Sheffield United: The Sunday League Football grounding that gives Blades new boy Ricky Holmes determination to make it to the Premier League

As he walked through the tunnel of Sheffield United's Bramall Lane stadium, past a sign that reads '˜Strength Through Adversity' and took his place in front of the camera to discuss his move to the Championship, Ricky Holmes gave himself a minute to look back at how far he has come.

Monday, 15th January 2018, 10:33 pm
Updated Monday, 15th January 2018, 10:55 pm
Ricky Holmes at his Blades unveiling

Not just in physical terms, either, although the move up north from life in London may come as a culture shock. But for a 30-year-old who experienced life on a building site and playing Sunday League football after being released by Southend at 16, his journey as a person is almost as remarkable as his rise as a player.

“It’s a bit about making up for lost time now, for me,” Holmes told The Star before, officially, being unveiled as a United player yesterday after signing a deal until 2020.

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“I’ve literally come from Sunday League football, playing for a team called White Ensign on parks pitches in Southend, after being released by Southend. I used to pay to play football with my mates.

“I went to college and university and it was slow progress but then I was dibbing around in League Two, before Chris Wilder got hold of me and got me going.

“Since then, I’ve progressed to where I am today and I’m delighted that he came back in for me. I can’t wait to get back playing under him again.”

Confirmation of Holmes’ signing ended a long pursuit of the player by Blades boss Wilder, who worked with the forward at Northampton Town and made an attempt to sign him in the summer after leading United to the League One title.

Ricky Holmes at his Blades unveiling

Holmes scored a superb free-kick at Bramall Lane last season for Charlton - the early opening goal in an eventual 2-1 Blades win - and the embrace between player and former manager afterwards, while both were completing post-match media duties, suggested their bond was still in place.

“Chris resurrected my career - and that’s not just me saying that, I really mean it,” Holmes added.

“He’ll probably say it’s all down to him! But there was a lot of hard work, too. But if you have success in League Two, that’s sometimes the only way to get a move higher up and luckily, it’s been good progress since then.”

Holmes, who commanded an undisclosed fee, is likely to go straight into United’s squad when they travel to Norwich City this weekend, but got an early taste of what Bramall Lane can offer when he travelled to South Yorkshire to watch their Steel City Derby draw against Sheffield Wednesday last Friday evening.

Blades boss Chris Wilder

“I couldn’t play for Charlton in case of injury, because the bid from United had been accepted, but unfortunately the deal wasn’t done in time for me to be involved in the derby either,” Holmes, who counts Portsmouth amongst his former clubs after being offered a route back into professional football with Barnet, said.

“But the atmosphere made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was unbelievable. I didn’t need selling on the move because of Chris and the size of the club but that alone would have sold it to me.

“The crowds were brilliant at Portsmouth and it was good when it got going at Charlton, but this was a 30,000-plus sell-out and you don’t get that at many clubs. They’re football crazy and get right behind the players, which is a big thing for us.

“There’s a good unity which is what Chris always talks about. I was up here with my agent and a few others and I turned to them and said ‘this is a proper place to play football, let’s get this deal done’.”

Ricky Holmes at his Blades unveiling

Holmes, who became United’s fourth arrival of the January transfer window after following Ryan Leonard, Lee Evans and James Wilson through the arrivals lounge at Bramall Lane, was subjected to abuse from sections of the Charlton support after his move to South Yorkshire was rubber-stamped.

Addressing those supporters, Holmes insisted that United’s chance of playing Premier League football next term - they travel to Norwich sixth in the Championship table - was a deciding factor in the switch.

“My career has been a slow progression from park football to where I am now,” he said, “and we play at our level to get to the next and hope to get to the top.

“Yes, I would love to have done it with Charlton but that’s no guarantee. I’ve been given the chance to play for another great club who are close to achieving that dream of top flight football, at my age I might not get another chance. In all jobs if you are offered a promotion you would be stupid not to take it, football seems to be different.

“I had a great time at Charlton and it’s just a shame it wasn’t more successful. I feel I always gave my all and hope the fans enjoyed my performances. It’s a new chapter in the short career us footballers get and can’t wait to get started.

“Of course, the Premier League is the aim and it’s not a million miles away, is it? We’re right in the mix. If we were 15th and saying that promotion was the aim, I’d argue that the aim should be looking over our shoulders.

Ricky Holmes at his Blades unveiling

“But we’re sixth and we really can get there, we’ve just got to believe.”

“I just want to get going,” added Holmes, who trained with his new teammates for the first time yesterday.

“All the boys are brilliant and welcomed me with open arms. It probably makes it easier that a lot of them have taken a similar path here, from the lower leagues.

“If I went into a changing room full of Premier League superstars dropping down, they probably wouldn’t even know my name.

“But I’ve played against a lot of these boys, they’ve seen what I can do and I know what they’re capable of. So it’s a great changing room to come into.

“But it’s that grounding that helps me appreciate where I am and how far I’ve come. We get a lot of things done for us which I used to have to do for myself, like washing the kit. I have worked hard for it, it doesn’t just come out of the blue, but if I have any advice for a young lad, it would be never to give up hope.

“Because I am proof, I guess, that it can happen.”

Blades boss Chris Wilder
Ricky Holmes at his Blades unveiling