I speak to former Alex defender, Carl Martin about his time at Crewe, retirement and current role as a coach
‘I came into Professional Football with Crewe quite late. I was 21 years old when I was spotted by a Crewe scout, while trial for Aldershot Town. When I first came up to train with Crewe, the team was managed by Gudjon Thordarson. Over that 6 week period I took part in a few sessions with the youth team, as I didn`t get enough minutes in the match the previous day. The sessions that I took part in were taken by Dario Gradi, which was an excellent experience for me. After trialling for 6 weeks I was released, being told I wasn`t quite ready to step straight into the starting 11 as a Full Back. Which was a position they were looking to get back up in as soon as possible.
I went on to train with Dagenham and Redbridge, who I was very close to signing for when I got a phone call from my agent, saying that Dario Gardi was back at the helm at Crewe Alexandra wanted to make me his first signing. I felt bad for Dagenham, but a chance to go a play for someone with a reputation like Dario was to hard resist.
My first two seasons were very tough. I played a handful of games in my first season was because they wanted to integrate me slowly so I could adapt, and secondly I had John Brayford ahead of me, who was a fantastic player. My second season was a nightmare, although I played a lot reserve games, I never kicked a competitive ball all season due to niggling injuries. My third season was my most enjoyable time at Crewe – I played the majority of the games that season, and winning at Wembley to get promoted was the highlight of my career.
I kind of knew I wouldn`t be getting offered a new contract at Crewe. Who would want to invest time and money into a player who suffered the injuries I suffered? Although I saw it coming, it was still tough to take, not only for the fact that I was leaving a good club, but I would be moving away from a place I had called home for the last 2 and half years. Not only did I make some life long friends at the football club, I made some life long friends around the town of Crewe, with whom I`m still in contact today.
There were a few contributing factors in my decision to come away from the professional game. The decision to stop playing full time professional football wasn`t an easy one, but when my career became more about the injections, MRI`s, surgeries, doctor visits, painkillers, and limited physical capabilities than the playing, enjoyment, love, and passion for the game, I knew it was time to call it a day.
Somewhere along the line, the enjoyment I used to get from simply playing the game disappeared. In order for me to get through a hard week of training, I had to play through pain. I woke up on the morning after an FA Cup game, and I felt like a truck had hit me in my sleep. My body was crying out in pain. Feeling pain in my groins as I walked up a flight of stairs, or bent down to tie my laces, this made it very clear to me that I had to stop fighting my body. I`d given it all I could, and it was time to call it a day. Having to fight my body just to get through a week of practice isn`t worth it. There`s no enjoyment in that, only physical pain and mental anguish.
I’ve now moved on from playing full time football to concentrate on coaching, and in my opinion I`m doing the next best thing to playing full time football. I work at Watford Football Club as a Professional Development Phase Coach (U18s Coach). In my role we’ve crossed paths with Crewe and in doing so I get to see my old team mate Lee Bell, who looks after the U18s: both games we`ve played each other in have ended in a draw. I`m optimistic about my career as coach, and looking forward to were it might take me.’
Many thanks to Carl for his time. It’s very interesting to see the paths taken by those who have had to retire early and I’m glad he’s doing so well as a coach. I’m sure we’ll all remember him fondly from THAT great season.