Jordan Holmes was the last Ebbsfleet player to take a touch in 2019/20, his tip over the bar of a Halifax corner deep into injury time the very last action of the entire National League campaign before lockdown drew a veil over the regular season.
That helped secure a second win and clean sheet that took the club out of the relegation zone and it’s fitting that the last man involved of last season is the first player back in the door for the as-yet unspecified start of the 2020/21 campaign.
And Holmes believes whatever happens between now and the new season kicking off, with Fleet’s fate still not 100% certain, that the club has plenty to be optimistic about.
“I believe in what we, the club and manager, want to do next season, be that in the National League or the South. What’s in place for the new season, it is something to believe in here and I’m delighted to sign. We don’t know exactly the situation for next year, but if we do have to do it the hard way, I want to be part of the resurgence that brings the club back. The fans have been great with me and I want to repay that.”
It’s been a unique summer by any standards for everybody but Holmes has also seen his dream of taking part in the Olympics crushed – at least for now – alongside all the fallout of a premature end to the football season and uncertainty for players and clubs alike.
“It’s been a chaotic time this summer,” he agreed. “I’ve had flights to Australia cancelled; one minute I was going home, then I wasn’t going home, then it was back on and then it wasn’t back on. So I’ve spent the time literally just getting myself fit and more recently by training with other goalkeepers around the same area and other coaches I previously had worked with where I’ve been able to under the circumstances. They were happy to help me out and get back to a level of fitness in the sense of where I need to be for pre-season. I’ve been doing some runs and bike rides too, that sort of stuff, just to be ready for the upcoming season.
“It was so gutting after the euphoric moment of qualifying for the Olympics, and then to see them postponed was surreal. It’s never, ever happened. But thank God, the Olympic Committee have extended the group to an under 24 tournament, so all of us in the national squad will still be eligible to qualify and play in Tokyo in 2021.
“So now there’ll just be a couple of friendlies to get the squad familiar with one another and then we can hopefully be competitive at Tokyo but that’s for next summer, hopefully we have a full National League season ahead now.”
And now Holmes can see some clarity amid the uncertainty of lockdown.
“It’s been tough for me, it’s been tough for everyone. At one stage I could have been heading home, I could have had a deal back in Australia. But mentally, it felt to me I’ve got unfinished business in the UK and with this club. I want to make sure that I give my time in England and give Ebbsfleet everything I have. I feel it’s a bit unjust if we get relegated and I don’t feel that’s right for the football club if it does go through that way. If it does, I want to be part of this team and part of the resurgence that brings us back into the National League.”
Now set to embark on his second season at the Fleet and his second of regular senior football, Holmes is hoping to build on the challenges of the past to secure a brighter future now that a new deal has been agreed at the Kuflink Stadium.
“I had a few offers elsewhere, here in England and back home in Australia. But all things considered, for me it’s been a case of believing in the process here and what we actually want to do next season. Whether that be in the National League or the South, I believe in what’s in place at Ebbsfleet and I’m delighted to be signed for another season.
“Last year, yeah, it was a strange season, a strange situation in that I’ve never really been part of a club to play for two different managers in a short space of time. Being at Bournemouth for six years we had the one manager for the whole time I was there so everything has been a learning curve and with a new manager and new squad this coming season, it’s another chance to learn even more. I had to earn my place back last season and that was a different thing for me too but it’s all part of the experience.”
If there’s one thing Fleet fans have always been blessed with down the years it’s been popular long-term goalkeepers and Holmes has shown all the hallmarks of belonging to that category. Regularly donating his match-worn gloves to fans at the end of games and even running his own lookalike competition involving hairbands, manbuns and bleach-blonde hair earlier during lockdown, the Australian has been grateful for the supporters’ reaction.
“The fans have been great with me and I’m glad that I’ve had that good relationship with them,” he said. “They took to me well. I hope I’ve repaid them with some performances and it’s great I can now continue to do that.
“I’m really looking forward to everything that’s going to be happening at Ebbsfleet next season and I know the club are putting together a very, very competitive squad. I’m happy to be part of that and whatever I can do to help us along this season.
“As long as I’m playing well and everyone joins in as one and we all understand what we have to do for this football club, I’m sure we can do well. We owe the fans, they stuck with us through last season which was under par, we asked a lot from the supporters in terms of them being behind us considering where we sat in the table. Hopefully next season now will be the time to put that right for the fans.”