Scouser Martin's heart with the Hammers - at a stretch - Premier League - Football - The Independent

Scouser Martin's heart with the Hammers - at a stretch

Old Upton Park hero is backing a 1980 reprise

There are strong ties which should bind Alvin Martin to the fortunes of Liverpool. He was born in the city, followed the team as a youngster and now his own son, David, is a regular in goal for the reserves. But come next Saturday and the FA Cup final, says Alvin, "I will be going to the game first and foremost as a West Ham fan. If you spend 20 years at that club, as I did, that is where your heart is. They gave me the opportunity to play at the top level, and hopefully I repaid that faith."

He certainly did. The centre-half known as "Stretch" played 586 games for West Ham, won 17 caps for England and became one of only two Hammers (Billy Bonds is the other) to be awarded two testimonials. The highlight of that 20-season career was West Ham's 1-0 win over Ars-enal in the 1980 Cup final, and the 47-year-old Martin thinks that the present-day Hammers are capable of an upset of similar proportions.

"You could say they have a better chance of winning the Cup than we did in 1980, purely because they are in the same division as Liverpool. When we played Arsenal, they were fourth in the old First Division and we were outside the top flight.

"Any club in a final have proved they can muster performances of a high level and shown they can overcome whoever is in their path. This team have been on a good run, so their confidence is high. Some teams go to the Cup final with a determination not to lose, but that's not the philosophy of West Ham. They play the game people admire, and have done since the 1960s. Liverpool have every right to be confident, but West Ham know if they produce their best football they could carry the day."

Martin will be at the Millennium Stadium, doing what he does so well these days, commenting on the final for talkSport. He will have vivid memories of his own involvement in that great occasion to pass on to his listeners. "I went to the 1971 final, Liverpool versus Arsenal, as a 12-year-old Liverpool supporter with my dad Albert and my Uncle Alan. Charlie George got the winning goal for Arsenal and as a fanatical Liverpool fan I was pretty upset.

"Nine years later I am actually standing in the tunnel at Wembley waiting to walk on to the pitch. The pace at which your life goes is unbelievable. Between the ages of 12 and 20 I was on the field instead of watching. It was strange, but after weeks of massive build-up the game had become secondary.

"It was an eerie experience walking out up the tunnel and across the sandy area behind the goal on legs that were wobbly. I still can't remember which dignitary it was who shook hands with us, I think it was the Duke of York. But once we started, it was just a game and everything else faded into the distance.

"The biggest moment was obviously Trevor Brooking's goal. The only thing wrong with it was that it was scored in the 13th minute. I would have loved us to score in the 89th minute because we were under pressure for a long time that afternoon. When the goal went in I remember saying to the referee, George Courtney, 'How much longer to go, ref?' And when he did finally blow his whistle we were sucked up into the vacuum and 24 hours of celebration."

Martin, who started his football life as a junior on Everton's books, was brought to West Ham as a 16-year-old by Ron Greenwood. "I can't speak highly enough of great West Ham managers like him and John Lyall," said Martin. "You can imagine the influence they had. Greenwood encouraged us to believe that the game was more important than anything else. We knew winning was important, of course, and that clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool were capable of not only playing good football but also winning. But we always tried to put the playing of the game first.

"That's why there will be a lot of people supporting West Ham on Saturday. Liverpool have a fantastic history of success, but people will always look upon West Ham with a fondness. It is something I have noticed since I stopped playing, the West Ham style is what they like to see in the game.

"Bobby Moore was the pinnacle of everything, the one man all the other players looked up to. He personified everything that was good about the club. He had grace, mobility, humility and a fantastic technical ability as well as sportsmanship, and all these attributes were drilled into us from an early age."

Like Moore, Martin went on to try his hand as a manager with Southend United but lasted only two years. "I found out I definitely didn't need it and it definitely didn't need me," he said. "I am happy with the life I've got."

Yes, but how did he come by his nickname? "It was given to me by my room-mate, Keith Robson. He was always stepping over me as I was lying on the floor watching TV. Then the name stuck because of my long legs which could nick the ball away. Even now people still call me Stretch."

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