It’s been a season of ups and downs for Tom Holmes. He’s had his first taste of regular first team football in a new country but also suffered a serious facial injury at the start of the year. What he does know for sure is that his side now have five cup finals as they bid to avoid relegation from the second-tier in Belgium.
Holmes, a 20-year-old defender, is a graduate of the Reading academy and made his first team debut for the Royals in March 2018, when he started in a 1-1 draw with Bolton Wanderers. He was still 17 at the time and studying for his A-levels.
The following campaign, Holmes suffered an injury just a few months into the season but returned in the following calendar year to becomes a regular for Reading’s under-23 side, making 11 appearances in Premier League 2 and also played against Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the Premier League International Cup.
Having regained his fitness in youth football, Holmes joined Belgian second-tier side KSV Roeselare on loan in September 2019, agreeing a deal to stay at the club until the end of the 2019/20 season.
The defender began his spell abroad getting to grips with his new surroundings and style of play but after a few games on the bench, he went on to make ten appearances, making his debut in a impressive 3-1 win over league leaders OH Leuven.
Having cemented himself in the heart of defence for Roeselare, the defender unfortunately suffered a frontal sinus fracture at the start of this year which kept him out of action for six weeks. In his absence, his side sunk into the bottom two and although he made his return at the end of February, a 0-0 draw was not enough to prevent his side from entering the relegation playoffs.
This is where the unique nature of the Belgian second-tier really shows itself. The division is set up with an opening and closing tournament with the eight teams playing each other twice in each tournament. The two teams at the bottom in the aggregate table enter the relegation playoffs where they play each other up to five teams (games 4 & 5 only played if necessary). The team who has the least points at the end of these games is relegated. Holmes’s side start with a three-point advantage as they finished second-bottom in the aggregate table. It means starting next week there will be a straight shootout between Roeselare and Lokeren for safety.
I caught up with Tom at the end of his recovery from injury (just before the final game of the regular season) to see how life is treating him in Belgium.
English Players Abroad: How did the move to Belgium come about and what tempted you to make the move?
Tom Holmes: Reading’s owners also own KSV Roeselare in second-tier of Belgian football. It got to the end of August after an injury ridden pre-season and I’d come to the conclusion with the club that first team football was what I needed this year to progress from the under-23s that I had two full seasons in prior. KSV managed to watch me in an under-23 game and got in touch with Reading and let them know that they needed a centre back and liked the look of me. For me it was quite a simple decision. I did a bit of research, spoke with the KSV manager at the time as well as a few people I know well at Reading and watched a couple of their last games and came to the decision that this would be a good challenge for me, one that would test me but also one that I knew I was ready for and that excited me.
EPA: How have you found living in Belgium, did you find it easy to settle?
TH: First couple of weeks it was very difficult adjusting to life over here. The team and people couldn’t have been more welcoming but I didn’t really have any close mates here. I wasn’t playing and I knew I wasn’t training to the best of my ability. I was cooped up in hotel rooms moving from hotel to hotel every week it seemed. So in all respects I often asked myself ‘what have I done coming over here?’ It really did play a lot on my mental.
EPA: What is the standard like in First Division B? How does it compared to what you’re used to?
TH: The league is a unique one. It consists of only eight team,s which I personally don’t like as there just aren’t enough teams. There aren’t many games in the season and it means teams have to face each opponent on four occasions in one season. Coming from England this has been quite strange especially.
The standard of the league is good. It is a physical league that has teams that look to play football, so in that way it suits me as I see myself and have been brought up as a ball playing centre half.
EPA: Finally what are you goals for the rest of the season?
TH: I’m coming back from six weeks out because of a frontal sinus fracture I picked up in early January, however I’m back fit for selection this weekend. Getting ourselves out of the relegation playoff zone and into a playoff 2 position is our main goal [unfortunately missed out on this by one point] For me personally, it’s to help the team to do this, remain injury free and to maintain the levels I had reached before my injury.