Football can be a game which is both fickle and superficial.
The contemporary game is drowning among a sea of wealth and glamour, particularly the higher up the pyramid you climb. With the mindboggling wages and record transfer fees comes immense egos and prickly characters, footballers are becoming harder and harder to relate to as a supporter.
When previously squads consisted of everyday men who would share a drink with supporters in the bar whilst engaging in honest conversations, now the world of media training and protection means witnessing footballers as human beings is usually only visible upon a major controversy or scandal.
Now, football is seen more as a business, players are as distanced from supporters as ever and those fans who part with the contents of their wallets and purses are viewed as paying customers.
That’s what makes characters such as Russell Martin such a rare and valuable part of modern football.
Tony Adams’ quote has become renowned around the world and undoubtedly adopted in several motivational talks. “Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they will remember the name on the back.”
A truer word couldn’t be spoken of Martin.
By his admission, he wasn’t the best footballer Norwich has ever had on their books. Footballers come and go, but few embrace the ethos and values of the club like Martin has done at Norwich.
Some are adored for regularly producing individual moments of quality, see Wes Hoolahan and Darren Huckerby, some for memorable and iconic goals, see Grant Holt or Iwan Roberts but Martin is a unique case. Not only will his capabilities on the pitch be cherished, but also his off-field exploits.
When he arrived, few in Norfolk had heard of his name. That’s not belittling his career or the endless amount of hard work he placed into honing his craft and becoming a professional footballer, but more a recognition of how Norwich were constructing their side back in the days spearheaded by Paul Lambert.
Martin was his first outfield signing. A man who embodied the very ideology Lambert was attempting to build, a complete lack of ego but a competitive nature and infectious winning mentality.
Worth noting that Russ pushed this through himself, others weren't keen on it happening at first but he wanted to face up to fans to explain where he was at, and that he agreed with some criticism. Only respect https://t.co/Nmh8nIeIsL
— Jack Reeve (@JackReeveTNC) August 31, 2018
A swashbuckling right back, Martin brought consistency and class to a right back spot vacated by Jon Otsemobor. Lambert knew Martin from their time spent at Wycombe Wanderers, and in regards to character and quality required, Martin was an astute signing.
The fact he played through Ulcerative Colitis, a long term condition which later saw him adopt a Vegan lifestyle epitomises the very nature of the man. Martin scarified himself numerous times to the Norwich City cause and placed his body on the line repeatedly.
He arrived at Norwich as a League One right back, but leaves as an internationally recognised full back having played over 300 games for this football club.
Who can forget the narrative that unfolded at Anfield? Hours after his wife gave birth to his newborn child; Martin scored the equaliser as Norwich battled to earn a point in Liverpool. Also, that infamous night in Suffolk in which Martin was a major protagonist, scoring arguably his most memorable goal whilst donning yellow and green.
At Portsmouth, he was the last to leave the pitch in only his pants as he celebrated promotion to the Premier League. A season he played a massive part in. Martin at one with the supporters, where he felt most at home.
Although many criticised his conversion to centre back, they opt to forget the numerous times he operated in that position under Paul Lambert and even played there at Wembley. The history books will remember that swashbuckling right back, however.
The raw passion and connection he shared with this football club will be cherished by everyone connected to it.
Not only did he create moments that will live on forever, but he enchanted lives with his work for the Community Sports Foundation. He was a regular supporter and helper at the CSF events, ensuring everybody who attended an event he went to left with a smile and a moment of joy at meeting a Norwich City footballer.
After the Play-Off Final victory at Wembley, many supporters happened to be sharing a hotel with the players. When Martin was asked for a picture by supporters, he ensured he got the trophy for the shot. The mark of a man who had respect for supporters, but understood what it meant to be a Norwich City fan.
Leader ⚔️#NCFC LEGEND. ?
Thank you for everything Russ. ? #TheNorfolkCafu pic.twitter.com/LIMaGN5IoO
— Chris Reeve (@ChrisReevo) August 31, 2018
His touching tribute to Peter Oldfield after his goal against Reading was emotionally charged and captured the essence of a man who lived and breathed yellow and green. Pete’s family will remember that moment for the rest of their lives. It was an act of compassion and kindness.
