• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Easterhouse roots served Martin well along rocky road . . .

CHRIS MARTIN was born in the sleepy little Suffolk market town of Beccles and represented England at youth level but if the inheritance of national stereotypes is anything to go by, then he is as Scottish as they come.

Martin has had a formidable season and is now one game away from the Premier League. Picture: Getty Images
Martin has had a formidable season and is now one game away from the Premier League. Picture: Getty Images

Intangibles like character, commitment, and work ethic - all drummed into him at a young age by his stern father Gerry, who left Easterhouse as a young man - have guided the Derby County striker, at the age of 25, beyond various career pitfalls to two potentially life-changing games in the space of five days.

The first comes today at club level, as Steve McClaren's Scot-laden County side attempt to gain access to the untold riches of the Barclays Premier League. But the second is no small matter either. The player stands on the cusp of a full Scotland debut, on Wednesday against Nigeria at Craven Cottage, which has been at least seven years in the making.

"My family live in East Kilbride now but they grew up in Easterhouse," said Martin. "It is a tough area and that is probably why my dad was so tough on me.

"It was a tough upbringing, but that is probably why I have got to where I am now, to be honest. I have been on quite a bit of a journey as a player, not everything has been smooth sailing.

"I experienced a lot of things about being Scottish through my dad," he added. "That hard nature he brought me up with, the sort of beliefs that he instilled in me, nothing was ever given to me. I have five brothers and sisters, a big family. You have to learn things, work hard, you weren't spoiled. There wasn't too much praise, and you were dealt with quite sternly. I have been to Easterhouse. It is . . . a nice area."

Martin might never have heard the Hampden roar nor called himself a Tartan Army foot soldier, but he has been left in little uncertainty about the standards required. "I have never been to a Scotland game in person," Martin added, "but I have watched a few Scotland games on TV with my dad and watched him go mad at people shouting. I know it is difficult for people to understand - with me being born in England they don't think I know too much about it. But having a Scottish dad who is passionate about it kind of drums things into you which you get to understand. His Glasgow accent has faded a little bit but whenever he talks to someone back up the road, you hear all the slang coming back out of him."

From the smallest beginnings of his professional career, Scotland and England have been dancing a pas de deux around Martin. But it is only in the last few months that he has ever had a binding decision to make. Having been formally attached to Norwich City since the age of 10, his first club boss, Peter Grant, was the first to suggest he might play for Scotland. But he threw his lot in with England's Under-19s instead, scoring a winner against Turkey on his debut. "Obviously you get advised to do different things at times when you are young and impressionable," said Martin. "Peter Grant gave me my chance as a professional and he was trying to persuade me but this is the first time that anyone has actually put the call out and I have had to make the decision. I would say my dad was probably happy for me then . . . but he is probably happier for me now I have chosen Scotland."

None other than Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United was credited with an interest at that stage, but instead Martin's career progressed at a more sedate level. He lost favour at Norwich under Glenn Roeder and was sent on loan to League 2 Luton, who started that season with a 30-point deduction due to financial irregularities and fell out of the league. Consolation came in the form of a goal at Wembley as they won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

It took the arrival in East Anglia of Paul Lambert to set things spinning in a positive direction again. Martin notched 23 goals in 48 appearances as Norwich took the League 1 title, and while injuries curtailed his contribution to their second successive promotion, it wasn't long before newspapers were speaking of Scotland renewing their interest under Craig Levein.

And so to the Barclays Premier League - in Martin's case, for all of three games. He was abruptly sent to spend the remainder of the campaign on loan at Crystal Palace, while a good chunk of the 2012-13 season was wasted in an unhappy loan spell under Paolo di Canio at League 1 Swindon Town. Enter Nigel Clough, who recruited him at first on loan, then permanently for Derby and while Clough exited soon afterwards, 25 goals this season, plus countless examples of his peerless hold-up play, have finally propelled him into the national fold. Indeed, only the late arrival of international clearance prevented him from making his Scotland debut in Warsaw against Poland.

"It was just unfortunate, because I was building myself up and thought I would be playing," said Martin. "But Gordon said 'don't worry, you will be in the next squad'. And I was delighted to hear that. He just told me to go out and 'do for Scotland what you have been doing for Derby'.

"There have been a few reality checks," admitted Martin of his unusual career path. "Even the early part of last season when I was on loan at Swindon was not a good time for me. I had obviously gone on loan from a Premier League club to a League 1 club and I was finding myself on the bench and not really involved too much. If you had asked me at that point if I could have imagined being in the play-off final from the Championship after finishing third with Derby I would have told you you were mad. I just couldn't foresee that.

"I wouldn't change anything, though, it has made me stronger for the experience," he added. "There is no use sitting there and not playing, finding yourself rotting away in the reserves. You savour those moments a bit more if you have experienced a few downs in your career."

That most certainly goes for today's £120m match with QPR, an encounter in which Derby's Scottish contingent of Martin, Craig Bryson, Craig Forsyth and Johnny Russell (midfielder Paul Coutts has a long-term injury) will be as prominent as they have been all season. All except Russell and Coutts could also be involved on Wednesday.

"I am calm about it," said Martin. "I am not one to get too uptight, feel the pressure or be nervous. But it has been a massive journey this season as a team - we have really grown.

Scotland assistant Mark McGhee compared the impact Martin could have to that of England's Rickie Lambert, another for whom stardom has arrived late, after serving his time working his way through the divisions. "Rickie has been a fantastic player at Southampton so I see that as a big compliment," said Martin. "If I can be as successful as he has been over the last few seasons then I am doing something right. But you can say a lot in the press and dress it up any way you want - you need to perform on the pitch at the end of the day. That is where you need to do your talking. If I get the chance, hopefully I will show I deserve to be there and will fight for the cause. I hope my dad will be proud. But he certainly doesn't show it too much. That is just his nature."

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

235689