He had some adversity thrown his way after arriving in England with AFC Bournemouth as a teenager, but it wouldn’t be quite enough to knock young Aussie goalkeeper Jordan Holmes out of his stride. With different options in Europe last summer, the 22-year-old ex-Weymouth, Eastbourne Borough and St Mirren loanee opted to sign himself up for a proper tilt at one of English football’s most notoriously unforgiving divisions – the Vanarama National League, with Ebbsfleet United.
It has been a 2019/20 for the Fleet that has seen manager Garry Hill’s departure in October, a season-long grapple with relegation, and a recent run that gives Kevin Watson’s men a genuine chance of salvation. It has also been a unique time in their Sydney-born stopper’s young career. January brought the euphoria of Olympic qualification with Australia’s Under-23s, and last weekend, a clean sheet in the only televised game in the country. It was a potentially huge three points at promotion-chasing FC Halifax Town, but like everyone else, Jordan and his teammates have now effectively been put on pause for the foreseeable future, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold.
Here, though, we hear a range of stuff from a player who has had firsthand exposure and insight into what it takes to play at the highest level, along with the personal learning that comes from leaving home at 16 for over 10,000 miles away.
We’re speaking a few days after the Halifax game. Such a surreal time all-round, for everyone, and it ended up with you as the only game in English football on TV last weekend. After the uncertainty and such a long trip north, to win and to move to a point from safety, what was that journey back like?
It was a strange one on the way up, thinking ‘is it gonna be on or off?’ but I think all of us were in good spirits to wanna have the game on. We thought we could really do something, and the fact that we did get the result, and also another clean sheet, was massive for us. It was a great feeling getting back on that coach knowing you’ve won, especially away. It was a bit bittersweet, having the season suspended at the moment when we’re in such good form, but we can’t complain. If someone had said ‘you’re gonna get two clean sheets and two wins from Halifax and Hartlepool away’ you would have snapped their hand off for it. To actually go and do it for the manager and for the club was big for us.
What has the season been like for you personally, in terms of how much enjoyment you have been able to take, in a situation where the team’s constantly fighting to stay up?
For me, to be honest, it was a tough ride being at Bournemouth for so long and not getting the games I wanted. To get the chance in the Conference to play a few games, it’s always nice to win, don’t get me wrong, but it was good to get into a first-team environment and play week in, week out. As much as we knew the results weren’t going our way, there was still a belief amongst the players that we can turn this around and get ourselves out of the mess we’re in. Personally, it’s been great for me, playing week in, week out, and it hasn’t hindered my internationals either, with the 23s. I can’t complain with how the season’s gone thus far.
With the season now on hold, how have you been spending this break so far? What kind of things can you do training-wise if you haven’t got the luxury of a home gym etc.?!
To be honest, it’s quite good to experience a bit of a break, spending time with my missus, and my mates that I don’t really get to see a lot, especially with a lot of my mates being involved in football as well. For all of us to be off at the same time, it’s quite good to see them. As far as training goes, it’s very tough on your own. You can only do so much; go on the bike, do some runs, a bit of work like that. I still sort of stick to my training week; have a down day here but still get my work in when I need to. Obviously give your body the rest it needs, but still get as much work in as you can.
Have the TV programmes, films, video games come into it yet?
I think the usual stuff for me, like FIFA to get that football fix still, Call of Duty, that sort of thing. A lot of Netflix series are getting watched again, few movies and that; it’s out of the ordinary now, getting the time to watch all of them.
What have you got in that Ebbsfleet dressing room when it comes to personalities?
You’ve got a lot of leaders in the team, a lot of experience in the team at higher levels. A few jokers in the team, which makes it good, but we all know the position we’re in and we all know there’s time for having a bit of banter and time for being serious. We’ve got enough of a good mix in that changing room, and with this changing room, I don’t expect us to go down. I don’t see us going down. It’s been an easy ride for me to mould in with the lads.
Working with Kevin Watson the last few months, what has he been like and what has he looked to bring?
Gaffer’s been great. As soon as he came in he wanted us to express ourselves and get the ball down and play. He’s tried his best to implement that; obviously with the pitches you come up against it makes it hard to get the ball down and play, but when we can, we do. It’s been a breath of fresh air to get new ideas since he came in, all the lads have got behind it and I think he’s doing a good job to get us out of this mess. I think just that belief of making sure we can get out of it.
