Obituary: Fred Martin, international goalkeeper

Scottish goalkeeper Fred Martin rushes out to meet a Uruguayan forward. Scotland lost the game 7-0. Picture: Getty
Scottish goalkeeper Fred Martin rushes out to meet a Uruguayan forward. Scotland lost the game 7-0. Picture: Getty
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Born: 13 May, 1929, in Carnoustie. Died: 20 August, 2013, in Perth, aged 84

FRED Martin, who has died aged 84 following a long illness, was the unfortunate custodian who had to carry the can for two of Scotland’s heaviest and most-embarrassing defeats: a 7-0 hammering from Uruguay during the 1954 World Cup finals, and a 7-2 beating by England, at Wembley, at the end of the following season.

However, these set-backs do not tell the whole story of the man who set the template for the Aberdeen goalkeepers such as Bobby Clark and Jim Leighton. On his day, Martin was all but unbeatable; however, as the great Bob Crampsey wryly observed: “On an off-day, he looked like an inside forward who had gone into goal as a stop-gap”.

That is exactly what Martin was – a converted inside forward. A native of Carnoustie, he went to Pittodrie from the local junior side, Carnoustie Panmure in 1946, as a 17-year-old inside forward. National service in the Royal Artillery interrupted his early Aberdeen career, but, while in the forces, and playing at inside right for the British Army side, he was converted to a goalkeeper and when he returned to the club, it was felt that he should be kept on in his new position.

He made his first-team debut, at East Fife’s Bayview ground, on 15 April, 1950, in a game the Dons lost 3-1, with Martin being credited with an own goal for the Fifers’ third counter. The following season, however, he made the first-team place his own and for the next 14 years, until injuries took their toll and the young “Tubby” Ogston emerged, big Fred was the Dons’ undisputed No1.

These were good years for the club; Martin played in three Scottish Cup Finals, all of which were lost, against Rangers in 1953, Celtic in 1954 and St Mirren in 1959. But, there were successes also, most-notably Aberdeen’s first Scottish League Championship win, in 1955, and their first League Cup success in the following 1955-56 campaign; with Martin playing a full part in both. He also kept goal when Aberdeen thumped Rangers 6-0 in the 1954 Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden.

He won his first representative honour on 24 September, 1952, when he played in the only Scottish League XI to face a Welsh League side; the match in Cardiff ending in a 3-1 win for the Welsh. However, the new goalkeeper retained his place for the next League international, a 5-1 win over the League of Ireland at Celtic Park, two weeks later. Scotland fielded a forward line of four of Hibs “Famous Five”, with Billy Steel of Dundee replacing Eddie Turnbull. Steel and four-goal Lawrie Reilly got the Scotland goals.

Martin won a third League cap on 28 April, 1954, back-stopping a League XI in which Jock Stein gained his solitary representative honour, against the English League at Stamford Bridge. England won 4-0, but Scottish-penned reports insist the Scots were kicked off the park by the rugged English defenders. Again, no blame attached to goalkeeper Martin, who won the first of his six Scotland caps a week later, keeping a clean sheet as Scotland beat Norway 1-0 in a dire Hampden game. He then played in the return game in Bergen, two weeks later, before having a superb game as Scotland lost narrowly to Austria in the nation’s first match in the World Cup finals, in Zurich.

But, it all began to unravel in Martin’s fourth cap, against defending World Champions Uruguay, in Basel, three days later. The South Americans led, somewhat luckily, 2-0 at half-time, but, as the Scots wilted in the high temperatures after the break, Uruguay scored a further five goals without reply.

Only four of the beaten team survived for the first Scotland side of the next season, four months later. Martin lost his place to Willie Fraser of Sunderland. But, two games later, he was recalled for the Hampden match against the brilliant Hungarians led by Ferenc Puskas, on 8 December, 1954.

Hungary won 4-2, but Martin, who was having the season of his life with the Dons, was retained for the big game that season, the visit to Wembley, on 2 April, 1955. This, his sixth cap, was a personal disaster for Martin. He was not, for such a tall man – he stood 6ft 3in in his boots – all that confident handling crosses.

At Wembley, he dropped Stanley Matthews’ first cross, in the opening minute, to gift Dennis Wilshaw of Wolves the first of his four goals. Thereafter, he was a hopeless bag of nerves. It was his final cap, Tommy Younger of Hibs replacing him.

Martin returned to Aberdeen, where he rebuilt his reputation before injuries curtailed his final season to a mere four appearances. He retired at the end of the 1959-60 season, after 206 first-team games for Aberdeen.

He then went into the whisky trade, joining Dewar’s of Perth, with whom he rose to an executive position. In retirement from football, he played a mean game of golf and curled. During a spell living in Kilmarnock, he becoming a keen rugby fan as he watched his sons Stephen, a tall full-back, similar physically to his father, and Derek, a play-making stand-off, make names for themselves with Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and Glasgow District. His third son, Ian, won Scottish Schoolboy caps as a Perth Academy pupil, but did not shine as his elder brothers did in the club game.

Martin then returned closer to his roots, relocating to Perth. He was one of the original inductees into the Aberdeen Hall of Fame, but he lived quietly with Margaret, his wife of 61 years, prior to his death, which followed a long fight against prostate cancer.

Fred Martin is survived by Margaret, their five children: Lesley, Derek, Stephen, Freda and Ian, and by seven grandchildren.

Those two seven-goal Scotland humblings have damaged Martin’s reputation. He was not the only Scottish goalkeeper to suffer Wembley or World Cup torment. He was better than that, in the final analysis, a gentleman, as popular with his customers in his business life as he was with the Aberdeen fans and his fellow players.