The Fleet’s latest signing Joe Martin has certainly had the game running through his veins from a young age. Hailing from a footballing family, his brother David is a goalkeeper presently at West Ham who enjoyed a long career with MK Dons while he can’t escape the instant connection with the family name that is dad Alvin – a former England international and Hammers legend.
“I never knew anything different other than football,” Martin told the Fleet website. “I knew before I left school. I was at Tottenham, with a professional contract there from the age of 16. So there was never really anything else I wanted to do.”
His formative years saw him line up alongside some big names with England’s national youth side from U16-U18 level and one of his ex-international teammates was former Fleet winger Myles Weston.
“We had a really good squad,” Martin recalled. “Pretty much everyone in that squad ended up having a half-decent career: Theo Walcott, players like Lee Cattermole, Micah Richards, Michael Mancienne, all players who have gone on to play top level. It’s been interesting to see how some of them have really kicked on, what they’ve gone and done.”
Now Martin, who has spent his entire career in the EFL, will be playing in an Ebbsfleet shirt next season and it’s a challenge he is relishing. Naturally, for a player of his calibre and with his experience, there were always other offers on the table but the Fleet was his destination of choice when it came down to making a decision.
“I was speaking to a couple of clubs but Ebbsfleet appealed to me because I feel like it’s a club that’s going to be on the up,” Martin explained. “I think they were really unlucky to be in the division they’re in and to me, looking from the outside, I feel like it’s only going to go up. So if I can help this year and get straight back up, that’s obviously the aim. And you never know what’s going to happen after that. It was appealing to me to come to a club that I know is only on the rise, to get back up to where it should be and even further really.
“I spoke to the manager and from speaking to the other players as well, it’s clear he wants to play the right way, which again, at my point in my career I want to enjoy my football. That was another box ticked for me in that he wants to play football.
“From speaking to Damian as well, [the club] has got real professionalism about them, with the setup and I’ve been to the training ground. All the people there, with the fitness staff and everything like that, show it’s a real professional setup. I’m really looking forward to getting back in.”
As one of two Martins now at the club, will there be a battle for exclusive use of the ‘Marts’ nickname? Indeed Joe and Lee have shared a number of clubs in common, including Millwall, Gillingham and Northampton Town, though bar a couple of months together in SE London, they’ve managed to miss each other entirely!
“Lee was there for about four or five months with me. We only played about four or five times together at Millwall. But unfortunately we’ve both got big noses so we could get mixed up every now and again! Lee’s obviously a good player, he’s had a great career. I spoke to him after the play-off v Exeter [Joe was in the opposing Northampton Town squad] and it’ll be good to link up with him again having not seen him for a few years.”
Martin has also cast his eye over his future teammates and believes there’s an exciting blend of experience and youth in Dennis Kutrieb’s plans.
“I know of a few other players here,” he said. “Chris Solly I played against a fair few times. But I recognised a lot of the names in the squad, a lot have had League experience. So it’s a real good squad for this level, and we’ll look to get off to a decent start, gain momentum and the quality will shine through in this league.
“You can’t rely on just the older lads all the time. The older lads are there to help the younger ones. People like Lee Martin and Chris Solly, they’ll have a good standard, they’ll always be there in training, and that in turn, even without doing anything, will just help the younger players to show what needs to be done. You’ve got to have that mix and the younger lads hopefully to do all the running!”
It will be a new level for Martin, who played alongside former Fleet favourites such as Matt Godden and Jack King at Stevenage – and he’s not expecting it to be an easy one, saying players who drop down to National League or South level should be under no illusions about the challenge ahead.
“There’s not a big difference between playing National South into the National and into League Two in terms of the players. There’s a lot of really good players at this level. I think anyone who comes down who has not played at this level before, if they think it’s going to be easy they’ll get a shock. I’m fully expecting it to be a tough, tough league to play in and there’ll be some good players, a good challenge.”
Martin certainly brings a hunger and an appetite for success, having won the League Two title in Kent with Gillingham, helped Millwall into the Championship and repeated the promotion feat with Northampton Town. And it’s Kent where he maintains his best memories reside.
“That title with Gillingham is probably the most enjoyable year I’ve had in football,” he said. “Martin Allen was manager, Mad Dog as they called him and he was a bit! But it was a really enjoyable year, we were winning nearly every week and if I look back now it was my most enjoyable promotion, especially going up as champions like we did.”
And what can Fleet fans expect when he pulls on his boots in a little under a month’s time?
“First and foremost I am a defender but if a manager likes to play a 3-5-2, I can cover those positions as well. I like to get forward but you’ve got to be a defender first. The game has moved on a bit now so you have to be a little bit more attacking and I like to join in when I can, so you’ve got a bit of both.”