Jon Punt on the words, paying tribute to a man who will more than likely be more fondly remembered in years to go than some of the Barclay boo-boys will have you think, and not only for his work on the pitch....
If I'm feeling down, or every two years when I'm about to back up my latest smartphone, I flick through my handset’s photographs. Inevitably, regardless of the time that has passed, the Wembley photos remain one of the deepest sources of joy, an almost endless scroll of McNally, Delia, Jerome, Bradley and Redmond. Holding the trophy aloft. Saluting the fans. Revelling in the moment. Knowing it probably won’t ever get better than this.
But the picture of that day in my mind's eye is much more poignant, the abiding memory (apart from hugging anyone who’d have me as the second goal flew in) is that of Russell Martin, just moments before he is poised to hold the glimmering trophy above his head, wide eyed and eager to celebrate promotion and historic glory with his team mates. Only this time fully clothed.
It was fitting that Russ skippered the team that day. The remnants of the Lambert era were still in place. Wes, Howson, Johnson, all warriors for the Canary cause. Yet Martin typified the Scot's reign more than most. Lambert's tenure was about the team becoming more than the sum of its parts, putting bodies on the line for your comrades, being better than you thought you were.
It’s unlikely there has ever been a man wearing the yellow and green who has made the most of his limited talents as much as Russell Martin. He was never technically gifted, never destined to produce sublime pieces of skill or ridiculous rabonas like some of his more gifted team mates. And yet he never looked out of place, be it in League One or the top flight, at least not until the latter stages of his City career.
Lambert could, and should, have been proud that day. Not only because Martin heralded his first signing for Norwich, but that he'd helped mould the man into a dependable servant who'd reached the pinnacle of his career right there and then.
Lambert era aside, Martin was a constant for almost a decade. Throughout periods of flux and chaos, he was the go to guy to get blasted by the media when the chips were down. The unfortunate club mouthpiece trying to apologise for what had just occurred. It was all taken in his stride, with a steely confidence that things would turn. It didn’t always happen, but the dark times were always punctuated with periods of success which will live longer in the memory. Those moments which you’ll never forget, that will be passed onto to grandchildren with joyful glee. And Martin has ridden that rollercoaster with perhaps the calmest head of all. He was part of the furniture, that comfy armchair you can’t bear to part with.
His story is one that will be told more fondly in a few years time, when the dust has settled and the Millwall mauling is completely eradicated from the memory banks. When his detractors have found another scapegoat to spit vitriolic abuse toward for no apparent reason.
It will speak of a player who battled a debilitating illness initially in silence, while continuing to give his all for the club. It will document the integral part he played in back to back promotions. It will speak of how his reinvention at centre back alongside Seb Bassong was unsung as Alex Neil’s Canaries pushed toward Wembley. It will reference Martin rushing from the birth of his child to poke home an Anfield equaliser. And it will undoubtedly feature a man in his pants on the Fratton Park pitch, mobbed by Canary acolytes and loving every second of it.
The tributes that have poured in since the announcement of Martin’s long anticipated departure all have a similar golden thread running through them. Rather than talk of his talents on the pitch, they instead focus on his service off it. Of the legacy he has left with his community work. Of the way in which he engaged with people from all walks of life. Of his willingness to champion an inclusive environment for all football fans and tackle discrimination in the game. And above all, of the fact he’s just an affable and warm human being. Those aren’t common traits in a professional player, and do more to secure his legendary status than any of his footballing accolades. He was a one-off, and we were lucky he was ours.
It wouldn't be churlish to suggest Russ' 9 years of service deserve a more formal recognition than a polite hand clap before a league fixture this season. Russ XI v Wes XI testimonial anyone? Given the club's recent frugal nature, it might just be the best solution all round, and a fitting tribute to someone that in his own way played as much of a part in City’s renaissance than Hoolahan himself.