YEP sports reporter Leon Wobschall catches up with Dream Team entry number one Nigel Martyn, who spent the best years of his life at Leeds.
WHEN it comes to Elland Road goalkeepers, Nigel Martyn was easily most United supporters’ favoured cup of tea.
Famously spotted at non-league St Austell by Bristol Rovers’ char lady – who was on holiday in Cornwall – Martyn, a British club-record £2.25m signing for a keeper when he came to LS11 in the summer of 1996, repaid every penny of his fee and a fair bit more besides.
It’s a fair shout that some of Martyn’s superlative displays were toasted by something infinitely stronger than tea during his seven years at United, with the west countryman a reassuring constant for six of those when he was the nearest thing to an automatic choice you could find.
The fact his stint in West Yorkshire ended on a sour note – with Martyn ostracized by Terry Venables throughout the 2002-03 campaign when he didn’t play a single league game and was unable to say his goodbyes to supporters ahead of joining Everton – ultimately reflected badly on club management and not the man himself. Left out on a limb by former boss Venables following a much-publicised unwillingness to take part in the club’s pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia in the summer of 2002, Martyn’s reputation has remained fully intact with his adoring Yorkshire public.
Mentally exhausted after the best part of a year without any sort of break – due to extended international commitments in the World Cup with England – Martyn, for the only time in his illustrious 20-year footballing career, put family and self first.
Pride of place is where the classy Cornishman finds himself with the Leeds faithful, who named him their top stopper in our YEP readers’ United Dream Team by a country mile, with the only noteworthy competition coming from David Harvey.
And the feeling of goodwill is reciprocated by the man affectionately known as Big Nige.
On being named as our number one No 1 Martyn, happily settled in his second home of North Yorkshire, said: “It’s a fantastic accolade.
“My time at Leeds was largely successful to a point, although it didn’t end well for me there. But it’s great the support is still there from fans and it is from me to them.
“Other issues of how roughly the management treated me in that final year will always take the edge off some of my feelings. But nothing can spoil the friendship that went both ways between me and the supporters.
“I’d like to think they appreciate somebody who tried and gave his best every time he played. That’s certainly what I tried to do.
“It wasn’t always good enough to win or draw games, but in the majority of times at Leeds, it was enough.
“That’s all people can ask of you; that you give 100 per cent every game.
“It started off a bit turbulently when the manager who brought me in (Howard Wilkinson) got the sack within a few weeks of me being there. I didn’t know how it was going to go.
“Obviously, George Graham came in and stabilized the club and while the first season I was there wasn’t particularly exciting for the supporters to watch, from a personal point of view, we got 23 clean sheets and were very difficult to beat.
“After that, we qualified for Europe for four seasons in a row, which represented a certain amount of success.
“Maybe all that was missing was winning a trophy during my time there as the team was good enough to.”
Martyn enjoyed an Indian Summer across the Pennines at Everton, after joining them in September 2003 at the age of 37, with Toffees boss David Moyes later labelling him as his best-ever signing.
He also earned a blossoming reputation at Crystal Palace which saw him enter the Eagles’ Hall of Fame – but he insists his peak years were in West Yorkshire.
Aside from his final year at the club, he cherished his time with United and very much adhered to the modern-day maxim that quality goalkeepers, just like a fine wine, improve with age.
All told, Martyn made 273 appearances for the Whites and while his late sojourn at another establishment club in Everton was glorious, his high-yield years were at Leeds.
Martyn, capped 23 times by his country and named as the Premier League goalkeeper of the year by his fellow professionals in 2000 while at Leeds, said: “I moved to Leeds a month before I was 30 and not until very long ago, you looked to the mid-30s as being the point when you were finishing.
“I had all the experience and my body was still able to do what I wanted it to.
“Latterly at Everton, it was a case of using your experience so much more, you do as you get older.
“You may not fly around the goal so much, but you find you don’t have to because you have worked out a game situation before.
“But my time at Leeds represented my peak years.”
HOW YOU VOTED
Nigel Martyn 68%
David Harvey 16%
Gary Sprake 5%
John Lucic 4%
Paul Robinson 4%
Mervyn Day 3%
Dave Stewart 0%
Neil Sullivan 0%