaign which would see them relegated out of the Football League under Edgar Davids.

A switch to Pompey followed, where he made 45 appearances and scored twice on his way to claiming the Player of the Season accolade.

But despite the bouquets, Holmes will never forget the environment which provided his footballing grounding.

He said: ‘I came from nowhere, the Dog and Duck, and I still go and watch my mates play now.

‘I love it and towards the end of my career if I can’t stay pro I would have no hesitation going into non-league.

‘With those of us that played non-league, every time we go over the white line we seem to appreciate where we have come from and we know what it takes to get here, you have got to give it 110 per cent.’