It’s been a while but Lee Martin is no stranger to scoring goals at the Fleet. As a finalist in a local youth competition – in the days before he pulled on the red of Manchester United – the then-teenaged attacker fired one home at the Swanscombe End as his career loomed large before him.
Now back and facing the prospect of smashing a few efforts into that same goal (or the Plough End, we’re not too fussy which), Martin returns some 20 years older and with a CV history that speaks for itself.
Courted by Premier League giants while a youth player with Wimbledon, he was signed for a healthy compensation package by Manchester United in 2003 to begin nearly two decades of top-level experience.Embed from Getty Images
But for all that, Martin doesn’t come to the Kuflink Stadium thinking his days of learning new things are behind him.
“You get to a certain age and you’ve got certain experiences from your career,” said the player who was taught by Sir Alex Ferguson and bought for £1.5m by Roy Keane. “I’m always there to talk to younger players but I’m still open to learning. That’s the wonderful art of it, you never complete your football education. The game’s always a learning curve, I still learn every day. I’m excited to start a new challenge and to start learning again here.”
The National League South will certainly be new territory for Martin who could have ended up with clubs further up the pyramid but chose to return nearer to home and a club that, for all his travels in football, is nevertheless known to him.
“That was probably the hardest thing for me to consider, to drop down two levels after a successful season with Exeter,” he said. “It’s perhaps one of the hardest decisions of my career but ultimately it’s a new challenge for me but a really welcome one and it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.
“I know a lot of players and a lot of good mates who have played here so I do know a fair bit about the club. I was at Ipswich with Andy Drury, obviously Steve Lovell my manager at Gillingham. People I’ve spoken to have only had good things to say about the club so from my point of view that was important and talking to Steve this summer, it’s been a smooth transition.”Embed from Getty Images
Having previously rented accommodation in Exeter over the past two years, the 33-year-old returns to the south-east and nearer to family who will no doubt be swelling the Fleet’s attendances come October.
“I did have other options abroad and then after lockdown a few more in England,” Martin revealed. “There were a few teams in for me but the location is important too for me and my wife. We’ve just had our third son so we wanted to get that sorted, welcome our new arrival. Then Ebbsfleet was the perfect fit, it’s 20 minutes from our doorstep back in London so that was a massive pull.”Embed from Getty Images
Martin helped fire Exeter City into the League Two play-offs in his final season with the Grecians, playing 30 times and appearing against Colchester United in the semi-finals. He was carried off in the first leg of that game and ultimately had to watch the final from the bench at Wembley but enjoyed the experience, albeit without supporters present.
“It was a fantastic experience. Personally, I felt we missed out on a very good chance because for 90% of the season we were in the top three. But we did really well in the short period of time. It was disappointing not to win promotion but a great experience all the same.”