Back at Bournemouth, how did you find it being around international goalkeepers like Asmir Begović, Adam Federici, with the obvious Aussie connection as well, and Artur Boruc?
It was quite unusual for me personally, because I was so young and Feds was 30/31 at the time, Asmir about 30, Artur about 36. I was so much younger but they were great with me; anything they could do to help, on the pitch, off the pitch. Federici was a big one for the Aussie connection; had more things to talk about, more things in common and good to have someone who understood the same sort of battles that you were currently going through.
Growing up, what was life like back home in Alfords Point, in southern Sydney? How different as well to what you’ve found since coming over here?
It was a very big shock when I did move over here, because growing up in Alfords Point, the Sutherland Shire of Sydney, that was my whole life and everything I knew. All my mates and everything there, that was everything. I was still living at home, quite comfortable, and then moving over here, it was quite strange in terms of not even just the training and the playing side, I think just the media side and the coverage of football. It’s just taken to the next level in the UK; that’s something in Australia people are a lot more laid-back about. In Australia, no one grows up going ‘I’m gonna play professional football,’ it’s very rare. I never knew I was gonna do it, I never thought I was gonna do it, and then the opportunity came out of nowhere for me and I decided to pursue it.
I know you played much further forward when you were younger but when did the changeover to keeper happen, and how?
When I was about 14-and-a-half, our goalkeeper for the local Sunday league team I was playing for got an injury, or he didn’t fancy playing in goal any more, so he said ‘does anyone fancy going in for a bit?’ in training, for a bit of banter. I decided to go in; I was okay, made a few saves and thought not too much of it. For the rest of that season I decided to play in goal and I went from Sunday league to about three leagues above, to the representative level. New South Wales Institute of Sport spotted me, and then the AIS, Australian Institute of Sport, spotted me, and by the time I turned 16 I was signed for Bournemouth.
For anyone who doesn’t know you, and they’re meeting you for the first time, how would you describe your personality?
I’d say I’m quite reserved, in terms of before someone has met me or I get to know someone. After a couple of weeks and I’ve got to know the lads a bit more, I start to get pretty lively. I’m pretty upbeat and never too down in the changing room, no matter the situation. If anyone was to speak to me and have a bit of banter with me, it doesn’t really bother me. I’ll always look at the brighter side and that’s probably how I am.
As a keeper, how much analysing/deconstructing of your game and individual performances do you do? How good as well are you at moving on from something?
I always take each game individually, whether it’s a good, bad or average game. I always take the things I could improve on and could have done better; ‘if I’d done this would it have shaped the team in a different light?’ Just sort of things like that, but with pressure or crowds or errors, it doesn’t really bother me too much, I’m quite calm about those sort of things. When it comes to analysing myself, I have people that I will talk to, or I will ask for advice off senior people I’ve met in the game. If I do have a good game, I don’t get too caught up, I’m not one of those guys who will watch it over and over and pat myself on the back. I just go out and enjoy myself, and at the end of the day, look for things I can improve on.
— Nathan Holt (@NathanHoltYt) September 14, 2019
Coming into non-league, with some of its very different characteristics to the higher levels, what have you liked and what’s been different or even tough to get to grips with?
I think the big shock was the amount of games in a season for this level. Then also, going from playing 23s football at quite a good standard where it’s all possession-based, keep ball, quite nice football. Just getting used to the dirtier side of the game, getting hit off corners, that sort of thing in non-league you had to get used to, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Every time I’ve played for Ebbsfleet it’s been a step in the right direction and only making me a better player, getting the experience in. I do enjoy playing week in, week out; if it’s constant games, I just love doing that.
In terms of approach from a manager that gets the best from you personally, what do you think that is?
I think a manager who is just straightforward and honest; if you are having me, as a goalkeeper and all that, and likewise the other way. Also, as a goalkeeper, I think always you need the trust and the encouragement from a manager, especially for young goalkeepers. Me as a character, I think I deal with things quite personally, in terms of I’ll deal with it myself, I don’t need reiterating on things. I’ll know if I haven’t done well or if I have done well, but at the end of the day, I don’t disrespect any manager or any message they have.
You’ve said before that it was tough in the youth team at Bournemouth when you first came over from Australia. For the whole picture of leaving home at that young age, how was it? Do you remember when you first started to think ‘Yeah, I can handle it, I want to stay over here’?
