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      Nigel Martyn: FA Cup dreams and Merseyside memories


      Nigel Martyn reached the FA Cup final with Crystal Palace in 1990, before earning cult-hero status at Everton more than a decade later. With both teams set to meet for a place in the FA Cup fourth round on Wednesday night, Martyn talks the rollercoaster journey to Wembley, and what makes the two clubs so special in the ever-changing modern era…

      When most of us head down Wembley Way for the very first time, our minds are on trivial matters. How much will a pint cost inside? Will the tubes be delayed post-match? Where, actually, is my seat? For Nigel Martyn, these were of no concern. He knew where he was going that day: out on to the pitch to start in goal in an FA Cup final. It’s not bad for a first visit.

      “Going there for the FA Cup final in 1990, that was my first time I’d ever been there,” the former Palace and Everton goalkeeper remembers. “That was probably the most exciting time.” You can say that again. Martyn was barely been out of non-league football when he stepped out at Wembley with Crystal Palace. It was some journey.

      It all started with a discussion with Steve Coppell. “When you’re a lad just over two years of coming out of playing non-league football in Cornwall, the opportunity to go and play in the First Division was a big deal,” he remembers. “It was a team that had just gone up and was fighting – it’s quite an exciting proposition to go to a team like that.

      “[Steve] told me that he had some very good players. He mentioned Ian Wright and Mark Bright, and he said: ‘Look, these guys are going to score goals in this division as well. They scored them down in the Second Division, and they will score them here’. He said there was an exciting bunch of young players with one or two experienced players mixed in.”

      Looking back, he senses some fortune in the timing of his arrival. “I was basically being brought in to bolster them more than anything, because Perry [Suckling] was there and he had done so well the season before. Conceding nine at Liverpool and five at Forest not long after may have messed up his confidence a little bit, and had results been a bit more positive I'm sure he would have played the whole season.”

      Instead, in came Martyn as the country’s first £1 million goalkeeper. Did he feel the pressure? That was someone else’s problem. “I can remember being interviewed at the time, and what I said on that day I stick with now: ‘No, it’s not my valuation’. At the time I didn’t think any player was worth a million quid! If two football clubs want to agree a fee, that’s on them and not on me.

      “My only pressure was just to go out and do my best every time, and that’s all I ever tried to do.” It certainly worked. Palace progressed through the FA Cup, eventually meeting Liverpool at Villa Park in a now-legendary semi-final. “At Bristol Rovers we were always hoping to get a big club away, to play in big stadiums. Once I’d moved to Palace, you were looking for more favourable draws so that we could get through.

      “That’s what happened in 1989/90, until the semi-final. If you were going to seed teams, you would probably have put Liverpool first, second and third, Manchester United fourth and ourselves and Oldham as rank outsiders! To go and take the best team in the country was a big deal and a brilliant day.

      “The support, the balloons, the performance, the theatre of the whole thing. It just had everything, didn't it? It’s one that will go down in Palace folklore. You would prefer a clean sheet, but that wouldn't have been as much fun, would it?!

      “It’s all folklore. The chairman ended up in the baths with his expensive suit on. It showed how far we had come since I had joined in November: there was something building there.”

      THE FULL 120 MINUTES | Crystal Palace vs Liverpool FA Cup Semi-final 1990

      Before long, however, focus shifted to the final, with some more unusual preparations than players deal with today. Martyn and co. were on their way to Abbey Road to perform their FA Cup final single, a cover of Glad All Over.

      “We did Blue Peter, we did Derek Jameson Live – my kids love to get that video up on YouTube to take the mickey out of me sitting there with my moustache,” he laughs. “They were good times. It was crazy because every time you would leave training the manager or a senior player would say: ‘Right, keep tomorrow afternoon free because we’re doing something different’.”

      The final itself against Manchester United came quickly, and the dreaded draw meant an even more dreaded replay, and a bizarre purgatory while the rest of the footballing world headed off for the summer. “If you speak to anybody on both sides, the feeling was we’d rather have got it finished on that day.

      “We had the build-up, then the game was pretty exciting. We had a big party organised afterwards, and you don’t know what to do: you weren’t celebrating but you weren’t drowning your sorrows. It was very strange. We had a meal and a few drinks, but you are aware that you are playing again in a few days.

      “It was odd because the rest of the footballing world had stopped, and we were still carrying on. What Steve had to do was to keep everybody focused without training being too tough. But there is no doubt that the replay, an evening game, didn’t have the same feel about it. It was a bit of an anti-climax if I'm honest.”

      Defeat in the final took some getting over, but the following season Palace finished in third place and won the ZDS Cup at Wembley. It seemed as though, to quote Martyn’s fellow 1990s recording artists D.Ream, things could only get better. “I remember thinking at the ZDS Cup final: ‘Crumbs, this is great – we’re going to get to Wembley almost every year!’” he remembers.

      “As a player, I never got back there for another final.” Martyn headed to Leeds United after years of exemplary service with Palace, but as his career began to wind down an offer to join Everton was too good to turn down – particularly for a player who had idolised Neville Southall as a child. The similarities with Palace were evident: the upstarts looking to crash the party.

      “I’m not trying to be derogatory to my old club at Leeds, but I left a squad of players at Leeds that were a lot better than the ones I went to at Everton. Yet what we did at Everton, we fought a little bit harder and things were a bit better and we stayed up and Leeds went down that year.

      “I wasn't happy to see Leeds go down because I've got a lot of friends there. I had a great relationship with the supporters there. I'd rather they stayed up, but on the flip-side, I wasn't in the team and to me it felt very political while I wasn't in the team. So to get an opportunity to go somewhere else and then do well is a nice thing to happen really.

      “We were right at the bottom of the table and we fought and scrapped and did everything we could and sort of stayed up. But I was lucky enough to walk off with Player of the Year that year for the club. I was pleased to be able to finish my career with sort of dignity still intact really, because it felt like it'd been taken away a bit.”

      Guiding Palace to an FA Cup final; guiding Everton into the Champions League places. At either end of his career, Martyn was part of a team of fighters who refused to take no for an answer. Does he see the similarities between the two?

      “Definitely – both have a real sense of community and they try not to lose that. To have some access to players is difficult for regular supporters, and I think that is something that Everton and Palace try to make available, for supporters and charities and hospitals and things around the community. That is so important.

      “It was like an old-fashioned football club the way Palace was when I was there, and Everton still had that old-fashioned feel about it as well. And I got on really well with the supporters and the staff and everybody, so I've got really good memories of it.”

      From non-league football to the heights of Wembley and more: Martyn retired with 23 England caps, was voted in both Crystal Palace and Leeds United’s all-time XIs, and – perhaps most sentimentally important – was nicknamed ‘Big Nige’ at Goodison Park, in comparison to his hero ‘Big Nev’.

      When the two sides kick-off on Wednesday evening, Martyn will be watching with fond memories of both, and fonder memories still of this great old competition, where anyone can triumph against the odds, and where hard work is more important than reputation. It’s an ethos that served him well throughout an extraordinary career, and will continue to serve both clubs long into the future.