The following article was published in the matchday programme for the Wimborne game.
When talking about the best Dorchester players across the club’s history, Matty Holmes is a name that is never far from the conversation. A fan favourite in a Mark Morris led team full of cult heroes, Matty would make the best part of 200 appearances and his performances in his four years at the club would see him regarded as one of the best players to wear the shirt by fans, and that is a view that is shared by those he played alongside. Now heavily involved in the youth set-up at near neighbours Wimborne, Matty has fond memories of his time at Dorchester and his career as a whole, and the path his playing days took him on before signing for Dorchester is unlike any other to have worn the black and white stripes.
Born in Luton, Matty would be on the books there as a youngster before being released for being too small. A series of trials would follow at Oxford, Brentford, and Leyton Orient among others, but it was a holiday in a Highcliffe caravan that would also include a successful trial at Bournemouth at the age of 15. After signing for the club at the age of 16 for then manager Harry Redknapp, loans would follow at somewhat contrasting locations.
“I went to Poole Town for a season when 18, went to New Zealand for six months at a team called Miramar Rangers in Wellington, and when I came back I had on month on loan at Weymouth in the Conference league, a month on loan at Cardiff City before getting into the first team.”
It was a first team career that would see Matty make 114 appearances and score 8 goals in AFC Bournemouth colours, and his good form would see him move onto West Ham.
“Harry Redknapp signed me at Bournemouth and it was Tony Pulis that sold me to West Ham for £40,000, where Billy Bonds was manager. Harry then took over at West Ham and I was sold to Blackburn for £1.3 million. I was more of a squad player there and I did get to play Champions League, which was great, but I never really settled there. I moved back South to Charlton and Curbs (Alan Curbishley) was a great manager. He was very good with training and we got promoted via the playoffs. I had injuries though. I did a ligament at first and then broke a leg.”
Those injuries would sadly end Matty’s pro career, but it would not end his involvement in the game. And a call from a former teammate from his AFC Bournemouth days would see Matty embark on the next chapter in his footballing story.
“I was just leaving Charlton due to my injury and had moved back to Dorset. Mark Morris rang three or four weeks later saying he’d just got the Dorchester job and was interested in bringing in. Gosport were interested as well but I didn’t know how my leg would hold up. I played against Portsmouth for Dorch in a pre-season friendly and my leg felt okay. I moved to Dorchester due to Mark Morris and my injury, Mark was very good and looked after me in training.”
Mark Morris would be the man in charge for each of Matty’s four seasons at the club, and Matty is full of praise for his manager and his work ethic.
“Mark Morris is very funny. He blended young lads and experienced players and people wanted to play for him. A real nice, genuine guy who made you feel very welcome. He was very funny off but no nonsense on the pitch. He made me do the running in pre-season and he’s a real winner on the pitch. Very demanding and very successful. He also had an unbelievable ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ at karaoke!”
Matty’s first season at the club would not go to plan though, with the club being relegated from the Dr Martens Premier Division at the end of the 2000-01 season.
“We had a bit of bad luck in that first season. I missed a few games with injury and we had a very young side with players like Jem [Mark Jermyn], Radders [Simon Radcliffe] and Groover [Matt Groves]. It was quite an inexperienced side that went down and we possibly needed to drop down a league, re-group and attack it anew the next season. It was a bit of a blessing. You never want to be relegated, but the chance to start again was a bit of a silver lining.”
Despite the poor league form, there was one major positive from the season that came in the form of an excellent FA Cup run that saw the club reach the first round proper and land the plumb tie of away at then Division Two leaders Wigan Athletic.
“We thought we’d blown it in the qualifying rounds against Welling but we got a draw. We were sat in the bar afterwards and saw the draw for the next round that was the incentive we needed. We won the replay and went up to Wigan on the Friday night which was really good, and we played well on the day. We went 1-0 up and the plan was to jump in the front row if we scored. It was Andy’s idea about the celebration but it was too far to run for me, I went over to Benji!”
A battling 3-1 loss would be the eventual result and following the disappointing first league season, focus soon shifted to getting back up and returning to the Dr Martens Premier Division.
“There were a few changes when we went down and a lot of the young lads were now a year older. We finished third that season and just missed out on promotion, but the years’ experience and winning games was really important for us. It wasn’t a bad return at all for such a young side. There were some tough places to go and a lot of travel. It was tough missing out but it gave us another year to build.”
And build they did as the club would first seal promotion and then the title as promotion as champions was assured with a 1-0 final day win over title rivals Kings Lynn.
“We were very confident going into the league winning season. We had more experienced players now at that level with players like Jem, Matt Lonnon and Radders all having played 60 or 70 games. We had momentum and were winning game after game, week after week. Crowds were up and there was such a good atmosphere, there was real continuity. Hanny (Matt Hann) produced and I used to play with Jem or Browner (Jamie Brown). Browner was my minder. Some of those tackles! I got whacked once and Andy Harris said; “get up, you’ll be okay, We’ll sort him out.” Five minutes later, whack! I was always grateful to my minders, they looked after me.”
Winning on the pitch made life easier and there was a great togetherness about the squad, but it didn’t mean there wasn’t competition between the players.
“The team picked itself. Quick wide players in Hanny and Justin Keeler and they chipped in with a lot of goals. We had really good balance and spirit and there was a good social side. I used to car share with Chris Ferrett and Groover, and St Leonards was the usual pick up point for away games. But we trained hard. In the keep ball sessions, if you weren’t on Browner’s team, you were getting lumped!”
