In a parallel universe Chris Martin would be banging in the goals for Norwich in the Premier League. Parallel universes don’t exist, though, so instead Zoë Morgan salutes the goal-machine that got away
The first thing you’ll notice is that he’s chewing gum.
Immediate sign of a rebel. PE teachers nationwide would have a conniption if they knew one of their students had a strip of Wrigley on the go during a football match. CHOKING HAZARD ALERT. But Chris Martin (Super Chrissy to his friends) laughs in the face of choking hazards.
His constant gum-chewage also has a pleasing effect on his mouth. It leaves it constantly agape and down-turned in the manner of a disenchanted youth giving lip to a police officer having been discovered nicking a traffic cone.
It may be hard to believe, but there are some players who have had the temerity to leave Norwich in order to further their career who don’t require booing on their return to Carrow Road. Martin is one of those players: boy wonder, local lad, scorer of that last-gasp winner against Leeds, one half of Glenn Roeder’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee; Martin achieved plenty at his hometown club.
But. But...it never quite happened. He had to move, break the shackles, and he has since developed into one of the most captivating, watchable players in the Football League.
Martin’s background as a disenchanted product of the Norfolk-Suffolk borders has helped form his character today. Famous for being “banned from all the pubs in Beccles”, the story is he was dressed as Peter Pan during one of his legendary altercations. The tale couldn’t be more apt for Norwich fans, because for them he will always be the boy wonder who couldn’t grow up.
Since leaving Norwich Chris Martin has grown up. He has developed immensely as a player at Derby, becoming the kind of broad-chested striker who annoys defenders; he always wants the ball and he can win fouls like no one else. Except it is like someone else. Martin’s formative years playing alongside Grant Holt in full, exquisite, rhino mode has shaped him as a footballer, and his style is now more than reminiscent of Holt’s (he probably has more natural talent, though. And less ‘padding’.). It’s unlikely he could have grown in this way if he had spent more time at Norwich playing as Holt’s sidekick, rather than being given the opportunity to lead the line and become the main man.
One aspect of Martin’s game – perhaps the most joyful of his many attributes – has remained over the years. Good grief he gets cross if someone doesn’t pass him the ball. It is a thing of great joy to watch him throw a tantrum, seemingly directed at the whole world and not just the player who declined to pass to him.
This attitude is hilarious but laudable – he believes that he is more likely to make something positive happen than anyone else on the pitch. There was an occasion at Norwich, I seem to remember, when the team scored and instead of rushing immediately to his team-mates in celebration he threw his arms out with a screech of frustration – ‘why wasn’t it me’?
It has been great to watch Martin thrive at another club because despite several adequate seasons with Norwich, his potential seemed destined never to be realised. Might he have become the next Jarvis brother, had he stayed a season too long? That’s not to say he could never have succeeded at Norwich, especially in a strong, well-organised side.
Alex Neil would probably have liked him as he can play up front on his own, and as more of a natural goalscorer than some of the club’s other strikers he might have scored 25 goals last year given the chances created. But there was no guarantee that the good times would have come – so who could begrudge him his move to the Midlands, 50 goals later?
Martin’s extended absence through injury last season marked the start (and middle) of Derby’s astonishing decline. He has scored five this season after a start for the team and was even captain for Derby’s most recent game. No doubt he will profit from the bullish presence of Bradley Johnson (how are we all coping with that one?) in the Rams’ midfield.
In this era of near-hysteria about home-grown players it is a wonder that Martin has never cemented a place in the Scotland side (cut him open and he bleeds Mel Gibson’s Braveheart face paint) or indeed attracted much, if any interest, from Premier League clubs. Perhaps his reputation as having an ‘attitude’ precedes him. His physique is nothing special, his facial expressions cry indifference. Maybe scouts are too busy watching Charlie Austin or Jordan Rhodes for the 17th time in as many weeks. It would be a shame if so, because when you see Martin interviewed he is astonishingly eloquent and thoughtful for a young footballer (26 is still young, right?).
There is an infuriating train of thought among some supporters who believe Norwich should never have let Martin go. ‘He’s scored lots of goals for Derby in years where we’ve struggled to hit the back of the net’. But perhaps his existence as the most famous man in his small area of the countryside, perhaps his surely damaging experience with Roeder, perhaps his Peter Pan costume, perhaps these are the reasons he could never quite grow up at Norwich.
It’s why he needed to move, and why he has thrived on the move.
You can follow Zoë Morgan on Twitter: @zvfm2