Big interview: Tomas Holy on battling with Bart, basketball beginnings and the idol you won't have heard of
PUBLISHED: 06:00 17 July 2019
Ipswich Town new boy Tomáš Holý will be battling Bartosz Bialkowski for the No.1 spot this season. STUART WATSON spoke to the giant Czech keeper at the Blues' recent training camp in Germany.
Tomáš Holý has no regrets. Not about choosing football over basketball. And certainly not about signing for Ipswich Town this summer.
The 6ft 9in Czech keeper knew he was ready for a fresh challenge when his contract at Gillingham expired at the end of last season.
There was plenty of interest. At the age of 27, he knew this was a vital crossroads in his career. After some serious deliberation, Paul Lambert's project at Portman Road appealed most and he put pen to paper on a two-year deal.
Then Bartosz Bialkowski - Town's former three times Player of Year - saw a move to Millwall collapse at the medical stage. That was not in the script.
"Every player should think about how much they are going to play," said Holý. "It's not only about money. If I wanted just some money I could be in Georgia or maybe USA, there was some interest, but forget it.
"I spoke to Jimmy (Walker, Town keeper coach) before the holidays and told him that was the most important thing for me.
"I don't know how other goalkeepers think - whether they just want money, or to be at the biggest, highest level club possible - but the most important thing for me was having the chance to play.
"That's why I didn't sign for any other club. There was another team in play for me in the Championship, but they told me 'yeah, we like you, we want you, but we will still be looking for goalkeeper number one because you don't have the experience'. So I said 'this doesn't make sense for me'.
"Yes, I was told that Bart wanted to stay in the Championship and there was a chance he would leave, but he didn't leave Ipswich.
"Competition between two goalkeepers happens everywhere though. That's a good thing. It makes you better."
Holý and Bialkowski have had a half each in all three of Town's friendlies so far. It should become clearer in the coming days, in games against Colchester, Notts County and Cambridge United, who in poll position to start the season opener against Burton on August 3.
"I think me and Bart, hopefully, have the same chance to start," says Holý. "It's up to the gaffer now. I can just do my best in training and we'll see if it will be enough or not.
"I have to believe I am good enough. I do believe. But it's not my decision."
Holý started his professional career at Czech giants Sparta Prague, but was limited to just a handful of appearances for their B team in the second-tier during a six-year spell which included three loan spells away.
It was his season at Czech top-flight side FC Fastav Zlín which saw his profile grow and, as a result, he signed for League One side Gillingham, under the management of Ipswich born and raised Ady Pennock, in January 2017.
More than 100 appearances for the Kent club followed. He was a virtual ever-present last season, keeping 15 clean sheets as Steve Lovell's side finished 13th.
"I spent two-and-a-half years at Gillingham and became part of the club," he said. "I have never been at a club as long as that. At Sparta, I was on loan every year. So when we play at Gillingham I will feel nostalgic, but I know this is another step higher for me in my career.
"I am ready for that. That's a football life, the same as normal life. There is always change along the way.
"I'm very happy that it got sorted quickly. No player wants to wait a long time and not know where they will be for the next year."
No prizes for guessing what sport Holý played as a child.
"Inline hockey, ice-hockey and, of course... basketball," he reveals, smiling after the dramatic pause.
"I had the height for it and my dad was a basketball player and then coach.
"When I was 12/13 I had to make a decision, because I started to play football for higher teams. To be fair, it was one of the easier decisions in my life.
"I think I can say I was pretty good, because I was tall, and if I stuck with basketball I could have played professionally.
"I would never have made NBA though because I'm not tall enough for NBA - I'm not! I could have played at a good level in Europe maybe, but it was never my number one sport."
Holý's height may be a talking point among supporters, but for him it's not a big deal.
"I think there are two goalkeepers in Scandinavia who are the tallest, then it's me," he says. "It doesn't have to mean anything though.
"I will never be one of the fastest or maybe the best when it comes to reactions, but I think I should be good in the air. And of course every goalkeeper should be a good shot stopper because that's what we are there for.
"To be fair, I like to play football, keep the ball on the floor and help the guys. I don't just stay on the line and hide. I like to help them and keep the ball for our team.
"I'm not saying I have the best feet in the world, but I like to play football."
Midway through this interview at Ipswich Town's remote German training base, James Norwood, also being interviewed, shouts across the room to ask Holý what song he did on the karaoke the previous night.
'I believe I can fly," says the Czech keeper, smiling. 'That's the one,' says Norwood. 'He spread those big arms out and looked like an albatross!'
"It wasn't really singing, I just read the text," admits Holý, as our conversation resumes.
"I was the worst, but some of the guys were seriously good. Jimmy (Walker, goalkeeper coach) was probably the best. He is a fun guy - sometimes he is crazy! - but it's good fun."
He continued: "This camp has been really good. This group of boys is so together. Seriously, I feel good in this group and this team.
"I've been trying to improve my English. It will never be my natural language, so I will always be learning. Nors (Norwood) was trying to tell me some words, but I said 'don't teach me this because I know it is bad!'"
You won't recognise the name of the goalkeeper that inspired Tomas Holý to pick up the gloves.
"Ondrej Volšík is my idol," he explains. "He is my uncle, my mother's brother, and is two years older than me.
"I have never looked up to goalkeepers like Petr Cech. I just always wanted to be like my uncle.
"He went to Hradec Králové, a second division team, when he was 14, maybe earlier, then I went there at 14 too.
"He was a brilliant player. At every tournament he was named the best goalkeeper. I saw all the trophies he had and always wanted to be like him.
"Then he met a bad person and they didn't like us - blah, blah, blah. Basically he had to go away from that path he was on. I kept on the right path and when I was 18 I went to Prague.
"Now Ondrej is a coach. He works for what you would call the Football Association and is head coach of an academy. I want to be a success for him."
Holý was capped by the Czech Republic from U16 to U18 level, but says a senior call-up is far from his mind.
"To be fair, it's not my main target," he says. "I'm already older than goalkeepers we have. No, my target and main job is to do well for Ipswich. I want to be successful here.
"If I ever got called up by the national team, even as goalkeeper number three, that would be something realty extra. But it's not my target. Not now."