Written by Colin Byiers
On 12th December 2020, Martyn Fotheringham made his first appearance on the football field in over two years as he came off the bench for Forfar against Partick Thistle. Incredibly, his next appearance would give the 37-year-old a goal in a 4-1 win over Linlithgow Rose in the Scottish Cup, his first goal since November 2018. All this after the Forfar coach had retired due to injury.
I was lucky enough to be able to chat with Martyn about his return to playing and his fascinating career to date.
Tell me about your early days at St Johnstone, how where they?
They were great. People always say that those days were the best of your career and to a certain extent, it was, because you have no fears, no worries, no pressure. It’s just you playing football with your mates. For a 16–18-year-old, it’s the best thing you can imagine.
We had good coaches at St Johnstone, with the likes of Alistair Stevenson, who was the youth coach, he was well respected. He took a lot of us into the youth team and after we went full time, he left and went to Hibs. Then you look at the players he brought through at Hibs youth like, Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan etc, he went there and did well there too. He was never your “Hitler” type youth coach, he treated you with respect, like a human and it taught me a lot about how to treat people. You get old school coaches who basically bully young boys into doing things and that’snot the way to go about it. Alistair was laid back, but you knew when not to go too far. He treated you with respect and the only thing he asks you is you treat him with respect back.
Do you remember your debut for St Johnstone?
I came off the bench against Aberdeen at McDiarmidPark, we got beat (3-0) and I remember Arild Stavrumscoring. It was brilliant getting on a football pitch with a crowd which was something you weren’t used to. You play on McDiarmid Park loads of times in youth games, but when you play with people in the ground, it’s like you are somewhere else. I kept thinking “this pitch looks different”, but it’s just that you are caught up in everything.
You started to make more appearances the following season (2001-02), did you think that you were becoming a regular for the 1st team?
It was Sandy Clark who gave me my first couple of appearances of the bench, and then Billy Stark came in as manager the following season and he gave me my first start against Hibs at McDiarmid and then a week later, I got my second start which was against Rangers at Ibrox. I did get a few appearances that season, but I never fully thought I was a first team player. There was such a good squad then and it’s difficult for a young player to break in on a regular basis, unless they are superbly talented.
You went to Brechin City on loan, was that a move you felt you needed to make to get game time?
Aye, because after getting a wee taste of games with a crowd and games meaning something, it’s a totally different experience but you get a buzz from it and you want more of it. Billy was always up front with his advice and he said that a loan move would be ideal to get games and get experience knowing what getting 3 points on a Saturday means and the pressures that come with that. It was an eye-opener! My first game was a 7-5 lose to Cowdenbeath! Derek Riordan, who joined Cowdenbeath that week on loan, scored a hattrick. Brechin in January, there was not a blade of grass on the pitch, it was a mud bath! I came off after thinking “7-5? That’s an amateur score!”. Brechin had a really goodsquad but it was a sign of things to come under Dick Campbell.
When I went on loan, I think Brechin were 2nd bottom, and me, Stephen Boyle from Dunfermline and a couple of older ones all joined on the Tuesday night, and after the first game things started to click and we got a couple of wins and the momentum was frightening. We went on an unbelievable run of games where we were turning up to games and we just knew we were going to win. Raithwon the league that year and they were a good side, but we were going to places like Starks Park and thinking “we’re going to beat them”. It was good to see that side of Dick to see how he kept things ticking over and keeping the momentum going. Dick isn’t the best tactically, but he gets players to win for him. I don’t know how he does it, but he does it well. You just don’t want to let him.
After the run of game’s you had at Brechin and the success, did that give you the appetite for more?
After I went back that summer, I thought that I was ready and make a push for more games. That season I did start more games and I got my first goal, a goal against Queen of the South, so I thought here we go. Then I was out of the team, making sub appearances. I never really got a run of games. I’d get the odd cup game but never a run in the team. When I look back now, I don’tknow if there was pressure on the manager to get St Johnstone straight back up and maybe the manager didn’t want to rely on young boys to do that. I thought I was good enough to be playing for St Johnstone that season, and I was stubborn enough to think if I worked hard enough, I’ll get in, but to be fair, every time I got in, even if we got a positive result, I was out again. There were more senior players playing in midfield, but I always thought I offered more than some of them did but again, maybe the pressure on the manager meant they would be picked ahead of me.
Was it hard to leave in the end?