He wore his heart on his sleeve in the form of a captain’s armband.
Martin is the personification of everything Norwich City represents. A club with community at heart and an ethos which places supporters in the driving seat, he served Norwich with such compassion and loyalty, which can’t be said of many.
With Martin, there was never any ego or fuss.
He is a humble, personable and approachable individual. Someone who never feared addressing issues after a humiliating defeat and often the man who put himself in front of the media in times of crisis, that is the true making of not just a captain, but a man prepared to put others first.
He even came onto TalkNorwichCity, at the time; it was a groundbreaking feat for a fansite. He was the first current professional player to come onto the podcast. To this day that podcast remains the most viewed, and his humour and candid nature made it such an intriguing watch.
“When we first approached the club to get Russ on the podcast they were hesitant at first and rightly so. It was a turbulent time for both the club and Russ. I think I’m right in saying no professional player at a big club had ever sat down with fan media for an hour before either, so this was a big deal for both parties.
Russ was amazing though, he pushed the request through and the club knew he could be trusted to answer tricky questions thrown at him by fans well.
What struck me with Russ though was first of all how much he cared about the club and what the fans thought, but also how much of a lovely guy he was. He turned up to Chris’ flat 10 minutes early and then proceeded to spend the evening with us, a good 3 hours of his time after a double training session.
Not only did he have a massive impact on the pitch, but I can’t remember a player in my lifetime to have as much of an impact off the pitch too”.
– Jack Reeve on getting Russ on the TalkNorwichCity Podcast and the man himself
Even though he hasn’t played since last August, Martin was a pivotal figure in the dressing room. His advice to younger footballers and help to everyone at Colney and Carrow Road earmarks why he is such a special and unique case.
Not only is a player who faced intense criticism directly, but he was a genuinely lovely man.
Representing Norwich City 309 times is no mean feat. Martin was favoured by four permanent Norwich City managers, some of which made him captain. The criticism was constant and unjustified, this was a man who hadn’t placed his own name on the teamsheet but displayed an unwavering desire to play for Norwich and through hard work, ensured his passion was replicated in a vast number of performances.
It’s a shame the good words and reflection occur after a club legend has exited stage left; but Martin gave every ounce of his body, time and work to the football club transcending in mentoring younger players and offering members of the media staff lifts at 1am after an emotionally draining loss in Newcastle. He fights the archetypal footballer painted by society, he isn’t a greedy person content with receiving a pay packet at the end of the month.
Intelligence, compassion and integrity display why so many of his colleagues, past and present, have dedicated genuine and dedicated words to him.
Supporters are an emotional bunch of people. Wes Hoolahan’s legacy will be, rightly, marked with a testimonial, John Ruddy received an emotional lap of honour but Russell Martin leaves in a way which reflects him as a human being, with modesty and with as little fuss as possible.
Here’s to you, Russ. A man who always acted with class and dignity, a man who never shirked from difficult questions and always made time for supporters. A man who fully understood his role as a footballer for Norwich City and a man who aspiring footballers should look to replicate.
Very few footballers create a relationship that is deeper than simply pulling on a shirt and working hard. Russ did that. He got Norfolk, he understood the club and its supporters. To have a club captain engrain the DNA into new members of the squad may have helped the cohesive unit built under Lambert and later Alex Neil.
He may be disheartened, but he will never be forgotten, for his name is engraved in permanent marker alongside the legends of this football club.
But most of all, he is one of us. A supporter and as he belted out ‘On The Ball City’ at Birmingham, it was evident how much of an impact this football club has had on him.
Promotions, relegations and everything in-between has been experienced by Martin. He stuck by the club and remained a pillar of longevity around Norwich City. His departure symbolises the end of an era, Lambert’s last troop has left the building. Anybody who has ever had the pleasure of meeting the man will recognise what a positive influencer he was, both for players, staff and supporters.
He may not have been perfect, but what supporters would give to possess a team with the heart and commitment of Russell Martin.
This isn’t goodbye, but more of a farewell for now.
Thank you, Russ, The Norfolk Cafu.