THE last time Russell Martin was inside the Westfalenstadion he was a player in the fourth tier of English football.
Martin was on the books of Wycombe Wanderers when then manager Paul Lambert decided to take his squad across to the home of Borussia Dortmund.
As part of their Champions League-winning side of 1997, the red carpet was naturally rolled out for Lambert and, by extension, his players, who were shown around one of German football's most impressive stadia before testing themselves in a bounce match against the Dortmund B side.
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Martin is heading back to Germany this weekend, although his trip to Signal Iduna Park - to give the stadium its current, corporate handle - could scarcely come in more disparate circumstances. A lot has changed for the 28-year-old since those days with Wycombe in League 2. Now with Norwich City, recently relegated from the Barclays Premier League, Martin will almost certainly be part of a Scotland defence that will look to shut out the world champions to get their qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 off to a positive start.
Central defence has been a problem area for a number of Scottish sides in recent years but Martin's emergence has helped plug some of the leaks. In the 11 appearances the Brighton-born player has made, Scotland have kept five clean sheets, only three have ended in defeat, and only one of those - against Belgium - has come in a competitive match. Either Martin has coincidentally arrived at a time when the national team is on the up, or he has made a sizeable contribution to that progress.
Statistics would suggest it is the latter. Preparing to line up against Germany, he believes, is a further indication of just how far he has come in his career. "I've been to the Westfalenstadion before," he recalled. "It's a fantastic place. When I was at Wycombe, Paul Lambert was the manager and he had played at Dortmund obviously. He's a legend at the club and he took us over for a trip.
"We got a tour of the stadium and played against the Dortmund under-23s. It's a special place, especially with the huge terrace behind the goal. We didn't play there but we got a tour and watched a game and that was an experience. It's a beautiful stadium and I'm really looking forward to playing there.
"I'm going back now with Scotland and it's been a long old journey for me. But I'm glad I did it that way. It makes me really appreciate what I have and it makes me determined to stay at this level. We had a disappointing season with Norwich last year so I want to get back to the Premier League as soon as possible. I also want to play for Scotland and do well. I have goals in my head and playing at an international tournament is definitely one of them."
There may never be a better opportunity for him to realise that latter goal. The expansion of the European Championships from 16 to 24 nations would seem to give Scotland a great chance of ending an exile from international finals that will have stretched to 18 years by the time Euro 2016 gets underway. The winners and runners-up from each group, as well as the best third-place side, will all qualify automatically, with the remaining third-place finishers playing off for four further berths.
In a group containing Germany, Georgia, Republic of Ireland, Poland and Gibraltar, Scotland has more than a decent chance of making it to the finals in France, even if they could not have asked for a harder first game, away to the recently-crowned world champions. Martin, though, is undaunted.
"It's a good start for us, I think," he added. "There will be a great atmosphere there, especially as it's their first competitive game as world champions. As a defender, you want to test yourself against the best and they certainly have that. It will be a very testing game but I think we have got better defensively and as a team over the past 18 months. This is another challenge for us and hopefully one we can rise to."
The memories of Germany's performances at the World Cup finals in Brazil - especially their 7-1 humiliation of the hosts in the semi-final - are still fresh in Martin's mind.
"I sat watching that semi-final against Brazil in disbelief, probably the same as everyone else," he recalled. "It was the most one-sided game I have ever seen in the World Cup. But one thing we are is extremely organised. There's no chance of us going there and just sitting in. I think if you do that against a team of Germany's quality then you are on a hiding to nothing. It would be a very long evening.
"So we are going to try and impose our own game and play the way we want to play. The manager is really positive, as are the lads. We have improved a lot over the past year so we want to keep that going. One thing is for sure, we will go there and have a go to try and get a result."