It was hard. Billy Stark got the sack and they bought in John Connolly, who was a St Johnstone legend, and he came from Queen of the South where he done well. My contract was up that summer, and I played in Jim Weir’s testimonial and that was the only game he had seen me play, but he spoke to my agent, who was Darren Jackson at the time and said he would offer me a new contract. I felt that I had turned the corner, but it was a non-starter to be honest. I was on the bench most weeks but never got a chance and John’s record speaks for itself. I think it was too much of a jump up for him into full-time football from where he was. When Darren was trying to get me away from St Johnstone, Airdrie were interested in me and Owen Coyle was the manager there. Darren phoned me and says “you’ll never guess who’s got the (St Johnstone) job? Owen Coyle.” Brilliant! He was trying to get me in at Airdrie and now he’s the St Johnstone manager. Again though, pressure of the job does something to people, because we were close to getting relegated from the 1st Division and he was under pressure to keep us in the division, so I didn’t play many games and when I did, I was wide right. At the end of the season, he said he wasn’t going to be offering me a new contract. I wasn’t going to argue with him about, because the decision had been made and you take it. It wasn’t until I left that day that I felt devastated and felt like the World had caved in.
How did you end up at Montrose?
Because no-one else waned me! (laughs). It was weird, nothing happened that summer and there were no offers. Henry Hall, who was my youth coach after Alistair left, was the manager at Montrose and knew how I was as a player and offered me a contract. Having been at Brechin, I knew how things were at a part-time club, so it was just about playing games. The hope was I’d play every Saturday and you’d get yourself a wee reputation and maybe get back up the leagues. At 21/22, you’vehad tastes of it, but now you want to be the guy that plays every game of the season and if I hadn’t got a couple of silly red cards, I probably would have played every game! I was a frustrated 21-year-old, playing part-time football, we were getting beat most weeks, so I was getting worked up and frustrated and losing the heed. One of the reds was for descent. It was out of immaturity and you try and blame someone else because you’regetting beat. I’m 37 now and even when I play in friendlies, I still cane referees because they are brutal. I think they go out of they’re way to wide up folk!
You’re next club was Cowdenbeath.
This is a strange one. I had a 2-year contract at Montrose. That first season we finished 2nd bottom and Cowdenbeath went up under Mixu Paatelainen. Mixuwas my reserve manager at St Johnstone, so when we played Cowdenbeath I did quite well. He phoned me a couple of times and said he was going to sign me. Because I had been playing part-time, I had forgotten that Darren Jackson was my agent! So, when Mixu was phoning me telling me he wanted to sign me, I was like, “yeah that’s fine Big Man.” I had a voice mail from Darren saying he read in the paper that I had signed for Cowdenbeath. I still had a year to go but Montrose agreed to cancel my contract and let me join Cowdenbeath. It was good to go up a division and they were a good side. Mixu took in a couple of ex St Johnstone boys, so I knew them and I was looking forward to that season.
What was Mixu like to work under?
Scary. Eccentric. He would be doing a team talk and suddenly he’d snapped. He was intimidating, but he was enthusiastic. He was only there a few months before he went to a job in Finland, but we had started the season well. Brian Welsh took over after Mixu left but he was well out of his depth. We tumbled down the league. He was a very nervous person and wasn’t confident in speaking in front of a group and you can tell when someone is like that. Once the season finished, he did offer me another year, but I wasn’t convinced by Brian Welsh and I wasn’t filled with confidence that thinks would change, so it was time to move on.
You moved closer to home with Forfar, was that main reason for joining?
Elliot Smith was there at the time and I played with him at Montrose and we kept in touch, and he said he’dspeak to Jim Moffat and get me in at Forfar. Jim’s the only manager that has every done this, when I walked in, he said, “what do you want? A one-year contract? A two-year contract?” I took a two-year, just for security.
Luckily, we didn’t have the play-off thing back then. That season, we had too many boys that were brought out of junior football and the gap is smaller now, but it was a big jump for some of those boys and they weren’t good enough. We finished where we deserved to be to be honest.
The next two seasons, you finished 6th then 2nd. What were the differences from the first year?
Dick Campbell! When he joined, he called me and said he would get us up this league and get us out of this league, but I need to get rid of half of these player, but you’ll be staying. He said, “as long as I am at this club, you’ll be at this club”. That was good enough for me. He cleared the decks, brought in experienced players. Good footballers and he got us out of the league fairly quickly. Don’t be kidded on by the way he is, he might not be the best tactically, but he could be if he wanted to, he’s so good with the other things in management that he does have to be. He plays ignorance to the modern game, but Dick is on the ball. Some of his methods are bonkers but they work, and they serve a purpose.
