Obituary: Neil ‘Norrie’ Martin, goalkeeper
The fine margins which separate a solid career from a highly successful one in professional football have seldom been more clearly illustrated than by Norrie Martin’s 12-year spell as a Rangers player.
Despite making more than 100 first team appearances for the Ibrox club during a period which saw them collect 13 major honours, the unfortunate Martin did not have a single senior winners’ medal to show for his efforts. Nonetheless, he had no shortage of memories to savour from his time as a reliable goalkeeper which included his participation in the 1967 European Cup Winners’ Cup final which Rangers narrowly lost to Bayern Munich.
Martin, who died at his home in Prestwick earlier this month at the age of 74, just six weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer, was born in the Fife village of Ladybank but moved to the Ayrshire town in the 1950s when his father bought the popular Towans Hotel.
After starting his career with Dalry Thistle, Martin made one league appearance for Hamilton Accies in the 1957-58 campaign before being signed by Rangers as back-up for more experienced goalkeepers George Niven and Billy Ritchie.
But there was an early opportunity for the teenage Martin to impress when manager Scot Symon handed him his first team debut in a League Cup tie against Hearts at Tynecastle in August 1958. Martin earned plaudits for his display before suffering a serious injury in a clash with Hearts striker Ian Crawford. When Martin was carried off on a stretcher, Rangers captain Bobby Shearer took over in goal and Hearts went on to win the match 2-1.
It was indicative of the bad luck which would dog Martin throughout his Rangers career. As Ritchie went on to establish himself as the club’s first choice keeper, Martin had to wait until the end of the 1962-63 season to make his league debut. He played in a 1-0 defeat against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, selected only because Ritchie was rested in advance of the Scottish Cup Final replay against Celtic at Hampden two days later which Rangers won 3-0.
It was not until the end of the 1964-65 campaign, during which he played outfield for Rangers in a Glasgow Cup tie against Celtic after suffering a hand injury which forced him to swap places with full-back Davie Provan, that Martin had another sustained opportunity to stake a claim for the number one jersey.
He replaced Ritchie for the final seven league games of what had been a grim season for Rangers, who finished fifth in the championship race, and duly began the following campaign as Symon’s first choice. But Martin’s ill fortune struck again just three games into the season when he fractured his skull in a League Cup tie against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in August 1965.
His resilience and patience saw him reclaim his place in October the following year and remain in the side for the rest of one the most tumultuous seasons in Rangers’ history. Martin played in the League Cup final at Hampden against Celtic which Rangers were considered unlucky to lose, Bobby Lennox scoring the only goal of the match for Jock Stein’s burgeoning side.
But there was no escape from the most intense criticism and scrutiny for Rangers in January 1967 when they sustained the worst defeat of their history, losing 1-0 to lowly Berwick Rangers in the first round of the Scottish Cup. Martin was blameless for Sammy Reid’s famous winning goal for the Borderers, with strikers Jim Forrest and George McLean made the scapegoats.
Rangers recovered to mount a sustained challenge to Celtic for the title, missing out in their last fixture when they could only draw 2-2 at home to their great rivals. But an outstanding European campaign, which had seen Martin produce some of his best displays for the club in keeping clean sheets away from home against Borussia Dortmund and Slavia Sofia, offered salvation.
Sadly for Martin and his team-mates, the Cup Winners’ Cup final in Nuremberg on 31 May, 1967 – the week after Celtic had lifted the European Cup in Lisbon – proved an anti-climax. In a closely contested affair, Franz Roth looped the only goal of the evening beyond the helpless Martin in the second half of extra time.
The signing of Danish international goalkeeper Eric Sorensen from Morton for £25,000 in the summer of 1967 saw Martin restricted to just four league appearances the next season, but he bounced back yet again to become first choice in the 1968-69 campaign.
Martin again excelled in Europe, helping Rangers reach the semi-finals of the Fairs Cup, but domestic success continued to elude him. Despite defeating Celtic at home and away in the title race, the Ibrox men eventually finished five points behind Stein’s dominant side and were then crushed 4-0 by their Old Firm rivals in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden.
It would be the last high profile appearance of Martin’s career. He played just once more for the first team, in a 3-1 home defeat against Hibs in October 1969, before being part of a clear-out by new manager Willie Waddell in April 1970 when he was given a free transfer along with Jim Baxter and several other players.
Although still relatively young for a goalkeeper at 31, Martin’s career petered out in the 1970-71 season when he had brief spells at East Fife, Queen of the South and then Hamilton Accies. He did play a cameo role in East Fife earning promotion that year and will be fondly remembered by his old team-mates who are gathering for a reunion at Bayview on 16 November.
Martin retired from football to take charge of the Towans Hotel until it was destroyed by fire in 1996.
Pre-deceased by both his first wife Barbara and second wife Inge, he had been with partner Mary for the final 12 years of his life. Martin is survived by son Andrew, his second child from his first marriage. His older son Norman died in January this year. Martin is also survived by five grandchildren.