“Looking in the mirror it is,” confirms former Hibs striker Neil Martin as he reflects on the fact that it is 50 years since Hibs last faced Queen of the South on league business.
Martin has good reason to remember that day, March 7, 1964, in the old Division One when he marked his return to Palmerston Park by scoring four goals in a 5-1 win against his old club, a feat which would grab the headlines today, but one which the Tranent-born player regarded as rather run of the mill.
So-much-so, in fact, he once did it twice in four days, Alloa Athletic suffering in an 11-2 League Cup defeat and then Falkirk finding themselves on the receiving end as Hibs won 5-1, eight goals which helped Martin amass an astonishing tally of 86 in just 114 matches with the Easter Road club.
However, Martin’s incredible goal-scoring record in a green and white shirt wasn’t exceptional – it was something he replicated everywhere he went, 25 goals in 48 League matches for Alloa prompting his move to Dumfries where 33 more in just 61 games persuaded Hibs, the club he’d supported as a boy, to pay £7500 for his services, almost four times the fee involved in his earlier move.
Sunderland, Coventry City, Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Crystal Palace all followed, each club benefiting immensely from Martin’s strength, power and commitment as he became the first player to score 100 league goals in both Scotland and England.
And don’t forget the bravery. Martin, now 73, recalls that at the end of a career which also took him to America and Northern Ireland, he was walking in a street in Tranent when a passer-by remarked: “Neil Martin? It’s the first time I’ve seen you without a broken nose.”
In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, Martin said: “Burst eyebrows and broken noses, that’s what you got going in there to score. Eric Stevenson used to say, put the ball in there, near post, back post, Neil will get on the end of it. I used to run out of my skin to get into the penalty box. You have to put yourself in there to score goals and I don’t think centre-forwards nowadays want to get in where it counts.”
As such, Martin shakes his head in disbelief when players regard reaching double figures in a season as something of a landmark.
Describing Hibs’ own scoring record last season as “pathetic” and a fundamental reason why Alan Stubbs’ players will this Saturday be facing the Doonhamers in the second tier of Scottish football, he said: “They spent £200,000 on James Collins and he only scored six goals. If that had happened in my day you’d have been shown the door.
“We had a number of players getting well into double figures every season, the likes of myself, Peter Cormack and Jim Scott. And when I went to England there were ten, 12, 14 top goalscorers with guys such as Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves up towards 40 goals a season. I just don’t know what’s happened to the natural goal-scorers, I only see the likes of Ronaldo and Messi.”
Like many of his generation, Martin believes today’s players are mollycoddled. While impressed by Hibs’ East Mains training centre only a couple of miles from his home, he recalled his days at Easter Road when training consisted of running up and down the towering terraces, lapping Arthur’s Seat and practice matches on the ash of the car park behind the ground.
And that, remarkably, was a routine followed even when he played for Queen of the South. He said: “In my first year at Alloa I trained myself at Tranent Juniors’ ground and then at Queen of the South I trained with Hibs on a Tuesday and Thursday night – I wouldn’t see my team-mates from one Saturday to the next.
“Now they have coaches for the strikers. What a load of cobblers, you can’t teach anyone to score goals. You either have it or you don’t. I also think it’s a lot of rubbish that players might need six months to settle in at a new club.
“I scored nearly every time for my new club on my debut. If I didn’t, I’d score a hat-trick in my second game. I went to Coventry with 12 games to go and they were bottom of the league – where’s the time to settle in then? I didn’t score in my first game, although I did have a hand in the two goals to beat Chelsea and then I scored three in my second game against Sheffield Wednesday.
“Even when I went to America to play with Bobby Moore at San Antonio Thunder, I flew in on the Thursday, played on the Sunday and scored two.”
Signed by Queens’ player/manager George Farm, Martin helped the club win promotion to the old First Division, a “few goals” from himself helping that process before he moved back to the east coast where he believes Jock Stein’s defection to Celtic before the end of the 1964/65 season robbed Hibs of the chance to complete a league and cup double, a feeling shared by the majority of his team-mates.
He said: “I don’t know how we didn’t do the double that year. We had a brilliant team ... Pat Stanton, Willie Hamilton, Pat Quinn, Jim Scott and so on. We beat Rangers three times, twice in the league and knocked them out of the Scottish Cup in the quarter-finals and beat Celtic 4-2 at Parkhead when I scored a hat-trick in the first 20 minutes.”
Martin’s own Easter Road career came to an end in a wrangle over money. On £35 a week, he discovered during a Scotland trip that Manchester United were paying Law £100. He said: “I’d been in the Scottish team and played against Poland and Finland in the World Cup and wanted another tenner, which I thought was fair.
“I went to the manager Bob Shankly. He said he would have a word with the directors, but when I later asked him about it he told me they’d turned it down.” A £45,000 move to Sunderland saw Martin’s wage rise to £65 with a bonus of £20-a-point, which meant a win brought him more than £100, pretty decent money for the late Sixties, but pennies compared to that earned by many of today’s football players.
Martin won’t be at Palmerston Park on Saturday – these days he contents himself with watching Tranent in junior football’s South Division when they are at home – but, he admits, he has fond memories of the ground, even if nowadays it boasts a plastic pitch.
He said: “I had a good time with both Hibs and Queens. Palmerston Park was always a brilliant place to play. It was a great pitch and even when I was with Alloa I loved to go.
“I don’t think I’d like it today, though, with the plastic pitch. I don’t think they do players any favours. I remember playing on them, at baseball grounds, when Hibs went to America, and it became a bit of a farce at times.
“The last time I was at Palmerston was when Hibs won in the Scottish Cup in John Collins’ time as manager [a 2-1 success in February 2007]. It was tough that day and I expect it will be just as difficult on Saturday. It’s amazing to think 50 years have passed since Hibs were last down there in the league and this is a game they shouldn’t be playing because it is ridiculous to think of them in that league.
“I couldn’t believe it last Saturday when I switched on the television to see Hibs were getting beaten 2-1 by Cowdenbeath. I switched off and it wasn’t until later when I mentioned to the guy next door who goes to Easter Road what a disaster it had been that I discovered they’d won 3-2, which was a pleasant surprise.”