Martin enjoying every moment

FOOTBALL: West Ham's experienced centre-half talks to Glenn Moore about the pressures of one more relegation battle `As George Graham found, however successful you are there is always a down around the corner'
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Alvin Martin could be forgiven that "here we go again" feeling as he travels to Upton Park for West Ham's relegation six-pointer with Chelsea today. After all, he has been involved in relegation battles for so long he can remember when the relevant clich would have been "four- pointer".

"It is hard to get away from it," he said after treatment this week. "There is a lot of pressure on everybody, at the top or the bottom. The game has gone that way. The players look at the fixtures coming up and work out what they need from them. Every game you play you have a glance at the table.

"Sometimes you are looking to escape from it, but it gets right on top of you. You go home and it can be pretty demoralising and depressing. I have found the best way to escape is to get out and keep busy and to make sure you are prepared properly for the next match.

"I think that is something managers and coaches find very difficult, they live with the pressures 24 hours a day. I think it is very important to get a release if you can - like Jack Charlton and John Lyall do with a bit of fishing."

"The pressure has increased vastly in the last 12 years. The publicity, the investment in transfers and everything. It is not just football, I think life in general is more pressurised than ever before. I think people with jobs in the city would say the same. I think it is a natural progression."

In 18 seasons in West Ham's first team, Martin has been relegated three times and survived the drop on numerous other occasions. He has also won promotion three times and, for one heady season nine years ago, enjoyed a Hammers title challenge which went to the wire.

"The pressure at the top is a different pressure. That at the bottom is definitely worse," he said. "When we were competing with Liverpool and Everton in the season we came third there was pressure - but you knew you could look back at the end of the season and know you gave it your best shot, whether you made it or not.

"At the bottom you look at games and think `if only'. You know you have not done as well as you should have done. When you look at our side we should really be at least mid-table.

"More often than not I look around [the dressing room] and I am happy with the players we have got, I think `I would rather have our team than their team'. There are not many teams we have played recently where I think I would swap a lot of our players for theirs.

"Looking at the quality we have in the squad - and the spirit in the side - I think we compare with any side I have been involved with in this position. We have players like John Moncur who can play with the ball and whose commitment is never in question either."

"I think those teams with a bit more commitment, and who get the rub of the green at vital times, will survive. I think it is the spirit of a side: if the spirit is strong all the way through you have more chance."

Martin was relegated in his first season as a pro, coming in for the last seven matches of West Ham's doomed 1977-78 campaign. He was then 19; now, at 36, he feels much better equipped.

"I think when you are a youngster you come in and you are trying to keep your position in the side. When you are older the be-all and end-all is the result. If you ask most older players if they had a choice between getting the result and not playing well, or playing well and not getting the result, they would take the result.

"A young lad is playing for his future and his priority is to play well as an individual, but I think your priorities change as you get older. I am aware of the consequences, and the stakes we are playing for, more now than ever before."

Living in Romford, deep in West Ham territory, Martin is constantly reminded of how many people are depending on his team to survive. "You have to live with that. People want to know why it is going wrong and you find yourself saying the same things over and over - but if things are going well you get all the slaps on the back. You have to live with both.

"One of the changes I've noticed over the years is that supporters are taken more notice of by the authorities. In the past they were taken for granted. They are given more information, and have more influence now, yet less income comes from gate money because of the way the commercial side has moved on.

"The coverage is so much bigger now it is harder for everyone - players, managers, directors. Every decision, every game, is a vital one. If you get it wrong the public know who made the mistake. I remember when, if you made a mistake, it would be mentioned in a couple of papers. Now it is on television and everybody sees it - as I found out after the Manchester United game [when Martin misjudged a spinning ball for a United goal].

"But that is good for the game, supporters can see the players more, get to know them. It creates characters and puts faces to names."

Martin has become known in another business - office furniture. He has his own company, which was developed from a friend's involvement in office refurbishment.

"It is in its eighth year and I am pleased I did it. All players look for something to invest in and I was never going to get into the pub thing. I made a pact with myself that, whatever I did, it would not keep me out every night. I wanted to spend time with my family. This is a nine-to- five job most of the time."

Given the security of his company, and the depths of his roots in the area - it is 21 years since he came down from Bootle and his wife is from Dagenham - it seems odd that Martin harbours a desire to join the managerial merry-go-round.

"The attraction is the obvious one of being successful and being involved in a game that, although it is highly pressurised, is very fulfilling. You will never quite replace playing and a lot of ex-players miss the adrenalin flow - it is a great game for that. The downside you have to accept. As George Graham found, however successful you are there is always a down around the corner.

"But if you don't do it, and you feel you have the ability to do it, you will always regret it.

"I will make a decision later on this season. I've enjoyed it here. When you have been at a club so long it becomes part of your life."

Martin is playing more games than many would have anticipated this season, although a hamstring injury keeps him out of today's match with Chelsea. It is a further indication that, however much diet and training have improved during his time in the game, the onset of age cannot be delayed indefinitely.

Harry Redknapp, the manager, has intimated that there may be a place for Martin on the coaching staff. He may carry on playing or take up a player-manager's job elsewhere.

"There have been a lot of highlights - winning the FA Cup, reaching the League Cup final, finishing third, playing with some great players and for England in the World Cup. There have also been some low points but you forget about them."

Martin, who won 17 England caps over six years, was first capped by Ron Greenwood. "I was a bit uncomfortable," he recalled. "At West Ham we have always called managers by their first names - John [Lyall], Lou [Macari], Billy [Bonds], Harry - but when I joined the club Ron Greenwood was this headmaster figure and I called him Mr Greenwood. "When I went off to join England I walked into the hotel and said: `Hello Mr Greenwood'. He said: `You'd better stop that. I'm Ron, or the gaffer'."

It was while he was with England that Spurs, Leeds and Everton - with whom he had been an associate schoolboy - came in for him but West Ham were never prepared to let him go (or even tell him). Not that, on reflection, he is unhappy at how things have turned out.

"I have enjoyed the last three or four years as much as any. When I was about 28 or 29 I started taking it for granted; now it is all a bonus. For the last few years, every time I play somewhere like Anfield I look around in case it is the last time.

"Every day I wake up and I appreciate that I am doing a job I enjoy and what it has given me in material things and the life it has given me."

When West Ham came third nine years ago it was their highest ever League position. In the modern age, can they ever challenge successfully?

"We are under no illusions. Without a Jack Walker we cannot compete with the £5m-£6m transfers. We need to get a load of great kids together like Arsenal did a few years ago. If we could manage that I don't see why not."