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Wednesday, August 29, 2012
There was something wonderfully liberating watching Grant Holt and Clint Hill indulge in the black arts at Carrow Road.
Modern-day Premier League football is a sanitised version of the game that was originally forged in the industrial heartlands of Britain.
The intense saturation coverage in the media, the financial explosion around what became an industry and the changing social demographic of the supporters who watch situated in superb stadia have all combined to irrevocably alter the beautiful game.
Contrary to perceived wisdom in certain quarters, football did exist before the advent of satellite broadcasters. And it was in decline.
Some may still mourn a passing era of hatchet men and teak-tough defenders who had to practically indulge in a spot of decapitation to incur the wrath of the officials.
Skilful, technically-gifted footballers are feted in the modern culture that replaced it. Quite rightly. The ‘Spanish’ way in its purest incarnation is an art form.
But there is something equally laudable about two grizzled, streetwise professionals capable of exhibiting the traits of their tough football upbringing on the best club stage in the world.
Holt and Hill duelled for the entire opening period before QPR boss Mark Hughes threw in the white towel with a tactical exit for his centre-back, who originally learnt his trade in the less fashionable outposts of Tranmere and Oldham. Holt’s ‘back’ story has long since passed into the stuff of Canary legend. He is the living embodiment of a bygone age.
This battle within a battle at Carrow Road proved a fascinating watch. Hill would try to grab Holt’s shirt on the blind side of the officials. Then feign indignation if the free-kick went against him. Holt was enraged when his intended run down the right channel onto a potential through ball ended abruptly after a cute block from Hill that the QPR defender packaged as accidental interference. Holt, and Hill for that matter, knew full well the QPR defender’s actions had been pre-meditated. Holt’s protestations fell on deaf ears.
Referee Clattenburg dished out lectures to both. A yellow card eventually followed for Hill, but still they resumed hostilities whenever the ball veered into their vicinity of the field; like an in-built default mechanism with neither willing to show any outward sign of weakness.
Yet in the intense heat of this personal duel there was a brief pause after Holt had been dragged to the turf yet again and a free-kick awarded to the hosts.
The City number nine shot Hill a knowing glance on his way back into the QPR penalty area and the duo broke into the broadest of smiles before the set piece was delivered.
No words, just a look that told you everything. For players like Holt and Hill, reaching the Premier League is a testament not only to their undoubted ability, but their characters.
Both came up the hard way. They may not possess the pedigree or the high class cache of Premier League opponents, but they deserve to operate amongst the artists.
One uncharitable broadcaster sat behind me in the press box labelled them ‘two League One footballers’ after another unforgiving muscular tussle between the protagonists.
Yes, they were. And proud of it you suspect, but for all those who revel in and appreciate the earthier aspects of the beautiful game the Premier League is all the richer for their continued presence.
Holt and Hill bring an endeavour and a visible, unadulterated enjoyment of playing the game that fans can still identify with.