Nigel Martyn remembers his career at Leeds United as his “peak years” as a goalkeeper. That period for him was outstanding and unforgettable, with one sorry exception.
The exception was his final year and the season when Terry Venables gradually edged a popular servant out of Elland Road. It was in late July in 2002 when Martyn’s grip on the shirt at Leeds – almost unbreakable from 1996 onwards – suddenly began to slip.
United’s recent handling of Stuart Dallas and the decision to give him a holiday in the aftermath of the European Championship made perfect sense to Garry Monk. Not so Venables who, at the end of the World Cup 14 years ago, wanted Martyn to link up immediately with Leeds for a tour of the Far East and Australia.
Martyn asked Venables for permission to miss that part of pre-season and Venables agreed, grudgingly. With a young Paul Robinson snapping at Martyn’s heels, United’s manager made no secret of the fact that Martyn was risking his place by choosing to train in England instead.
“I spoke to Nigel,” Venables said during a press conference in Melbourne. “He said ‘I’m just exhausted, I really can’t face the tour situation.’
“I’m going to see this lad (Robinson) now and maybe I wouldn’t have seen him in the three games in the other circumstances, so Nigel hasn’t helped himself.
“It’s not going to be helpful for Nigel because he’s got a player competing against him very hard for his position. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. No problems whatsoever. Yet.”
Venables denied that the pair had fallen out but his comments prompted Martyn to explain himself. “My reasons for missing the pre-season tour are in the interests of Leeds United,” Martyn said in a statement.
“I told Terry Venables that after playing in all of the Leeds games last season and then joining England for the World Cup, my body would be in better condition if I stayed behind and trained in England – to which he was understanding.”
At that stage, Martyn said he had not been told that his place was under threat but when the 2002-03 season started the pecking order became clear. Robinson was installed as first choice and Martyn, after so many excellent seasons, was consigned to the bench.
Martyn’s exile was not a temporary move. By the end of the campaign he had failed to play a single minute of first-team football and his time at Elland Road was coming to an end. Venables had been sacked – made to pay for a poor season – and Leeds were in grave financial turmoil. With one year left on his contract and with Scott Carson following Robinson through from the academy at Thorp Arch, United sold Martyn to Everton for a nominal fee in September 2003.
At £2.25m, the England international remains one of Leeds’ most astute signings in the modern era.
“My time at Leeds was largely successful to a point, although it didn’t end well for me there,” Martyn told the YEP in 2011. “But it’s great that 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.”