Norwich City Memory Lane: Russell Martin wasn’t your stereotypical footballer
- Credit: Focus Images
Not every player has a Plan B. But Russell Martin did – he had a few, as he revealed to Chris Lakey
Footballers aren’t generally credited with making plans – it doesn’t fit the stereotype. Ignore school, play football for 20 years, retire with pots of money, look for something else to do.
It is, says Russell Martin, rubbish.
The thing is, Russell Martin is a man who has a Plan B. He’s had one for years. When he was at school in Brighton, he followed his dad’s advice – always have something to fall back on. If he hadn’t made it as a footballer, Martin would probably be treading the boards at your local theatre, perhaps trying to persuade playwright and actor brother Jamie to give him a part, appearing on TV – again.
Fortunately, he could play football and was able to follow career path number one, but already he’s planning for the day when the boots are packed away for the last time. Two coaching badges are already in that kit bag and the third will join it as Martin looks ahead to a career in management.
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Articulate, genuinely friendly and welcoming. It’s not the way footballers usually are with the press. Russell Martin is a bit different from the rest of the pack.
He reads David James in The Observer, he’s knows Macbeth isn’t the manager’s latest signing, he had a guitar for his birthday so that he had something to do when he returned from training other than become a couch potato. And he’s not sure what comes first, the next coaching badge or a degree in sports management.
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How does that sit in a business that, by his own admission, can be closeted?
“It can be a funny world. The stereotype that footballers are stupid I don’t think is right at all. They’re just interested in different things to other people. I think it can be, especially if you spend a lot of time in it, a little bubble you live in. You associate with other footballers, because people move around you don’t make friends apart from the lads at work so it’s different from a lot of other jobs of work. You tend to hang around just footballers, and the banter is different to anywhere else. In any other workplace it can be ruthless, but you get used to it. When I go home and I’m having banter over the phone with Matt Gill or someone, they say, ‘is he serious? That’s outrageous’, and I say, ‘no — that’s the football thing, the football world’.
“Even David James gets stick for writing articles in The Observer. I read them myself and he’s great but he still gets stick. But you just take it with a pinch of salt. At the end of the day the lads respect you as long as you put it into training and stuff, they respect anything you want to do, especially the lads here, they’re great.
“I’ll get stick for this piece and agreeing to have my photo with the guitar, but it will all be good. It will all be in good humour so you don’t mind.”
As a schoolboy, Martin learned quickly not to put all his eggs in one basket.
“When I was about eight years old my brother was released from Watford at 16. I knew straight away what I wanted to be. My dad always said you have to do other things. My dad was great. He said, ‘I have 100 per cent belief you will be a professional, but you have to have something else as well’, so I always made sure I was good at school, I always got good marks and made sure I did my homework and stuff.
“I did my college, English literature, drama, modern history and PE. I got three A2s and an AS, which is half because I decided to do my coaching the next year so I dropped English Lit as an A2 and did that as an AS in the end so I could do my level two coaching that year.
“But I knew I would always be involved with sport. It was going to be either drama or sport, so I have done my level two coaching and level three coaching and it’s definitely something I want to get into. I will do my A licence in the next couple of years and then it’s ready for when you are done, because I think too many people in this game get to 35 and think, ‘what can I do now?’
“Even when I speak to people they say, ‘you’re doing that early’, but then it’s done and you don’t have that question. I love football and I want to be involved in it. I know it’s a short career for me, it’s what I want to be involved in. I might do a sports management degree at the Uni as well, I don’t know which one to do first.
“But for me it was always, ‘have a back-up’, and that was instilled in me by my dad and my three brothers, because they all played football and didn’t make it.”
Had the football gone wrong, then drama was that back-up.
“I only ever wanted to become a footballer, so I didn’t focus too much on anything else, but I did have other things in mind if it did go wrong. I always went to watch my brother in plays and stuff and really enjoyed that side of it. It’s just a different culture, totally different people involved in it. There are similarities, because acting is cut-throat as well — you’re always after someone else’s job, you get a lot of knock-backs from auditions and that, and you are performing.
“I really enjoyed performing in plays at school. I was in Metamorphosis, I did a few musicals - Little Shop of Horrors and stuff like that, but just really enjoyed it. My brother and his friend did a Richard III adaptation for BBC a few years ago and I was in that as well, a short film on the telly.
“My brother writes plays and directs them – he played Macbeth at Shoreditch last year and we went down to see it and he was brilliant, I was so proud of him. He said to me, ‘that’s exactly how I feel when I come to watch you play’.
“It’s definitely something I would have been interested in. I would have wanted to stay in football, a coach or whatever, but as a side thing it would have good.”
Drama may have fallen by the wayside, but there’s always the guitar — although don’t expect to see him on a stage just yet.
“I wanted to do something other than just come home and sit in front of the telly after training. The plan was to learn a bit — it’s not been as quick as I thought it’d be. I know a few tunes, but I am not a natural musician, but I am starting guitar lessons at a place in the city because I’ve been trying to teach myself. I’ve got a friend who I was at Wycombe with, Ian Stonebridge, who taught me a bit because he’s really good, but it is something I hope to kick on with. I just know a few Oasis tunes, a bit of The Verve and REM and stuff like that, because they are quite simple to play. It’s enjoyable and relaxing and a chance to switch off.”
Thing is, active footballers are usually switched on — and most appreciate their privileged position.
“It’s a great job, you can’t take it for granted. I think sometimes footballers do forget how privileged we are, the ones you see in the paper getting bad press. We’re in a privileged position, don’t abuse it, don’t take it for granted, because it is a short career.”
First record bought: I think embarrassingly it was Stay Another Day by E17, it was at Christmas, years ago - and I think it was on tape as well.
Last album: Last night on iTunes – Florence and the Machine, she’s good.
Favourite band: I’m into a bit of everything really. I’d probably say Kings of Leon at the minute.
Pink or punk?: I’d say Pink, for sure. Not punk, definitely not punk.
Best song to run out to: It sounds strange but before Wycombe games in the car as we drove in I used to listen to Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma because it used to really get me going because it’s unbelievable. It is inspiring. When we were at Wycombe with the gaffer we had the League Cup run and he played the big Al Pacino speech from Every Given Sunday before the Chelsea game. You looked around and everyone was nearly in tears – and Al Pacino is a genius. So that with a bit of Pavarotti in the background would be unbelievable.
Would you sing for money?: Definitely. I fancy myself as a bit of a singer.
Favourite actor: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro - although Tom Hanks is very good.
Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption, which I think is up there in everyone’s top five, and probably City of God, which is awesome. It’s a Brazilian film with subtitles, a real cult film.
Favourite footballer: Zinedine Zidane.
Anything you dislike about being a footballer?: Nothing. Pre-season is tough but I don’t dislike it. The travelling side is the most boring part by a long way.
This article first appeared in the Canary Magazine in 2010-11 and is reproduced with permission from Norwich City FC