Dean Holden: United draw is surreal

Monday 09 January 2023 12:45

For Charlton Athletic manager Dean Holden, Manchester United is “in the blood”.

A lifelong fan from a family of Reds, and a former Old Trafford ball-boy who queued overnight for FA Cup tickets, the Mancunian will get the chance to lead his team out at the Theatre of Dreams in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup quarter-final.

“When the draw was made, it was surreal,” Holden told us in the build-up to the match.

“I’ve only come up against United once before professionally, when I was at Bristol City, and it was at this stage of the competition in 2017. We managed to win that night at Ashton Gate - my dad was in the crowd, and I went to grab him after the game.

“He was crying his eyes out - I don’t know if it was because United got beat or because we’d won! I think it was a bit of both!

“After the draw, just to speak to Danielle, my wife, and my kids, plus my dad who’s been a Red for 60-odd years was surreal, hard to describe but it will be some moment leading out Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, it will be incredible."
Holden was assistant manager at Bristol City when they knocked United out of the 2017/18 League Cup.
Holden’s love for United started after the 1985 FA Cup final, when Ron Atkinson's 10 men defeated an excellent Everton side. 
“I remember being five years old for the 1985 FA Cup final. Norman Whiteside scored an absolute worldie when he cut in off the right-hand side and whipped it in the far corner. 

“I remember when Kevin Moran got sent off in that game - I was bawling my eyes out on the floor. And then Norman scored that goal - my dad had him in the sweepstake at work! He used to work in a factory as an engineer, so he was over the wall outside the house, running up the street because we then went on a caravan holiday with the money that he’d won!

“I went home and away watching United as a kid. I wagged school a couple of times to go to away games, me and my pals queued up overnight at Old Trafford with my vouchers glued onto my sheet for the next round of the cup! 

“I went to Wembley four or five times watching United in cups. I was a ball-boy for a season - it was the year that Lee Sharpe scored the backheel versus Barcelona in the Champions League. So United has been in our blood. 

“My dad is a massive Red - him and his brother were stewards at Old Trafford for years. My dad’s cousin Russ still, to this day, walks out the manager, so he’ll be walking Erik ten Hag out from the tunnel to the dugout. 

“So, it will just be full of weird, surreal moments. My dad will be there plus my wife - in fact there’ll be 28 friends and family up in the K [East] Stand where I used to sit. 

“I can’t imagine what my old man will be thinking - it’s just a great moment for him. He’s 70 years old, he’s followed this club all his life and now his son is walking out at Old Trafford! My focus will clearly be on the game, there’s no doubt about that but, for the wider family, it’ll be very, very special.”
Charlton saw off Brighton in the last round to earn the trip to Old Trafford. Holden had only just been appointed as manager of the League One club and the game was overseen by another big United fan, Anthony Hayes, who is on Holden’s coaching staff at The Valley. 

For the new boss, it was a whirlwind start to life at the club.

“My first day in the job was the day we drew Man United after beating Brighton in the last round. It was a surreal moment," Dean explained.

“The next morning, the training ground was very bubbly and it’s important to let people have that moment as they deserved it. We’ve been in a tough place as a club for the last couple of years, so it was a really special moment. 

“But, quickly, we had to refocus on the league games in front of us. We’ve not been in a good position in the league, which is why I’ve been brought in, so naturally we have to focus on the league games, but when the United game comes around, it is going to be an incredible night - I think we are going to have around 10,000 supporters going up there. 

“There are no trains going back to London that night so it’s going to be two days off work or two days off school for many people - I’ve been there myself as a fan, so hopefully we can show ourselves as a club and what this club is all about.”

How to watch and follow United v Charlton


The Reds return to action on Tuesday evening, taking on the Addicks for a place in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

Charlton haven’t played at Old Trafford since February 2007 – they visited United eight times as a Premier League club but the 16 years since their last trip have been a long way from the high-water mark of a seventh-placed Premier League finish in 2004. 

Holden hopes that the good days will return to south-east London, saying: “We’ve been in the Premier League and we are fighting our way to get back. It’s not been a happy place to be at in the last couple of years so the supporters will be going up there with a lot of optimism and will remember the days at Old Trafford when the club was a Premier League team. 

“It’s a huge challenge, but you never know in football - the first thing is you’ve got to believe it and we believe we can go there and show ourselves in the best possible light.

“It’ll be huge financially for the club. It’ll allow me to do a little bit of business in January which is great, so it’s been a really good draw for us - we just need to make sure we do the business on the pitch and make sure we make the game competitive and we embrace the situation”.
United 2 Charlton Athletic 0 Video

United 2 Charlton Athletic 0

10 February 2007: United's good form continued with a routine win over Charlton, in our last league meeting....

As well as hoping to plot a massive shock at Old Trafford on Tuesday, Holden has one further ambition: “I just hope I can meet the boss, Sir Alex. I hope I can just have a minute with him or a photograph with him.

"Coming out of the tunnel, seeing the Stretford End and walking down the touchline will be incredible," he added.

“I’ve been hundreds of times as a fan. I’ve been all over the country with them so it will be completely surreal. But I will be fully focused on the 90 minutes. But there’ll be people all over the stadium who are pals of mine - it’ll be mad. 

“But the focus for me will be on Charlton and making sure we show ourselves. We have a rich history, so it’s important we go there and we take on what’s in front of us. 

“It will be a massive challenge but, who knows in the cup?”