Ex-Charlton, Bournemouth and Chelsea man Danny Hollands: I was very, very, very stupid, ignoring medical advice - and never again played for Portsmouth

The injury which ended his Pompey career was sadly self-inflicted, a ‘stupid’ decision Danny Hollands still regrets.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 6:00 pm
Pompey physio Sean Duggan assists Danny Hollands after suffering an ankle injury in the second leg of Pompey's play-off semi-final against Plymouth in May 2015. Picture: Joe Pepler

Focused on conquering Plymouth in the League Two play-off semi-finals, the midfielder shrugged off strong medical advice.

An ankle injury sustained in the May 2016 first leg ruled out Hollands’ involvement for the decisive match. Except the former Bournemouth man refused to listen.

Barely 48 hours later, he remained in Paul Cook’s side for the Home Park trip.

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Hollands didn’t survive the first half of the subsequent 2-1 aggregate defeat, leaving the stadium on crutches.

A heartbreaking end to Pompey’s season – and the injured player’s Fratton Park career.

‘Stupidly, I played that semi-final second leg against the advice of the medical team. I tried to do the club a favour,’ he told The News.

‘To this day, the physio at the time, Sean Duggan, rubs it in every time we speak.

Goalscorer Danny Hollands. Pompey v Plymouth Argyle. Fratton Park. League Two. Saturday, May 3, 2014. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Ahead of that second leg he warned: “I strongly advise you not to play”. I felt all right, though, I wanted to give it a go.

‘Looking back, it was a very, very, very stupid decision by me. I ended up tearing the ligament off my ankle and being substituted after 44 minutes – and all due to that earlier tackle.

‘I didn’t play for Pompey again, I was injured and out of contract, and the stress it put my family through was awful.

‘With all due respect, I don’t feel the club looked after me as well as they could have, but that’s football, you live and you learn.

Danny Hollands scored five goals in seven games after joining Pompey on loan in March 2014. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Paul Cook was a very good manager at Pompey, but I would have a bit more respect for him as a person if he had treated me better.’

Hollands established himself as skipper Michael Doyle’s regular central midfield partner during Cook’s first Pompey campaign in 2015-16.

Initially overlooked for Nigel Atangana and summer signing Adam Barton, the former Bournemouth man forced his way into the side by October 2015.

He went on to feature 39 times as Pompey finished sixth in League Two, qualifying for the play-off semi-finals, where they were matched with Plymouth.

Danny Hollands was a major driving force in the remarkable late-season run which saw Pompey avoid relegation to non-league football. Picture: Joe Pepler

The May 2016 first leg produced a 2-2 scoreline amid controversy over Jamille Matt’s headbutt on Michael Doyle, which failed to warrant a booking.

Pompey were also incensed over Gary Sawyer’s second-half tackle on Hollands. A challenge which would impact significantly on the midfielder’s Fratton Park future.

Hollands added: ‘He came in sideways, very late and high on my left ankle. On another day, he probably would have seen red.

‘I was in excruciating pain after the game and, with just 48 hours until the second leg, was constantly on the Game Ready ice machine to get the swelling down.

‘I never trained ahead of that match, it was just ice and rest – and, with my ankle heavily strapped, I decided to give it a go.

‘Then, early in the game, it felt like a cricket ball had smashed me there, but I carried on.

Danny Hollands made 94 appearances and scored seven goals during two-and-a-half years at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘On 44 minutes, it happened again. I was running in the middle of the pitch and planted my foot when it struck. I ended up sitting on the floor and had to come off.

‘It was horrendous, to be honest. The surgeon said it was a mini-explosion in my ankle. I had ripped my deltoid ligament off the bone and was out for 10-12 weeks. On top of that, I was out of contract.

‘Previously there was a clause in my contract stating that if I started 60 games over two years then I would get a third year on the same terms.

‘Halfway through the season, the club told me they didn’t want to offer the same terms – and if I didn’t take out the clause then I wouldn’t play.

‘They did, however, tell me they would negotiate. It was a case of “We want to keep you here, but on less money”. I agreed to remove the clause and played on.

‘Then, three weeks after the season finished, they gave me a token contract offer. It was two-thirds less, a cut of around 66 per cent.

‘If I was a bit-part player then I would have understood, but I had played 87 games over two years.

‘Pompey will say they offered me a new contract that summer, but what they offered was a disgrace. It felt like a kick in the balls, shall we say.

‘I asked to negotiate, but people kept beating around the bush. I was never told I wasn’t wanted. If they had said to me “You won’t be here next year because I don’t really fancy you”, then fair enough.

‘To be fair to them, it was quite a significant injury, so they may have had doubts. But they never had conversations with me, I was a spare part around the place during rehabilitation.

‘Pompey did what they felt they needed to do in terms of players, but I’d like to feel if I was in charge of a football club I would treat people with a little respect. Especially after two years there and helping them get out of a relegation battle.’

That relegation battle was in March 2014, when Hollands arrived on loan at Fratton Park for the remainder of the season.

