By Damian Dolan
We’re only five minutes into TalkSPORT’s weekly Drivetime show and already its resident seeker of truth and justice, presenter Adrian Durham, is mid- soliloquy with no club, player or manager free from his scathing criticism.
Often it’s the unenviable task of Durham’s co-presenter to try to provide a sense of balance and in this case that role falls to 38-year-old former Republic of Ireland international Matt Holland. In fairness, it’s a task he’s undertaken numerous times, and he’s well able to hold his own.
Rather than going toe-to-toe with the ginger one, Holland’s approach is more measured. No knee-jerk sensationalist sound-bites from the Irishman, instead a well thought-out response, as always.
Well respected as a footballer, Holland is now as equally well regarded as a full-time pundit, writer and broadcaster, and while nothing beats actually playing, he’s thoroughly enjoying it.
“It keeps me pretty busy; it’s a good mix and being freelance you can have a holiday when you want. That’s something you don’t have the luxury of when you’re a footballer,” said Holland.
“Since I’ve finished playing I’ve been able to go skiing and have a Christmas off – I didn’t work Boxing Day last year for the first time in years.”
Holland is in big demand, whether it be Premier League TV, the Premier League Podcast, or writing columns for MSN and the football league website on the Championship. It’s with talkSPORT, though, that he’s carving out a niche for himself.
“I love working at talkSPORT; there’s a good atmosphere and the people there are brilliant. It’s the next best thing to being a player for that dressing room camaraderie,” said Holland, who 49 caps for Ireland and enjoyed distinguished spells at Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic among others.
“Everyone says he [Adrian Durham] must be an absolute nightmare but he isn’t at all. He’s very, very knowledgeable; he’s knows a lot about all sports. Sometimes he’ll say things that I think are ridiculous and I’ll tell him that.
“He rubs people up the wring way, but he’s very talented at what he does. The show is built on interaction with supporters and he does that well.”
By his own admission, Holland’s move into the media world was partly accidental, although the midfielder had begun to think more and more about life after football when he turned 30.
“I started doing more and more media work, including writing a column for the Irish Independent. You’re not really sure what you’re going to do after you finish playing so my idea was to keep as many doors open as possible,” said Holland, who finally hung up his boots in 2009 at the age of 35.
“I still felt fit enough to play and I did have offers lower down the leagues but I was at an age where I didn’t really want to be moving away from home for a year’s contract somewhere. It was at that time that I began being asked to do quite a lot of media work and it just took off.”
As it can be for many ex-professional sportsmen and women, the adjustment to life without football for Holland was not an easy one to initially make.
“It did take me three to six months to get my head around not playing, and missing that day-to-day interaction. When I first finished playing I went to the gym every day, just to get the interaction with people,” he said.
“Now, with talkSPORT it’s almost like it’s been replaced. It’s that type of atmosphere – it’s good fun. You enjoy the banter in the office and then you go on air and you get the interaction with supporters on the show.”
Asked to film a pilot edition of Look East – the late kick-off show for the east region – Holland impressed enough to land the job. His media career has since gone from strength to strength, although he fiercely continues to resist the temptation and pressure to be controversial just for the sake of it.
“I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I never say something I don’t believe. I try and be as honest and as far as I possibly can,” he said.
“Of course, I’ve got allegiances to certain clubs that I played for and supported but you try and give an honest assessment. I’ve never said anything controversial for the sake of being controversial. I wouldn’t do that – it’s just not me. I’m not going to be something I’m not.”
One characteristic, however, that Holland has carried into his media work from his playing days is his meticulous attention to detail.
“I am someone who likes to be prepared and I was like that as a player. I like to do my research, see all the goals and keep up to date with what’s happening. I read the papers and check websites every day. If I’m covering a game I want to know their recent results, where they are in the league, top goalscorers, who’s injured etc,” he said.
“I love football; even if I wasn’t a pundit I’d still be following what was going on. Football’s been my life since I was three years old. It’s something that I always wanted to do – it’s always been my passion. That hasn’t changed.
“I probably watch more games now than I did when I was a player. I am meticulous in my preparation; I do like to be armed with the facts.”
Holland’s playing career spanned huge changes in the media world, with the growing influence of the internet and the birth and all consuming rise of social media. As an ex-player he’s acutely aware of the pitfalls that await players if they are not media savvy.
“It’s a difficult balance; I’m on Twitter and I enjoy the interaction with fans but if I was still playing I’m not sure I would be on it,” he said.
“It only takes one bad game or one moment of madness and you’re going to get jumped on. Players have got to be careful what they say – you’re a role model.
“Footballers accept that it’s [the media] part and parcel of the job. You are in the public eye and it’s very accessible to people.
“Players don’t like criticism, that’s natural. As I player I didn’t like being criticised, but that’s part and parcel of the job. You’re in the public eye and you have to accept it. It comes with the territory.
“As a player I never refused an interview, because I realised it was part of the job. Clubs could perhaps do a better job of preparing players for being in the media, in terms of press conferences and being in front of a camera.”
Despite his flourishing media career, however, Holland refuses to rule out one day trying his hand at football management. At the moment, though, the cons appear to outweigh the pros.
“Management is such a tough job – there’s no longevity and that’s something you have to know going into it. Chris Powell’s being at Charlton for two years and he’s one of the longest serving in the Championship, which shows how difficult a job it is,” he said.
“It’s 24 hours a day and seven days a week –it would take over more life. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy what I’m doing now, because I have a good balance. I love football, but I love my family more.
“If I was a manager it would impact massively on my family life. I know what I’m like, I’d take the job home with me. I enjoy doing what I’m doing because I’m still very much involved, I go to a lot of games and you see a lot of old faces.”
Perhaps management is one for the future. For now, though, Holland is more than happy indeed behind the mike, and keeping that Adrian Durham in check.
Matt Holland can be heard commentating on talkSPORT – 1089 or 1053AM, DAB and online at talkSPORT.co.uk.