It was back in April 2019 that midfield man Omar Holness featured on Non-League Daily, sharing amongst many things how a Twitter message had led to him joining Darlington. It opened the door to two years in the Jamaican international’s life that will always stick with him fondly. Here in summer 2021, a training camp with a variety of players from different leagues and levels has ultimately brought another new beginning, as the Kingston native becomes a Bath City player for next season.
The 27-year-old’s return to the national-team fold in March (for the friendly with USA in Austria) was a sizeable pick-me-up, following a past year or so where even for a radiant and genial personality like him, the storm clouds lingering over the game and much of life as we know it have been impossible to fully ignore.
With a Major League Soccer and US collegiate past, the one-time Real Salt Lake player could quite conceivably be looking ahead to the remainder of 2021 back across the Atlantic. A chance to continue what he started over here, however, with a National League South club who have contended strongly in recent seasons, and while moving much closer to his nearest and dearest, sounds like the perfect marriage to Omar…
Firstly Omar, joining Bath City after the past couple of years with Darlington obviously means swapping the North East for the South West. Even before we mention football, does that mean having to find somewhere new to live, what’s the set-up?
Well, my fiancée lives here in Bristol, so while I was at Darlington, I was finding myself driving all the way down to visit her often. I just said that I wanted to be closer to her, and that’s what I did. Spoke to the manager (Alun Armstrong) about that and he was very supportive of that decision. He wanted me to stay but he was very supportive because he understood my situation. So I’m currently living with my fiancée, so happy days for that.
When did you hear of Bath’s interest? Did you get a phone call from (manager) Jerry Gill one day?
There’s a training camp here in Bristol called Back 2 Action, so very local to where I’m staying now, and he saw me and he was like ‘blimey, who is this lad?’! Did his research and saw the type of person I was, and he humbly approached me and said ‘let’s go and have a coffee’. I really enjoyed sitting down and chatting football with him, and we just connected from there. He told me his ambitions for the season and what he wanted from me. He thinks that I will be a perfect fit for this season in helping the team meet those ambitions. So, just grateful for that, because now I’m so close to the family.
We spoke last time soon after you’d first joined Darlington. Those two years also included a brief period away before re-signing last season. Has there been interest from other clubs, maybe overseas/back in the US, at times in the past couple of years?
Yeah, there were some clubs in England, and even in Scotland, who were interested in having a look. America was always an option to go back; some USL teams were really interested in signing me, and some MLS teams as well wanted to have a look. The dream is to play in England for me and I want to see it through. I think just being in close proximity to my fiancée was priority for me as well.
This year saw you back with the Reggae Boyz (Jamaican national team). How good as well, after all the disruption for football and life this past year, was it to experience something big like that again?
Oh, it was a huge boost, to my confidence and my morale, because the last year-and-a-half for football was just dreadful and dreary. No fans in the stadiums, not much income coming in, and then on top of that you have just the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next. Even last season, while I was at Darlington, I think that kind of hung over the heads of all the players. So when I got that call-up, it was just a huge boost, and I think confidence levels just rose.
Absolutely delighted to have represented my country once again. Though it wasn’t the result we wanted, it was still nonetheless an extremely proud day for me and my family, and for those who have followed my journey up until now. It’s so important that we never give up💯 pic.twitter.com/At3PxbaWwL
— Omar Holness (@holnessomar) March 30, 2021
What was the vibe like in camp, and with an influx of new players for that particular squad, did you know anyone already?
I knew most, if not all the local-based players, and I knew Adrian (Mariappa), I knew (Michael) Hector from previous camps. I met a lot of the English-based players this time and they’re such great guys, so it never took long for us to connect and link up. It was an awesome time in the camp, and the coaches and the manager of the team really did a good job to ensure that everyone was on the right page and the vibe in the camp was good.
Away from training etc. was there much chance to enjoy the free time with the team? How much was that affected by the restrictions this time, compared to previous years when you’ve been involved?
The free time was a bit restricted. At times, we weren’t able to leave the hotel room; upon arriving, we had to quarantine. So that was kind of difficult, but as soon as we got out of quarantine, we were tested, and all came back negative. Then everything began to come together. We’d go to the mall together, and then even after the game, all of us were just sat around a table telling jokes and having a drink and having a laugh. That was a good, solid bonding moment for us, and I think it will show in the games. I’m excited to see what Jamaica can do.
In terms of the US team, what was it like to come up against them (Omar came on as an early second-half sub), and to get a close-up glimpse of where they currently are, with some pretty prominent players from the highest level?
I think this might be the best selection of US men’s football team players that I’ve seen throughout my entire experience in CONCACAF football. Now you have guys who are playing at the heights of football, for Barcelona, for Chelsea, and representing the US national team. Those experiences have helped them and their team, and you could see how well they gelled on the pitch. I think just weeks ago they beat Mexico in the Nations League final, so that alone tells you how good they are as a team. But with that being said, I don’t believe they are miles ahead of us right now. I do think we have the players that are capable of beating a US men’s national team.
With your manager Theodore Whitmore, obviously a legend in Jamaican football. Linking back up with the squad, has he given you an indication of where you currently are in terms of his thoughts and plans?
I had a lovely, long conversation with him, where we had a heart-to-heart, and he understands that playing is now my main priority. Ideally, he would have wanted to see me play in Europe, but I think right now he understands that playing is of vital importance. If I can play 20-30 games up until December, you never know what can happen. I think match preparedness is vital, is most important, and I think that would be the best way as well that I could help the national team. Will I get another call-up? I’m hopeful that I will, and obviously why not if I’m doing well with Bath? Let’s see. You never know.
Back to club level, what are the strongest memories that you’ll take away of Darlington, when you think back in the future? I’m guessing the game at Walsall (in the FA Cup first round, November 2019) would be a huge one?
Yeah, it would have to be that Walsall game. Carrying about 2500 fans to their ground, it was pre-COVID, obviously scoring was huge, but then just the reaction of the fans was a standout to me. I think when we scored that late equaliser, it was outstanding. When you look back, it gives you goosepimples, with the fans and how involved they were in the game. I think that will definitely stick out when I think back to Darlington.
Walsall 2 -2 Darlington
Full album can be found https://t.co/XqUtxevdUo
— Darlington FC (@Official_Darlo) November 9, 2019
When you joined Darlington, did you have an initiation song to do, and have you got one ready for the squad at Bath?
I always stick to one song, throughout my entire career if I’ve had to sing; I always sing ‘Three Little Birds’, Bob Marley. It’s just a good one and everyone knows it and can sing along, so it’s not as daunting as singing one that no one knows!
Finally, what does the rest of the summer look like for you? Away from training, is there opportunity to plan anything else to enjoy?
We’ve already gone in for pre-season at Bath; we had our first session yesterday. I’m actually currently in at Back 2 Action, with a lot of League players, some semi-pro players and Women’s Super League players, just training on a day-to-day basis. So I’m kind of coupling up camp with pre-season at Bath, because we’re only in three times a week. Ideally, we’re hitting 20-25 km per week, and hopefully we can achieve that until our first pre-season game, which I think is 29th June.
Interview by @chris_brookes