Charlton Athletic boss Dean Holden has been here before with Bristol City in December 2017 when the Robins hosted Manchester United in the Quarter-Final of the League Cup.
The 43-year-old was in post as then-Bristol City manager Lee Johnson’s number two and the Championship outfit produced a shock 2-1 win against the Premier League heavyweights and Holden’s boyhood Club.
This time, he’ll be leading the side out at Old Trafford with his new team, Charlton Athletic, tomorrow evening in the Carabao Cup with, once again, a place in the Semi-Final up for grabs.
“Funnily enough, my old man was crying, and I wasn’t sure if it was because United got beat or we’d won – it was probably a balance of the two,” he says, referring to his Manchester United mad dad. “I went and grabbed him in the crowd because I wanted to have that moment with him.
“It was a fantastic night. We scored two amazing goals on the night. United came strong – Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] was there and [Paul] Pogba and it was a real strong team that they put out. I spoke to our lads about that, how we went in there with total belief. The crowd got behind the players and it was brilliant. We got to speak to Jose [Mourinho] after the game.”
It was Holden’s father – and other family members who were also employed as stewards – that once helped him to sneak into the Theatre of Dreams disguised in a neon uniform some 25 years ago.
“It was the 1997 Champions League game against Dortmund,” he laughs. “There was a spare stewards coat and I got let down for a ticket, so I went in and sat next to the tunnel weirdly enough. I’ve got to be careful what I say so I don’t get my old man into trouble.”
Not only will Charlton be backed by a 10,000-strong following from South London, but the Holden family are also turning out in their number in the North West on Tuesday evening to show their support for their son – and the Reds, of course.
“I was a ball boy for a full season, and I’ve been a season ticket holder for 30 years now,” he continues. “It’s going to be a special experience for my family; there’s 28 of them going up and we’ve begged, stolen and borrowed tickets. He’s 70 now, my old man, and I can only imagine what he’s feeling given he’s followed the team all over the world since he was 10 years old.”
Just a couple of months ago, Holden, who plays Stone Roses’ ‘This is the One’ for his Addicks players now to mimic the feeling of walking out at Old Trafford, was sat at his home in Manchester pondering his next managerial move.
The next thing he knew, he was in the stands at The Valley watching on as Charlton stunned top-flight opposition Brighton and Hove Albion in Round Four of the competition, overcoming the Seagulls 4-3 on penalties.
“It’s pretty surreal,” he adds. “My first day in the job was when we got the draw for this game. All the credit goes to Anthony Hayes who was in caretaker charge previously. He put a great game plan together to beat Brighton in the last round and, of course, the players. I sat and watched from the stands with no pressure, and it was a brilliant night.
“I’d watched the game, went in to go and meet Anthony and the rest of the staff and introduce myself to the players and I came out just after 11 o’clock and got an Uber back to where I was staying. There was a bit of traffic outside this pub, and they were banging on the window and it was all the away day boys and they invited me into the pub.
“They laid on the line exactly what they wanted from me and they were honest. They said, ‘we’re a little bit on the fence about your appointment,’ so I said, ‘that’s fine – judge me when I leave the club as opposed to when I come in.’”
Tomorrow, he has the opportunity to strengthen that connection he’s already formed between himself and the Addicks fanbase by creating memories to last a lifetime.
“The biggest thing I’ve spoken about every day is the psychology side of it and creating some belief within the players and the staff and getting this training ground bubbling again,” he asserted. “First of all, to do anything, you’ve got to believe it but more than that, you’ve got to manifest it.”