The direction of this season’s League 2 title race took a turn towards Coatbridge this week when Albion Rovers defeated challengers Arbroath and Queen’s Park. A Cliftonhill championship charge would usually be seen as the underdog having its day, but their former manager Paul Martin reckons that Queen’s are the ones showing that romance is still alive in football and that Rovers are delivering what is expected.
Martin was the last manager to lead the Coatbridge side to promotion, he is also the last captain to skipper Queen’s to a title success, and he said: “I am happy to see two of my former teams doing so well. I played with Rovers and then won the Third Division with Queen’s in 2001. I had a spell at Hampden as their caretaker manager before spending four successful years in Coatbridge, first as assistant to John McCormack and then as manager.”
Martin took the Cliftonhill side up to Division Two via the play-offs in 2011, when they were genuine small fry contenders, as he explained: “I had to work within the confines of a strict financial framework that represented the lowest revenue stream in Scottish football. We were the poor relations but I used our budget, or lack of budget, to build a team spirit and an atmosphere of togetherness.
“When you get that and players enjoy it, other players will join. I believe that, pound-for-pound, we had the best value squad in Britain and guys like Ciaran Donnelly, John Gemmell and Robert Love were great for me.”
Twelve months after guiding Rovers to promotion, Martin, who always had a keen eye for timing messages with maximum impact that usually riled opponents and officials, told his players he was leaving just before they faced a penalty shoot-out to stay up. Martin said: “We had lost the first leg 2-0 at Stranraer and I had already made my decision to leave.
“I was under pressure with work and I felt low on the journey home. I was not contributing 100 per cent and I knew that second leg on the Sunday was the last throw of the dice.
“We won the second leg 3-1 and I told the players I was leaving just before the penalty shoot-out. I think some of them were relieved that it was the last they would be hearing from me. In fact I know they were relieved as five of them went out and scored their penalties and we stayed up.
“I felt sad to leave as I felt I had more to give. However, I had started a new business and had invested heavily in it. I knew that it faced a struggle to get established and it was the right thing to give the business my full attention.
“I do not regret it as we are now in year four and things are settling down.”
Martin sums up his time in Lanarkshire by saying: “Albion were great for me as it gave me an indication that I was a better manager than the one that Dumbarton sacked. I had a chairman in Frank Meade who supported me totally and a group of players who did likewise. They were unique times.”
Both Martin and Rovers are different nearly three years later as the now 50 year old explained: “I have moved on and they have moved on. They are not the club I left behind. Darren Young has done an excellent job. However, unlike the team I had, Rovers are where they should be. They have a budget I could only dream of.
“The cup ties with Rangers last season have a lot to do with that and, as time goes by, they will need to have a sustainable business model or it will be back to smallest budget days. In my time there a lot of the players would have been better off at Queen’s Park as their expenses would have been higher than our wages.”
While Rovers stayed on course, the Spiders, who fell seven points behind when they lost 1-0 to Young’s side on Saturday, are the ones that Martin feels the greatest empathy with. He added: “The romantic in me wants Queen’s to do well as they do not have the financial resources Rovers have at the moment. Rovers fans may not like to hear this but Queen’s are the team of the season for me. Gus MacPherson has done better than any other manager in the league, when you consider he has a brand new squad.
“I was there when they last won the league and that was a great achievement. The club were in administration and we had players that no-one else wanted. The joy we had was tremendous and it would be great to see them do something similar in 2015 as they are still the same club. Their ethics have never changed and they always treat you well.”
Martin finished by saying: “The successes I enjoyed showed that football is more about people than budgets. I still love football and the footballing underdog and the underdog this season is Queen’s Park. Hopefully, they will go up.”
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