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  • Neil's a Belter

    He wasn't around for long but he made a huge impression. Hibs.net takes a stroll down Memory Lane and recalls the talents of Neil Martin.

    In an ideal world any young lad who has it in him to make the grade as a professional footballer will be noticed by club scouts, enjoy a visit to the family home by a club representative and, all being well, join that club in order to learn his trade.

    That same young lad might be fortunate enough to join a club like Hibs where state of the art training facilities exist and youth coaches have a good reputation for bringing players on. That youngster may further benefit from the fact that young players are not judged on their age alone but on their ability and so first team football at seventeen years of age is achievable if the player has the talent and temperament to play at that level. That might well be the ideal scenario in these modern times and any youngster following such a path should consider themselves very fortunate indeed because life has not always been that way.

    As a youngster growing up in Tranent, Neil Martin was football daft and those that encouraged him to play for their boys club and for his school did so in the sure and certain knowledge that Neil had talent enough to make it in the game. As a Hibs fan it was Neilís dream to be spotted by a Hibs scout and whisked off to Easter Road to play for the team he dearly wanted to join but life didnít quite work out that way for the player.

    A scout was indeed watching Neil but he was not a Hibs scout. Instead he represented Alloa Athletic and as quite a raw youngster Neil was invited along for a trial. Impressing the manager a contract was soon signed and so began his professional career and it wasnít long before he was banging in goals for the Recreation Park club and in the 1960/61 season he notched up a very creditable 25 in both league and cup matches, helping Alloa to the Quarter Finals of the Scottish Cup for the first time in the history of the club. They lost 4-0 at that stage but their conquerors, Dunfermline went on to lift the trophy.

    Scoring goals with head or foot soon had other clubs sitting up and taking notice so it was no surprise when Neil moved on but it was perhaps surprising where he moved on too. George Farm, once a goalkeeper of some repute, was the manager of Queen of the South and he persuaded Neil to join up at Palmerston, paying Alloa £2,000 for his services.

    At Palmerston, Martin teamed up with strike partner Ernie Hannigan and together they fired the goals that won the Doonhamers promotion to Division One. That was season 1961/62 and Neil bagged 30 cup and league goals but these were scored against a background of the player struggling to cope with living in Dumfries but still having his home in Tranent where his wife and family remained. During the following close season Neil strongly considered giving up the game and taking a job as a lorry driver so that he would have more time at home but he started the new season with his club and was soon banging in the goals again, helping Queen of the South to remain in the Division.

    Still not really settled Martin was delighted when Hibs manager Walter Galbraith tabled an offer of £7,500 for his services and although reluctant to lose him the Queens board felt they could not stand in the way of a player that had served them so well. At long last Neil was with the club he had always wanted to join.

    When Neil Martin joined Hibs the club was struggling at the wrong end of the league table and the support was fast losing patience with the efforts of Walter Galbraith to improve things. In the summer of 1964 Galbraith called it a day and the Hibs board immediately moved to replace him with Dunfermline manager Jock Stein. Almost immediately things started to go a whole lot better for Hibernian and Neil Martin was in there doing his bit to help the club back to the upper reaches of the league. In his first full season he scored 29 league and cup goals as Hibs finished fourth in the table and reached the Semi Finals of the Scottish Cup. Interestingly, the table that year had Kilmarnock, Hearts and Dunfermline ahead of Hibs and in the Cup Hibs had beaten Rangers but lost in the Semi to Dunfermline. Always one for bringing positive attention upon the club, Jock Stein persuaded the board to agree a friendly match against Real Madrid at Easter Road and Neil Martin played his part in Hibs winning 2-0.

    It should come as no surprise that Martinís goalscoring exploits were being noticed and it wasnít long before he was being touted for a place in the full Scotland squad, having already been capped at Under 23 level as well as having played for the Scottish League, scoring in a 2-2 draw with England at Sunderlandís Roker Park. The national team was trying hard to qualify for the 1966 World Cup Finals in England but were in a really difficult qualifying group. When the 1965 season ended, Scotland set off to play two vital qualification matches in Poland and Finland with Neil making his full debut against the Poles and helping set up a goal for strike partner Dennis Law that earned the Scots a 1-1 draw. In the Finland game Neil retained his place and although he didnít score he played well and helped the Scots win 2-1.

    In October 1965 Scotland played the return match against Poland at Hampden but the selectors preferred Alan Gilzean to Martin. Scotland lost 2-1 and that meant they could only qualify if they beat Italy home and away. In the home tie Neil was recalled and a late goal by John Greig of Rangers won the game for Scotland but a month later in Naples, with both Law and Gilzean available the selectors chose to partner Jim Forrest and John Hughes in attack and Scotland were comprehensively beaten 3-0, ensuring that the players would have to do what we all did and watch the Finals on TV.