I think when I first moved over and I was playing in the youth team, and the manager at the time in the youth team said I wasn’t physically strong enough to even play youth-team football, it kind of hit home and I started getting dropped out of the youth team and playing in lower age groups. They were times where I thought ‘I’ve been brought over, they’ve believed in me and now they’ve pushed me to the lower age groups’, and that’s when you question ‘has it been worth it?’ I had people at Bournemouth higher than the youth teams who did believe in me and pushed me through to the 23s, and gave me my opportunity when I was about 17 to play 23s football and train with the first team. When I knew I wanted to continue my career over here was after about a year of being a scholar. To be offered a two-and-a-half-year pro contract was when it properly hit home that this is gonna be the career for me.
With the Olyroos (Australia U23s), to have that success just recently of qualifying for the Olympics, is that the best high you’ve had in football so far?
It’s definitely up there, definitely in my top three. It was a surreal feeling. It’s been 12 years since the Olyroos have qualified for an Olympics and it was a massive achievement for all of us involved. That was the biggest thing we wanted to do and it was a proud moment for all of us, because it was about three-and-a-half years in the making. All the qualifiers and the grind of getting through those qualifiers and a spot at the Asian Cup, then finishing in the semi-finals and winning the third-place play-off was a euphoric moment. To be doing it with your mates that you’ve been with for those years was special for all of us and the families back home.
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) January 26, 2020
For people you’ve come up with in the game and become good friends with, who are some examples?
One of my closest mates in football is Aaron Ramsdale at Bournemouth. He joined when I was there and we had two-and-a-half years there together, and he’s one of my closest mates over here and I spend a good amount of time with him. I always look out and see how he’s doing, and glad he’s doing so well this season. Ryan Allsop, again, I was with him at Bournemouth, and I always call him up and see how he’s getting on, and he’s doing really well at Wycombe. Feds (Adam Federici), always drop him the odd text, and then Asmir (Begović), I’d say he’s a good friend in the game for me. Him sponsoring me by wearing his gloves, and I’m always chatting to him about how he’s getting on and how he’s got to where he’s got and how he’s dealt with certain things. He’s been a good person to bounce things off. There’s numerous amounts of people. Mark Travers, who’s doing quite well at Bournemouth as well. A lot of lads I’ve got on well with since I was younger and kept in contact with.
Leaving Bournemouth last year, what were the options you had? A contract extension there, and obviously Ebbsfleet, but what else? Were there clubs in the A-League, in Asia etc.?
The Bournemouth one was tough because you could stay there and become a training goalkeeper, but I never wanted to do that. I thought it was time in my career where I needed to go out and play games. I had options to go to the Netherlands and Norway, options in League Two, but that was not guaranteed to play. It was getting to the point of ‘even if I have to drop a bit lower, it doesn’t bother me, as long as I get the games.’ That’s where Garry Hill gave a phone call to the assistant manager of the 23s at the time at Bournemouth, because I was still training there at the start of the season to keep my fitness up. It led to me just training once at Ebbsfleet and the rest was history. There was a few in my head to go to the A-League, but I really wanted to just get more games here and see just how tough the English league was.
When you’ve joined a new team, have you ever had to sing for Initiation?
I have had to sing numerous amounts of times. Travelling with Bournemouth when I was a young kid with the first team, then when I went on loan to St Mirren, to Ebbsfleet, and then Australia. That doesn’t bother me; you get up there and it makes you become one of the boys. I’ve done two songs in my whole life. I did ‘She Will Be Loved’ by Maroon 5 at Bournemouth, which was a tough one because I forgot the lyrics halfway through! So all the lads were getting on to me for that. Then I sang ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth, which is the one off Shrek.
Is there a team DJ at Ebbsfleet?
Adam Mekki was doing it when he came on loan from Bromley. There was Andre Blackman when he came in. It was me at the start of the season; I’d jump in when I was needed. Michael Timlin does it now. We’ve got numerous amounts of people who back themselves to step up, so it’s a good problem to have.
One artist/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist
Anything to do with Tory Lanez, if it was in the changing room. I’d probably have him as my go-to artist in the changing room.
When you’re not playing or training, what other interests come into play for you?
I like to play golf quite a bit. Playing FIFA, to be honest, just chilling like that and playing with my mates.
Are you someone who’ll be Barcelona, Real Madrid all the time on FIFA?!
No, I’m a massive Man United fan so I stick to my roots. I’m not one of those who use the PSG, Barcelona, Juventus, I’m not that guy!
Interview by @chris_brookes