Good things happen to good people – Dean Holden ready for Manchester United

Dean Holden knows the importance of reflection.

Yet the Salford-born Charlton manager will only allow himself a few moments after he has completed the job.

A Manchester United fan, he still has a season ticket at Old Trafford, and he is ready to lead the Addicks out in their Carabao Cup quarter-final at the Theatre of Dreams on Tuesday.

It is a sign of the determination and strength of both him and wife Danielle after losing daughter Cici to meningococcal septicemia when she was just 17 months old while on holiday in Lanzarote in 2012.

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Any professional setbacks cannot be compared – and Holden has had plenty – but ahead of what will be a poignant evening in Manchester, he knows where he and Danielle have come from to get there.

“It’s important to reflect, to keep resetting the ambitions and moving forward. We tell each other all the time we’re proud of each other,” said Holden, who played for Oldham, Peterborough, Shrewsbury, Falkirk, Rochdale and Walsall, having started his career at Bolton.

“Not because I’m a football manager and not because Danielle is on TV (she now works for Talk TV), that’s an added bonus. We’re proud of each other because everywhere our kids go we get good reports from school, other parents.

“Hopefully we’re a beacon of hope to some people, people who’ve been through what we’ve been through, obviously, in losing a child but more than that.

“You can’t get away from the after-effects of the lockdown and where the country is at the moment, you can’t get away from the troubles that are going on.

“Everyone struggled during Covid and Danielle went to a really dark place but she’s managed to overcome that through finding a purpose for herself again.

“She didn’t want to be just Dean Holden’s wife and the kids’ mum. She wanted to be Danielle again.

“She’s got a career going and just needed an opportunity. She got an opportunity from a guy called Chuck, who she used to work with on CITV, weirdly enough, and he gave her an opportunity on Talk TV.

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“So, for that reason, to see where we’ve both got to in our careers, hopefully it can show people, no matter what you say, it’s how you react and act.”

Danielle will be at Old Trafford with children Joey, Ellis, Mitzi and Chase and Holden’s dad Pete, who took him to his first game in the Stretford End in November 1991 against West Ham.

It will be emotional for the family but Holden is ready to set that aside to pull off a shock, in front of 9,500 travelling Charlton fans – their biggest away following for over 20 years.

“My life experiences have taught me to be able to focus on what’s in front of me,” the boyhood Red, who once wore a United top to training at Bolton, told the PA news agency. “Coming out of the tunnel will be completely surreal.

“I’ve been on the other side in the stands hundreds of times over 35 years but once I’m walking down that touchline I’ll be totally focused on the game.

“It’ll be more around the family, more around Danielle and the kids who will be there. There are 28 family members going. We’ve had to beg, steal and borrow for tickets.

“Everybody wants to be there because they know what a special moment it will be. It will be for my wife, my kids and my dad in particular.

“He’s 70 years old, been a Red his whole life and I wouldn’t be anywhere without him. Without putting words in his mouth, it’ll be pretty incredible seeing your son lead a team out at Old Trafford having been there for the highs and lows over 60-odd years.”

Huddersfield Town v Bristol City – Sky Bet Championship – John Smith’s Stadium
Holden first went to Old Trafford in 1991. (Mike Egerton/PA)

Holden sits with two whiteboards, magnetic markers for formations, scattered behind him and occasionally waves off camera to those passing.

It is a personable trait of the 43-year-old, who has already banished the hierarchy of tables in the canteen at Charlton so the first team, women and Under-21 squads now sit together.

A welcome speech he thought was for the first team turned out to be for 140 players and staff, from the chefs to the Under-21s.

His determination and personality has allowed Holden to integrate himself into the club quickly, not returning to his north-west home since being appointed in December. Having been out of work for nine weeks since leaving Stoke, where he was assistant to Michael O’Neil, he has thrown himself in.

Not that he has forgotten the fans, having popped to the pub after Charlton’s penalty win over Brighton in the last round 24 hours after his appointment.

“We have to embrace that, in order to fix it,” he said, having recognised the disconnect between the fans and the club during Thomas Sandgaard’s ownership.

“After the Brighton game, I stumbled across the Royal Oak pub down the road from The Valley and there were 50-odd fans in there so I went and had a pint with them.

“They made it very clear what they want from their football club. They want it as a reflection of them. I never thought I’d connect with south-east London being from 250 miles away but you can see the two working-class areas.”

A 2-1 win over Lincoln on Saturday lifted the Addicks to 12th in Sky Bet League One and secured successive wins as Holden begins to make his mark at The Valley.

Soccer – Pre-season Friendly – Walsall v Aston Villa – Banks’s Stadium
Dean Holden ended his playing career at Walsall having started at Bolton. (Nick Potts/PA)

A burning desire to be a manager has been stoked, having been given just six months at Bristol City after succeeding Lee Johnson in 2020.

He is coy when asked about links last month to become Thomas Frank’s assistant at Brentford but admits he could have followed O’Neill to become his number two with Northern Ireland.

But he wanted the top job so what would he tell his 12-year-old self knowing he would eventually manage at Old Trafford?

“The same things I’m telling my 15-year-old eldest and all the kids, aim for the stars, don’t have any barriers in front of you,” he said.

“It’s pretty mad to think I’ll be on the touchline at Old Trafford but it shows you what’s possible if you’re prepared to get off the canvas every time you get knocked on the floor.

“For me and Danielle, it’ll be a magical moment. Just don’t let life get on top of you for too long.

“Keep swinging, keep working hard and be a good person. Good things happen to good people.”