It was one of the quiet tragedies of the disruptive 1990s, that Nigel Martyn never became an Everton player before he actually did – some seven years too late. In July 1996, Joe Royle had earmarked Martyn, then a 29-year-old sometime England international goalkeeper, as a long-term successor to Neville Southall and had agreed a £2.25 million deal to bring him to Everton when the deal collapsed amidst high farce.
Royle had been called away to attend an urgent hospital appointment with his wife, and Peter Johnson was away on business, leaving an Everton director to conclude the deal. Martyn was summoned to Johnson’s Park Foods headquarters, in a Birkenhead industrial park. ‘On our way over my agent, who was in the car in front, rang me to say Leeds had just matched the offer so it was in my interests to listen to them,’ Martyn told the Daily Telegraph in 2005. ‘We told the Everton director about that and, it was weird, he seemed to get a bit flummoxed about the situation. He actually gave us directions on how to get to Leeds. I was all ready to sign for Everton. My wife had family in the area but the director, I think, was anxious to seem fair. He even said we'd better get moving because the traffic would be bad! Once we got to Leeds Howard Wilkinson was never going to let us go until I signed.’
For the next seven years, Martyn performed admirable service in Leeds United’s rise and subsequent fall. He lost his place to Paul Robinson during the 2002/03 season and with Leeds precipitous financial decline was made available for transfer that summer. In August 2003, after years without a dependable keeper and with uncertainty over Richard Wright’s competency and long-term fitness, David Moyes paid a nominal fee to finally bring the 37-year-old to Goodison.
Something of a late developer, Martyn had never played in goal until he was 16, when he was invited to try out for his brother’s works team. He subsequently signed for the Cornish amateurs, St Blazey, where he was reputedly spotted in 1987 playing in a pre-season friendly by the Bristol Rovers tea lady who set up young goalkeeper’s successful trial. At the Memorial Stadium he won England under-21 honours before becoming Britain’s first million pound goalkeeper when he joined Crystal Palace in 1989. He spent seven years at Selhurst Park, then seven years at Leeds before the Goodison switch finally came.
Martyn quickly showed Evertonians what they had missed out on, bringing the sort of calm and composure to the Everton goal largely absent since Southall’s departure. A commanding and authoritative figure, he also possessed reflexes that belied his veteran status and was a superb shot stopper. His form through an otherwise troubled 2003/04 season brought him to the verge of an England recall, which he declined so as to focus on his Everton career. Through the 2004/05 campaign, Martyn was a key component in a side that defied all expectations to finish fourth. It was little surprise that when Richard Wright deputized in his place, Everton’s form declined dramatically. Absent for the final two games of the season, Everton shipped 10 goals.
Martyn’s reward for his fine form was a year long extension to his contract. He began the 2005/06 season first choice goalkeeper, but persistent injuries limited his input. A stress fracture of his ankle kept him out of the final four months of the season [check], and although another contract was offered to him, medical investigations at the season’s close showed that it had not healed. Martyn, in the interests of his future health, announced his retirement, two months short of his fortieth birthday.