We also had a momentum we didn’t have before and felt like we were going into games knowing we were going to win. When we went into the play-off, I always felt the team in the league above were coming in with a negative momentum and when you are used to losing games every week it’s hard to turn that round, even if you are playing a team the league below. You always sensed that we were going to win that play-offs.
Was it hard for you when Dick got the sack?
I still get on well with the Gaffer now and I speak to him regularly and I just had so much respect for him. Because we all got on so well with him, I was devastated when he got the sack. Do I think he would have kept us up? Probably. Had we got to January, Dick would have got the boys he needed in in the transfer window to sort the problems. But you get relegated because you aren’t good enough and we weren’t good enough, pure and simple.
In 2017, you were given the honour of a testimonial after 10 years at Forfar.
Forfar have always been good with their players that way, they have always been loyal to their players. Football is a team game and I always thought I was a good teammate, so it was good personally to get an accolade like that. The killer was, it was Sean Dillion’s testimonial that year and he played his game against Hearts on the exact same night as my game against Dundee, so you think that if there hadn’t been another game on, you might have had more punters coming in. We’ve both joked since then that we had taken punters away from each other’s games! Paul Hartley, at Dundee, was really good and he sent up a strong team for the game. There is a lot of planning to get the game on. Just now I have Bobby Linn messaging me constantly about what to do with his one and advise him what to do.
Was it difficult to leave after so long there?
Aye, because I wanted to end my career there, that was my plan. But I wanted to end my career still playing football and that last season I hardly played. There is no point in ending your career rotting away in a stand. I knew SP (Stewart Petrie) and he’s still one of my close friends and he’d been speaking to me since January saying he wanted me to go to Montrose, so I agreed to sign.
A lot of my mates had won leagues and you always felt like you were the one that was never going to do it. When I was in my 10th year at Forfar, I had said how good it would be to win a championship in my testimonial year. That was the aim, and it was still an aim just because you want to win something. The fact we (Montrose) won that league was unbelievable when you think about the budgets of the other clubs, we were miles off it.
Going into the last game of the season knowing you only needed a point, what was the atmosphere like in the dressing room?
We knew we were going to do it. Elgin were a good side with players like Shane Sutherland, who could score against anybody, but we knew if you could get on top of Elgin, they wouldn’t put up much of a fight. Even though we went one down, we had good players and at home we were scoring goals for fun, so we just knew we would do it and Jamie Redman came up with the important goal. It was a relief for me to finally win a medal and an unbelievable experience. The spirit in that squad was the best I’ve ever played with and that’s what won us the league that year.
You are now coaching, was that something you always wanted to move into?
Not really. I always wanted to stay involved in football, but I never really thought about coaching. At Montrose, I developed Osteitis Pubis, which is an inflammation in your pelvis, and you can’t move. The only thing that can cure it is rest but they don’t know how long it can take as everyone is different. We were playing Dumbarton away and SP was with me on the pitch and he said “I think that’s you. I don’t think you’ll be able to paly again. Do you want to go into coaching?” I joined his coaching staff, and that’s where it started. I enjoyed it. It’s good to learn from a guy like him.
Was it an easy decision to join Stuart Malcolm at Forfar in 2019?
It was the only club I would have left Montrose for. SP was good with me and so were the club, so it was hard to say to them I wanted to go, but they understood why I wanted to go to Forfar. SP did try to keep me but after I explained my reasons, he knew I wasn’t going to stay.
You came out of retirement earlier this year. How did that come about?
I hadn’t done anything for 18 months, so that was the rest my pelvis needed, during lockdown I was going on loads of runs and lost a fair bit of weight. We had, like the rest of the clubs, a much smaller budget, so I said to Stuart, I can register as a player and it means it’sanother player to the squad, but it doesn’t come out of the budget. The only player we have at the club that can hold up the ball is Steven Doris and he’d been injured most of the season, but we got him back for the Linlithgow game. Stuart said he’d play but we’d only get an hour out of him and asked if I could do the same job as him a see the game out. He managed to get 80 minutes out of Dor and the manager asked if I could manage 10 minutes, but it was 1-1 at the time and the game goes into extra time. I score early in extra time and 2 minutes later, I pull my hamstring! I got 18 minutes then had to embarrass myself and ask the manager to come off again. It was a wee bit embarrassing but good to score for the club again. It was a brilliant feeling. I’m 38 next month and you never lose that buzz of scoring.