Date:Saturday December 2 2006
Should Salisbury City beat League One leaders Nottingham Forest in the second round of the FA Cup at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium tomorrow, Nick Holmes, manager of the Nationwide Conference South side, will be dedicating the victory to his former Southampton colleague, the late Peter Osgood.
Holmes played with Osgood in the Saints team that beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1976, and speaks fondly of his former team-mate. 'Ossie would have been here on Sunday,' Holmes said when discussing the biggest game in Salisbury's 59-year history earlier this week.
'He took me under his wing during that time and did my talking for me,' Holmes recalled, 'and generally made sure he looked after me. He helped me more than anybody as a 20-year-old getting into the side, and made sure I was never left out of anything. But it's when the big occasions like this come around and you have to deal with you lot and the television - that's what he loved the most. If ever I wanted Ossie to help me out again, it's now'.
For a man who has achieved every schoolboy's dream - Holmes supported Southampton from the age of seven, played 543 times for his beloved Saints, won an FA Cup winners' medal at Wembley and played with some Britain's greatest footballers - the Salisbury manager remains an engagingly honest and unassuming individual, just as he was as a player.
'It's nice to be remembered in Southampton,' he said, shaking his head in wonder as he recalled the epic 1-0 victory over Tommy Docherty's young stars 30 years ago. 'I had a big scythe at Stevie Coppell early on, I remember - and missed him by a mile. Peter Rodgrigues did a great job on Gordon Hill, who was predicted to be their matchwinner. First 20 minutes they really hammered us, but when you've got players like Mick Channon and Osgood in your side, you've always got a chance.'
Holmes retired in 1989 and moved to Florida 10 years later. In July 2002 he returned to manage Salisbury City, whom he guided to the Southern League Championship last season. Success has continued to follow the former defender and the Whites are presently in second place in the Conference South, five points behind Histon, with two games in hand.
Tomorrow they face a Forest side who are five points clear at the top of League One and undefeated away from home this season, a record only Manchester United can equal from English football's top five divisions. However, Holmes, who earned £500 a week at his peak, is positive about the chances of his part-time players.
'If you don't concede goals then you can't lose,' he reminded me, 'and we don't talk about drawing matches here.'
Salisbury's nine-year-old stadium, close to Old Sarum on the outskirts of town, will be full to its 3,000 capacity tomorrow, but with the game due to be screened live on BBC, the club's planned ground improvements are now paid for, whatever the result.
The Salisbury players cannot wait to get at Forest. Since player-coach Tommy Widdrington arrived last season, confidence has surged. The 35-year-old former Southampton, Grimsby and Port Vale midfielder is injured and will not play tomorrow, but his place will be taken by Holmes' 28-year-old son, Matthew.
'We believe we can do anything,' Matthew said confidently. 'The lads are flying at the moment.' Credit to your father, I suggested. 'Don't give him all the glory,' he laughed, 'The chairman, Nev Bean, has done a fantastic job. My 18-month-old little boy Jacob adores dad, but because he works up here all the time, every time he sees his grandad he's driving a tractor, so he thinks he's a tractor driver, not a footballer.'
Holmes does not altogether disagree. 'Ossie always said I had a good engine,' he recalled.
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