Nigel Martyn on life as a No. 2 goalkeeper at the World Cup
David Seaman's long-time understudy exclusively reveals what it's like to go to football's greatest tournament and not play.
Nigel Martyn was England’s goalkeeper when David Beckham scored his iconic injury-time free-kick against Greece in October 2001, a goal which secured the nation’s place at the following summer’s World Cup.
Long-term first-choice David Seaman had missed the game through injury, but Martyn was no downgrade.
He was a standout performer for the Leeds side that reached the 2001/02 Champions League semi-finals, while his form heading into the 2002 World Cup was arguably superior to Seaman’s.
Martyn, however, always felt that Seaman’s past achievements would be decisive once the tournament came around – a suspicion that was confirmed with one FA press release in May 2002.
"I think I pretty much knew before we went because David played in most of the qualifiers," says Martyn. "But then the squad numbers come out. He's No. 1 and I'm No. 13 and that confirms it for you."
For Martyn, it meant going to a second successive World Cup as back-up, having performed the same duty in France four years earlier.
"Dave was a very good goalkeeper," says Martyn. "I'd put him in with the likes of Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton. They were the real three greats that we've had, and the rest of us haven't managed to get to the heights that they've achieved.
"Since Dave, we've had many good goalkeepers, but none in his class. I definitely think if I'd come along a little bit later then there would have been more opportunity. That's life."
Being picked for a World Cup – which England are available at to win in the football betting this summer – is one of the significant moments of a footballer’s career. Did the fact Martyn knew he wasn’t going to play detract from his experience?
"No, it is a proud moment getting selected, and you're keen to impress in training and be ready," he says.
"That's the thing you have to be. Nobody wishes injury or a sending off or illness or anything on anybody else, but these things can happen."
With that in mind, Martyn says he worked harder than ever in case he was called upon.
"While we were out there we trained really hard," he says. "The two other goalkeepers - myself and Tim Flowers in ‘98, and myself and David James in ’02 - probably trained harder than just about anybody else.
"We were doing extra sessions, training on the day after the game when the lads that had played had a day off. We would train really hard again so we were prepared and ready if needed."
Against Brazil in the quarter-final, after eight games spanning four years as a substitute, Martyn almost got his chance.
With England leading 1-0, Seaman – who had not conceded in three games – landed awkwardly on his shoulder towards the end of the first half and signalled to the bench that he was struggling.
Martyn hurried out to warm-up, with the prospect of being thrown into the Three Lions' biggest World Cup match for 12 years very real.
England's No. 13 "kept one eye on the tunnel" throughout the break, only for Seaman – who conceded from Rivaldo on the stroke of half time – to reappear for the second 45.
Within five minutes, he was beaten by Ronaldinho's cross-cum-shot that put England out of the tournament and left the man who had conceded it distraught.
"He was visibly upset after the game," says Martyn, who, as a member of the goalkeepers’ union, felt a responsibility to help his colleague.
"It was a case of putting an arm round him and telling him what a great 'keeper he was. All the things that you would expect to be said were said by many people, because he had the respect of the whole squad.
"He'd probably look back now and think that was nice, but he was inconsolable at that moment."
In moments such as those, it’s easy for managers, pundits and supporters to see footballers only as commodities, rather than people who are dealing with the stuff like everybody else.
Martyn had his own issues to overcome in the summer of 1998, when his wife Amanda was due to give birth – a situation that threatened his involvement in the tournament.
He remembers approaching his manager apprehensively with the news.
"I actually told Glenn Hoddle - against advice from many people - that Amanda would be giving birth, and that I needed to be there as well," says Martyn.
"Because she was having a caesarean, we could arrange for when the date would be.
"Pretty much as soon as I sat down, he said: ‘Right, I'd like you in the squad. What do you think about the baby? Here are some dates that might work for us.'
It worked perfectly, with Amanda giving birth between the second and third group game.
"After training in the morning I just jumped on a little plane and flew back into Stansted airport,” says Martyn. “Faye was born the following morning at nine, and by about one I was gone again.”
"I missed one training session and that was it. Everybody was happy."
No-one more so than Martyn – even without the No. 1 jersey on his back.