    For his club Neil had played in the Fairs Cup where Hibs beat Valencia 2-0 in the home leg but lost 3-0 in Spain but by this time English managers had Neil firmly in their sights and no wonder. His prolific scoring for Hibs included four matches where he scored four goals when Hibs beat Alloa 11-2, Falkirk 6-0 and 5-1 and ironically Queen of the South 5-2.

    Sadly, Jock Stein had been lured away to Celtic and his replacement, Bob Shankly had his own ideas about building a side, selling a few of Steinís star men including Neil Martin who joined Sunderland for £45,000. The Roker Park side was struggling and looked to address its problems by signing the prolific Neil Martin as well as Rangers playmaker Jim Baxter. The initial aim for Sunderland was to avoid relegation and this they achieved with Martin doing his bit by scoring on a regular basis. Many fans of the Black Cats that recall Martinís time there would tell you his scoring would have been even more prolific had the club signed a decent strike partner for him but they never did and so after four years at Roker, with 38 goals in 86 league games, Martin was once again on the move in January 1968.

    The next port of call was Highfield Road, Coventry and once again Neil joined a club that was struggling to score goals in their first ever season in Division One. Costing £90,000 and arriving to replace Bobby Gould who had left to join Arsenal, Neil was soon amongst the goals and managed eight in the few months left of that season. Thankfully those goals kept City in the top flight although they would have an annual struggle to stay there. Whilst at Highfield Road Neil was paired with a variety of strikers including Ernie Hunt and John OíRourke who signed from Ipswich. It was with the latter that Neil struck the best partnership and goals from that pair led to a sixth place finish and a place in Europe Ė heady stuff indeed for the Coventry fans.

    With players like Willie Carr and Dennis Mortimer breaking into a now useful Coventry side the club decided to sell Martin, now 30 to Nottingham Forest, a club staring relegation in the face but lets be honest that was hardly a new experience for Martin who had survived such situations before.
    Unfortunately he would not do so this time as the club slipped into Division Two, selling star players like Ian Storey-Moore and Peter Cormack to help balance the books.

    A pre season injury in 1972/73 kept Martin out of action for the first three months of the season and even when he did return it was to a lacklustre side that had little or no chance of promotion back to the top flight. Niggling injuries cost him a number of appearances that season but a close season of rest had him back and eager for the new campaign. By this time in his career the goals were not coming so freely but he still played a big part in his sideís season, helping young strike prospect Duncan McKenzie notch 26 and finish top scorer in the Division.
    In the FA Cup Neil got two against Bristol Rovers and helped Forest thrash Manchester City 4-1 to set up a sixth round tie away to Newcastle. This would be an incident packed game with Forest leading 3-1 and United down to ten men when a pitch invasion by the Newcastle fans greatly upset the Forest players and when the game resumed the home side went on to win 4-3. The FA took a dim view of this but rather than expel Newcastle from the tournament they ordered a replay at neutral Goodison Park but that ended 0-0. In the second replay at the same venue Newcastle won 1-0 but Forest fans were less than happy that the Geordies were still in the tournament at all.

    When season 1974/75 began, Neil was in good goalscoring form scoring twice against Sheffield Wednesday in the September and earning himself the record of being the first player to score 100 league goals on both sides of the border. By now Forest had changed their manager and the new man in the hot seat was Brian Clough who first game in charge was an FA Cup third round replay at White Hart Lane where Forest beat Spurs 1-0 and Neil Martin scored the goal. A goal against Fulham in round four kept Martin in the picture but as soon as Forest was knocked out of the cup, Martin was told by Clough that he could leave Forest.

    In his mid thirties by this time Neil dropped down to Division Three and joined Brighton where he scored on his debut against Rotherham and became an instant hit with their fans. A double against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough added to his popularity but Brighton then signed young Sammy Morgan and Neil slipped out of the picture at the Goldstone Ground. Brighton was chasing promotion but allowed Neil to leave so he joined Crystal Palace, another side in the promotion chase. Only one goal was picked up whilst playing for the Eagles and so he left to join St. Patrickís Athletic in Ireland but effectively his playing days were over. Neil turned to coaching and had a stint at Walsall as well as trying his luck in Kuwait but eventually he drifted out of the game and returned home to live in Scotland.

    Although Neil never won any silverware as a player he did win the admiration of the fans of every club he played for and given his relatively short spell at Easter Road it speaks volumes of the impact he had when Hibs fans still revere his name to this day. A regular attender at Easter Road Neil is a lovely guy who is always ready to talk football so if you ever see him, say hello!
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