When a lanky teenager from Carnoustie joined Aberdeen as an inside-forward in 1946, there could not have been the merest ghost of a notion that he would go on to become the Dons’ formidably athletic last line of defence as they were crowned League champions for the first time in their history nine years later.
But so it was with Fred Martin, who by the time he had pocketed his title medal after the Pittodrie side had finished two points ahead of Celtic in the spring of 1955, was also the first Scottish goalkeeper to appear in a World Cup finals tournament, in Switzerland in 1954.
Though his international experience would prove occasionally traumatic, Martin made nearly 300 senior appearances for Aberdeen and collected six caps in a career which spanned the entire 1950s, and surely would have continued into the next decade but for cruel luck with injuries.
Soon after joining the Dons from his local junior team, Carnoustie Panmure, as a promising attacker, Martin was called up for National Service and threw himself into Army football with relish. Then one day when the Woolwich Royal Artillery were short of a goalkeeper, the young Scot took over and was found to be a natural in the position.
After keeping goal for the British Army against France and Belgium in 1948, he returned to Pittodrie, where he impressed manager Dave Halliday so mightily that he was given his senior debut against East Fife at Bayview in April 1950. Aberdeen lost 3-1 but Martin proved efficient and he became first choice in a side destined for glory. Agile and courageous, he could perform spectacularly at need, but his method was based on a shrewd reading of the action which enabled him frequently to frustrate opponents through intelligent positioning.
After representing the Scottish League in 1952, then earning the first of six full caps in a 1-0 win over Norway in a Hampden Park friendly in May 1954, the rangily imposing Martin was handed the ’keeper’s jersey for the World Cup opener against Austria in Basle. They lost 1-0, manager Andy Beattie so disillusioned that after the match he announced his intention to resign. With the players’ morale unsurprisingly low they were annihilated 7-0 in their second game by reigning champions Uruguay.
Not for the last time in global competition, Scotland trailed home disconsolately, and Martin, whose personal display had not been calamitous, was dropped. However, that December he was recalled for a Hampden encounter with the scintillating Hungarians, which was lost 4-2, and he kept his place for the Wembley clash with England in the following April. Scotland were hammered 7-2 and Martin, who had conceded 18 goals in three matches, was axed again, this time with no reprieve, his place going to Hibernian’s Tommy Younger.
At club level he fared much better. The highlight was the 1954-55 title win, during which he let in only 25 goals in his 27 outings and proved a redoubtable bulwark in a splendid all-round side in which young right-winger Graham Leggat sparkled and the half-back line of Jack Allister, Alec Young and Archie Glen performed with inspirational authority.
Martin excelled again as the Dons lifted the League Cup in 1955-56, defeating St Mirren 2-1 in the Hampden showdown, though there were also disappointments, notably three Scottish Cup final defeats, to Rangers in 1953, Celtic in 1954 and St Mirren in 1959.
After seven seasons as a regular, from 1957 Martin struggled with serial injuries and played his last game, still only 30, in January 1960. Later he worked as a sales manager for Dewar’s Whisky and in 2007 he was one of the inaugural inductees into Aberdeen’s Hall of Fame.
Fred Martin, footballer: born Carnoustie 13 May 1929; played for Aberdeen 1946-60; capped six times by Scotland 1954-55; married Margaret (two daughters, three sons); died Methven, Perth 20 August 2013.