As mentioned in previous interviews, there was a thriving social scene among the players, but as a more senior player, Matty was happy to leave the later nights to the younger contingent.
“As a more experienced player I was there as more of a Dad type figure, so wasn’t as close to the lads in a social sense. I was closer to Mark and Benji. Benji was very underrated and such a live-wire. Him and Mark played so well off one another. Benji was almost the total opposite to Mark and was a great character. A really important part of the success. He was very funny on the coach to away games and would keep the youngsters in line at the back of the bus, tearing into them in a funny way, telling stories. It was a really good group.”
After three seasons and with the goal of promotion achieved, a new challenge awaited the club, but Matty would face a decision on his own future first.
“At the end of that season I felt that with my leg as it was, maybe I wanted to finish on a high. I spoke with Mark and he wanted me around and he looked after me in training, so I agreed to stay on. Going into that new season I didn’t think it would be my last.”
Back in the DM Premier Division and going up in standard was always going to be a tough ask, and with more travel at that standard, it looked set to be a hard season ahead.
“Going up was always going to be a bit of a struggle. With places like Crawley, Harrow and Dover etc, there was a lot of travel. It was a tough standard and we had to get used to the pace and quality. We’d been used to winning games week after week previously but it wasn’t like that now. The turning point was around Christmas. Mark had us in for training after the 8-0 [defeat at Weymouth] and asked us all “do we want to stay up?” We played well in the 2-2 a few days later and after that we got a few draws and then the draws started to turn into wins.”
With the league to split to form the new Conference South, avoiding a relegation battle became a battle for ‘promotion’ into the newly formed league. The run that saw us reach and win the play-off final is still a fond memory for many at the club and is a time Matty looks back on with pride.
“We signed Paul Wood late in the season and Woody was key for us. He had ability, quality and experience and would flit around in that attacking role. Without a doubt out best performance was at [vs Bath City, play-off semi-final]. Woody was unplayable and we won the game 4-2 and deserved it. The final against Tiverton ended up being at Exeter’s ground and we were happy with that. It was a great day. The terrace behind the goal was packed with Dorch fans and it was like going back a few years for me with it being on a professional side’s ground and having a good crowd. I scored one from range that day that was deflected and a header. I never scored headers! It was a great day. I gave my boots to a young fan and I threw my kit into the crowd after the game. Del (the kit man) went mad and tried to get it back! It was a brilliant day.”
As the team celebrated and Mark Morris sang Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ on the coach home, Matty had come to a difficult decision on his future in that the Tiverton victory would be his final game. Not that anyone else knew.
“On the bus home everyone was happy as Larry, but I knew I’d be leaving. I spoke to Mark on the following Wednesday and he was a bit upset but understood. It was a very hard decision but it was a lovely way to finish. If you can play well, score a goal and send the fans home happy, then that’s the best thing.”
So after four years, nearly 200 games, silverware, cup runs, play-off glory and memories and moments that will go down in club folklore, Matty hung up his boots and focused on his new career path. But he would remain in the game.
“I had started doing my coaching badges in the first or second season and I was doing them with local coaches, not the PFA ones. In my last season at the club I was doing my level three and that was becoming more intense and I was starting to build up work. I worked on my own for a couple of years before Derek Old at AFC Bournemouth got me involved. I started with the kids aged nine to twelve, before I gave up Holmes Coaching to go full time at Bournemouth, before I moved on to Wimborne.”
Matty isn’t through with football yet and is still heavily involved with the youth and academy set up at Wimborne, and with his son (and ex-Magpie) Luke Holmes still playing for Poole, he keeps a keen eye on all Dorset footballing matters. With Holmes Coaching products playing at the top level in Ben White of Arsenal and Chelsea’s Tino Anjorin (on loan at Lokomotiv Moscow), you’re said to be within 11 miles of a Holmes graduate or former teammate at all times.
Reflecting on his time at the club and those eventful four years, Matty has nothing but good things to say about the club and those he played alongside.
“We had some really good players in those years. Andy Harris was the standout for me, he could have played at a higher level. He would have forwards in his pocket and had great potential. He was quick, strong and a funny bloke. You’ve got to be grateful to your minders. Groover got better over time and his movement and finishing really improved. I knew his runs and he was an intelligent footballer. He was a fantastic player and had a brilliant non-league career. Justin Keeler wasn’t the most intelligent footballer but his left foot was unbelievable. He’d just pick up the ball, beat two players and smash it top corner. Mark Ormerod in goal was another big character and he knew the game so well. We had some big characters and fantastic players.”
Summing up such a storied time at the club, Matty would simply term it was emotional.
“In one word, I’d say my time there was emotional. Every season we had something to play for. Relegation, cup run, just missing out on promotion, the league win, the playoffs. We won five trophies in those years (two Dorset Senior Cups, league win, play-off final and a league cup) and there were no free weeks or easy games.”
And those five trophies coupled with his level of performance are why Matty has been recognised in the club’s ‘sponsor a legend’ initiative, and he is very proud to have a seat in the refurbished main stand to commemorate his achievements at the club.
“It’s a real honour. You don’t expect it at any level and I’m very proud. I look forward to getting down and seeing it. You give your heart and soul to the club, if we can make fans happy and be recognised for it, that’s even better.”
We look forward to seeing Matty back at the Avenue soon, and the opposition players will be glad to see him in the stand and not on the pitch.