After ending 2017-18 at Northern Premier League Division One South side Sheffield FC, a 25-goal season at Brighouse earned a summer 2019 transfer to Conference North Guiseley. Seventeen goals in 23 games gave the centre-forward the chance to turn full-time with Harrogate Town at the age of 28, only for the season to be abandoned almost the moment the ink dried on his contract.
Fortunately, the play-offs have gone ahead, so tomorrow Martin will be at Wembley playing Notts County for the right to become a Football League player while his partner is hoping their daughter does not make an early entrance into the world.
This fantastic story is just waiting for a happy ending.
“As soon as I got the move to Harrogate one of my friends was very excited,” says Martin, who turned 29 in July. “Once he found out we were going to be in the play-offs, he said to me straight away: ‘If you don’t score in the first game (back) it’s definitely written for you to score in the final.’”
Just joining was nerve-wracking. The transfer happened days before non-league football went into coronavirus hibernation.
“We were waiting for the paperwork to come through on the Friday and Harrogate had a game against Solihull I was meant to feature in,” recalls Martin. “The gaffer (Simon Weaver) was getting all sorts of phonecalls about covid, the game might be in doubt (it was abandoned). The EFL was cancelled and I thought the transfer was going to fall through.
“I signed and there was an error on the paperwork so that weekend I couldn’t sleep! We had to wait until Monday for it to be changed – an extra two days to cancel! I thought, ‘They’re going to withdraw!’”
Four months on, Sheffield-born Martin made his debut in last Saturday’s play-off semi-final win over Boreham Wood.
“In terms of football I wouldn’t say I’ve got to know the players properly,” he admits. “We didn’t have a friendly before the semi-final so things are slightly different when you’re playing 11-a-side for the first time.”
Martin, who played in Sheffield United and Barnsley’s academies, thought full-time football had passed him by.
“I had a spell where I didn’t play for a few years and I feel refreshed,” he says. “Some people play consistently for a long time and it starts to weather them. But league teams always go for younger players from non-league.
“I’ve always been a big believer that if you score goals people have to look at you. The more you’re scoring, the more managers will say, ‘We’ve got to take a look or other teams might snatch him’.”
Of his time out of the game, all he wants to say is “it definitely made me hungrier. I missed it.”
Juggling working as a scaffolder at Brighouse, then an electrical wholesaler delivery driver at Guiseley, added to his hunger.
“Part-time football is not for the weak-hearted,” he insists. “Sometimes I’d be that tired Brighouse would give me a week or two off training.”
It adds to his sense of having got lucky.
“Things have been good to me time-wise, the decisions I’ve made,” he reflects. “Before I went to Guiseley I had Evo Stick Premier clubs ringing me, one or two in National North. If I’d made a decision (to step up) too early, it might not have worked out.
“Guiseley were perfect for me. They were eager to get me in and they trained not too far from where I lived.
“It’s been good being able to spend a lot of time with my son in lockdown. I would have missed watching him learn new things and seeing how he progresses if I was working. Where I worked, a lot of people worked through.”
Win tomorrow and Harrogate will become Football League debutants on September 12, but victory would see County restored as the world’s oldest league club.
“A lot of players are quite well-versed in football, they know all about players and transfers but I’m not really someone who looks into it,” says Martin. “I just turn up and play.”
Not that he is oblivious to what he will be on the verge of during his Wembley debut.
“I’m very excited, especially by the potential of what could happen if we win,” he says. “I have butterflies in the pit of my stomach. It’s scary to think about losing and how it would feel.”
Others have more to be nervous about.
“I’ve got a daughter due in a couple of weeks so my partner’s a bit worried because she feels like the baby might come early,” he reveals. “She’s nervous I might be at Wembley and she might have to give birth on her own.”
As if his story needed yet another sub-plot.
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