This is an article I wrote for Pinoyfootball.com
NEW ZEALAND –England has given us some of our vital national team players; the Younghusband brothers, the Greatwich trio, Rob Gier, Chad Gould and of course the indispensable Neil Etheridge among others.
Being a country where football is the main religion and having such a great number of Filipino immigrants, it’s not hard to explain why a lot of Azkals come from the Old Blighty.
And we may be able to expect another one though, in the person of Solihull-born Fred Holtom; a 17-year old, six feet tall center-half whose mom hails from Tolosa, Leyte. The lad has not been playing professional football for a long time but he already has the experience of playing for clubs like Aston Villa F.C. and Preston North End.
What is intriguing about this Filipino-English prospect is the fact that he is a product of a Premier League side academy. Throughout the Azkals’ history only Mark and Matthew Hartmann, Neil Etheridge and the Younghusband brothers have played for Premier League sides. The latter three turned out to be first-team regulars.
Fred then definitely has the potential to be one as well. At the young age of 14, Fred was scouted by England top-tier club Aston Villa F.C. while playing for a Sunday league team.
Having played football only in youth leagues prior to Aston Villa, Fred struggled but eventually found his rhythm.
No time to Waste
“At first it was massive for me as I’d gone from playing football for a regular Sunday league team to going to this massive team and I felt slightly overwhelmed, but everyone there helped me to settle in and it helped me to realise that I didn’t have time to waste not focusing on getting another contract”, he shares.
Unfortunately, after two years Fred failed to win that contract. However, he says that the experience “taught me[him] a lot both as a player and as a person still growing up.”
Did he manage to make friends with any Aston Villa superstar like Ashley Young or Gareth Barry (who was still at the club then)?
“Because of the level of prestige of the club they didn’t let the academy (age groups younger than 16) interact much with the first team”, Fred tells us.
However, he shared an encounter with ex-Aston Villa guy Martin Petrov that made the Bulgarian his role model.
“I remember once that I was in the canteen and Petrov came and sat with me and a team-mate and just read the paper and chatted to us as normal”, Fred recalls.
“This was the day before a massive game for them and he became a role model for me because despite his role in the club and the things that were on his mind he still made time for people that he didn’t even know and still stayed grounded and didn’t act like he should have been treated any different to us!”
Fred did have some good moments playing for the Villains’ Academy side, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he felt scared after being released.
“After being released by Villa I wasn’t quite sure where I would end up, some of the other lads I knew stopped playing all together so I knew if I got a contract anywhere I was still doing well”, he shares.
Preston North End
Fred’s prayers were somewhat answered though, as Preston then came knocking at his door.
“Fortunately I was offered a contract by Preston and even though they are a tier down in the first team standings, the youth football still has the same demands. And although the bigger clubs spend a lot more money the smaller clubs like Preston still have a great standard.”
Today, Fred continues to play for Preston North End F.C. in England’s NPower Championship, the second highest league. Although only in the youth team, Holtom still does receive training of high standards.
Preston North End U-18s were in the most recent F.A. Youth Cup with the U-18 sides of Manchester United and Aston Villa in it. Fred played a starring role in most of the matches until Preston were knocked out in the 5th round in a controversial game against Leicester U-18.
Fred says Preston should have won and that anyone who saw the game would have agreed as well. Despite this, Fred still gives credit to the Preston youth team and says that the level of demand is just the same as in Aston Villa F.C.
With all these experience under his belt despite only 17, Fred should be a shoe-in for the Azkals. And when the Azkals come knocking at his door how should he respond?
Would Love to be an Azkal
“I would love represent the Philippines just as much as I would [for] England. At the moment I may be too young to consider my possibilities, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be an option in the future. I personally haven’t been in contact with any members [of the PFF] but I’m not sure whether my Dad has had any contact [with the PFF] or not.”
Fred Holtom may have spent his whole life in England but he is well-aware of his Pinoy roots. Before signing for professional clubs, Fred and his family used to visit the Philippines every other summer to see his mom’s family.
In his own words, Fred has this to say: “Although I’ve lived in England all my life I class myself as mixed and am proud to acknowledge the Pinoy in me.”
Aside from Tolosa, Leyte Fred says he has also seen Manila and Boracay island which he “absolutely loved” visiting.
In his visits, however, Fred didn’t really notice a lot of football going on and thought that the Philippines didn’t have a team. He thought basketball was the only craze in the country.
“I’d never really heard of the Philippines having a national team it was always basketball!”, he says with a chuckle.
“I remember once me and my Dad tried teaching a few of my cousins the basics but it failed quite quickly, was fun though! But it’s great that the sport is starting to be noticed again in such a huge way.”
Now that the Azkals are gaining recognition all over the world, Fred says his dad updates him with the latest scores and results.
“I love the fact the now they have a team and are competing in so many tournaments and doing so well, my Dad is constantly updating me on scores and news so I’m hearing a lot of good things which is always great to hear for a footballer and for a Filipino.”
On Foreign Based Players
When asked on his take on the number of foreign-based Filipino players in the team, Fred says that the country definitely should establish its own league system but should welcome the influx of foreign-bred talents.
“Because the team is only starting to get a bit of glory I think that to carry on doing what they’re doing is the obvious way and I think it is proving to be successful, but I think that without a doubt having a Filipino league would be the best possible thing for the sport in a national sense.”
He added that every country wants their team to do as best as possible, but more and more you see players coming in with mixed ethnicity like myself which is great for the team, but seeing a youngster who was born and bred in that country is amazing for the fans. I think a mix would be great for the team and would give the team the best chance of being successful, but that might just be my personal opinion.
Already six-feet tall in his late teens, the physical attributes of Fred Holtom will no doubt improve as he grows older. His game will also mature as he keeps playing which ultimately means that Fred will only get better.
However, this might mean that it would be more difficult to call-up Fred if his other home country goes knocking at his door. But as the young lad said, he is as happy to represent the Philippines as he is for England.
When asked about his ambitions for his career, Fred gives a cheeky grin and says “to be able to play in the World Cup”. And like any other young player, he just wants the best he can possibly achieve and win as many accolades as he can.
He will look for offers from professional clubs next season and hopes to build from there. LE