Out of favour at Championship side Charlton, he had spent the first half of the campaign at Gillingham in League One.

However, following his December return to the Addicks, the midfielder had not featured for three-and-a-half months and craved another spell away.

Then the SOS was sounded by a club positioned one place above the League Two relegation zone. They had seven matches remaining to save their Football League status.

‘Richie Barker was Pompey manager and I was asked whether I would be interested in coming to Fratton Park. I replied yes,’ added the former Chelsea youth-team skipper.

‘I got back from training later that same day and found out he’d been sacked! Perhaps the board had heard of his interest in me and dismissed him!

‘I wasn’t sure what was going to happen and was still keen. I knew Lee Bradbury from our Bournemouth days and aware he was very close to the caretaker boss, Andy Awford, so I messaged him to find out if they still wanted me. They did.

‘I was at Charlton, we were in the Championship, and I wanted to move to League One. Instead this club fighting to stay in League Two were interested. Not just any club – Pompey.

‘For me, Pompey wasn’t a League Two club. Being local, I knew all about it. Throughout my school years I had been to Fratton Park, watching a lot of games with my friends, I knew the passion, the atmosphere.

‘I moved to the south coast at the age of 13 when my family separated and lived between Arundel, Chichester and Fontwell. It has always been a club close to my heart, a lot of my friends support them.

‘I have never really supported anyone in football, but, growing up, it was one of those teams I gravitated towards, for no particular reason other than my friends supported them.

‘When AC Milan visited Fratton Park in November 2008, I watched from the South Stand. I was at Bournemouth with Warren Cummings, who lived with Richard Hughes, so got tickets that way.

‘With my wife and daughters living back this way, moving to Pompey made a lot of sense. Not just on the pitch, but off it as well.’

Pompey would preserve their Football League status with three matches to spare, with Hollands a pivotal figure in the successful fight against relegation.

Handed a debut at Newport County in March 2014 for Awford’s first game in charge, the Blues embarked on a run of five straight victories.

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By the season’s end, Hollands had netted five goals in seven matches, including a final-day hat-trick against Plymouth in a 3-3 draw.

Barely three weeks after the season had ended, with Awford now installed as permanent manager, free agent Hollands signed a two-year deal with a mutual 12-month option.

Yet, in a disappointing 2014-15, he would never again scale those goal-scoring heights, registering just twice in a further 48 outings.

He added: ‘That season didn’t really happen for us and was very, very frustrating. You have all the hype, everyone thinks you’re going to get promoted, yet it dwindled away.

‘We changed formation a few times, had a lot of personnel, people coming in and out, and never really had a settled structure. It was all fits and spurts.

‘It wasn’t a great period for myself, if I am honest. I wasn't playing that well, then again I don’t think anyone really was.

‘I cannot stand here and say I did well, because I didn’t, but there’s a lot more factors for why it went the way it did. I’m not going to slate anyone, that’s just football.

‘My role changed a little. We altered the formation, playing a bit lopsided in midfield, and, rather than being box-to-box, I was doing a lot more running for other people to get more benefits.

‘I was carrying out the doggy work rather than enjoying the things I did well the year before. It didn’t get the best out of me.

‘Then Paul Cook came in (May 2015). In football, everyone talks, you hear things, and the word was he wanted everyone out to build a whole new squad.

‘I was hearing rumours he was happy for me to move on, but wouldn’t push me out the door as I’m not a bad egg. Regardless, it was clear I wouldn’t be playing that much.

‘As a person, if someone tells me I can’t do something then I want to prove them wrong, I felt I did that under Cook.

‘I had quite a good pre-season and, shortly before the opening game against Dagenham & Redbridge, he told me “You’re not going to start, but you’ll be playing a big part for us this season”.

‘I ended up making 34 starts in 2015-16 as we finished sixth and reached the play-offs.’

Out of contract at the season’s end and having completed his injury rehabilitation following the Plymouth semi-final defeat, Hollands joined League Two Crewe in August 2016.

Signing a 12-month deal, he made 29 appearances and netted once, before quitting the Football League for National League side Eastleigh, bringing him closer to his family.

Currently in his fifth season with the Spitfires, Hollands has amassed almost 137 league outings and 11 goals for the non-leaguers.

Now aged 35, he started Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Southend – and has no plans to call it a day just yet.

He said: ‘It took me a long, long time to get over the injury, maybe because I rushed by prehab.

‘I played with it through my season with Crewe, struggling with movement. I would say in 98 out of 100 days,I’d wake up and the ankle was aching and throbbing, but you do what you need to do.

‘I’m 35 now and haven’t done too badly considering what happened.

‘I’ve always been a football geek, I love the game and will keep going for as long as I can.

‘You don’t ever want to lose the enjoyment. When you no longer want to be out there and it becomes tedious and hard work, that's when you know.

‘Fortunately, it hasn’t come to that stage yet.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Danny Hollands tussles for possession in Pompey's trip to York in April 2016. Picture: Joe Pepler