Nigel Martyn: England’s most overlooked No.1

Ben Mountain
Ben Mountain
Ben Mountain
Contributor

Could anyone reading this name English football’s first ever million pound goalkeeper? We doubt it. For those of you who are wondering, it was Nigel Martyn. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Perhaps England’s best regarded ‘keepers in recent decades are Peter Shilton and David Seaman. Between them, the pair of shot-stoppers amassed a total of 200 international games for the country.

Their dominance from 1970 to 2002 was unparalleled. It is rare in football for one country to possess two such respected players that occupy the same position, covering an almost perfect time period. As Shilton’s career between the sticks began to decline, Seaman’s grew stronger. And, whilst the latter was not a patch on the former, the pair were masterful at keeping England’s defence untainted.

In many ways, the Three Lions were lucky to have these imperious goalies for so long. In others, we weren’t. Because the reign of Shilton and Seaman meant one unfortunate thing, England’s No.2 was never properly recognised.

The million-pound man himself, Nigel Martyn, only amassed 23 England appearances despite leading an almost 30-year career.

Impressive and lengthy stints at Crystal Palace and Leeds – sandwiched by equally respectable spells with Bristol Rovers and Everton – were never quite enough to force Martyn into the England starting XI.

Having begun his professional career in 1987, Martyn was an accomplished sportsman. Both cricket and playing outfield as a midfielder were skills he had well and truly mastered. His humble beginnings as a factory worker and coal merchant coincided with his love of amateur football.

Whilst with the ancient Cornish club, St Blazley AFC, Martyn was reportedly noted for his skill by the Bristol Rovers’ tea lady, who happened to be holidaying at the time.

From there, he went on to sign for Rovers and his professional career took off.

Sadly for Martyn, the aforementioned Shilts and Seaman were also leading careers that had well and truly taken off. With Shilton’s last England game coming in 1990 and Seaman’s first in 1988, there was little room for the young ‘keeper from Cornwall.

Indeed, even with his million pound price tag after a move to the London club, Crystal Palace, Martyn was still not recognised for England. An FA Cup Final and Zenith Data Systems Cup victory eventually led to Martyn’s first call-up in 1992, however.

SEE ALSO: Leeds’ lost son: Ian Harte

Graham Taylor allowed Martyn a stint between the sticks in a 2-2 draw with the Commonwealth of Independent States. Bizarrely, he was only a substitute.

Sadly, this stint didn’t continue in the long-term. No, David Seaman’s prominence – and the fact he wore an Arsenal shirt, no doubt – kept Martyn from the starting XI on all too frequent an occasion.

In fact, Martyn’s most consistent period for England was following another record breaking move to Leeds. At the time, United were flying high in Europe and big Nige became something of a talisman.

Heroic displays both at home and abroad helped Leeds to reach the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup semi-finals and saw Martyn named as their greatest ever goalkeeper.

Disputes with everyone’s favourite gaffer, Terry Venables, meant Martyn was shown the exit from Leeds in 2003.

By this point, Martyn had already retired from international football, after having failed to properly break into the first-team due to his delayed call-up whilst Shilton and Seaman suffocated the ‘keepers’ chance of recognition.

Everton became his next and final point of call. Insultingly having been initially bought as a substitute shot-stopper, Martyn actually went on to play 86 games for the Toffees and only had to end his career early due to a troubling ankle injury. David Moyes dubbed him his “greatest ever signing”.

SEE ALSO: Gianluigi Buffon: The greatest of this generation, but not the greatest ever

Despite possibly a premature finish (forced into retirement but at the grand age of 40), he still managed to span three decades and amass a total of 680 club games.

But perhaps the best testimony to Big Nige is the way in which his former clubs regard him.

Crystal Palace fans voted him as their greatest ever ‘keeper in a Centenary XI in 2005. Leeds fans, similarly, voted him into a “Leeds United’s Greatest Team”. And, possibly most indicative of the man’s skill and appreciation is that, despite being in his very late 30s when at Everton, fans still regard him as having salvaged their 2004/05 season and as being their next greatest ‘keeper after the Toffees legend, Neville Southall.

It was a shame that, despite being fortunate enough to have possessed two world-class goalkeepers whose careers overlapped, England fans lost out with Nigel Martyn.

Had he lived in the era whereby he’d have been given a chance, perhaps the Three Lions too would hold him in the glowing regard of his former clubs.

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