Oliver Holt

Daily Mail

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was a symbol of the new power of sportswashing in football, which has grown and grown in influence in the months that have passed between last November and now, particularly with the emergence of the Saudi Pro League as a major player in the sport. Lionel Messi helped to ensure that last winter's tournament was a success in football terms but Oliver Holt felt it was important to keep stressing the iniquity of it being staged in stadia that had been built by the modern equivalent of slave labour and in a country where men and women involved in same-sex relationships are treated as criminals. When Fifa president Gianni Infantino made an absurd speech on the eve of the tournament seeking to lionise Qatar, Holt used this piece to try to expose the emptiness of his words by parodying his delivery and analysing the content of his assertions.

Back home, Holt worked for a couple of months with former Liverpool and Newcastle United footballer Craig Bellamy on breaking the story of his bankruptcy. Having known Bellamy for almost 20 years, Holt was pleased to be trusted to tell the story of the way Bellamy had lost everything after being cheated by financial advisers. He wanted to talk about what had happened to him, as one of the best paid players of his generation, so it could act as a warning to a new generation of lavishly-paid footballers who might fall prey to the armies of unscrupulous advisers and hangers-on who often circle them. Soon after that, Holt went to watch his home-town team Stockport County play at Salford City in the first leg of a League Two play-off semi-final and saw a flag in the away end that bore the name of George Thompson. Having known a little of George's sad story - he had committed suicide when he was 18 in 2021 - but seeing the flag and knowing that his dad, a newspaper sports photographer, took it to County matches home and away, struck Holt as a simple but poignant story of the power of football for good and the comfort it can bring and the togetherness it can foster. Dave had not spoken about George's death publicly before but he and his second son, Will, talked to Holt about the flag and raising awareness of mental health issues among young men and the way that football clubs can act like families.