Falkirk Friendships For Lewis Martin

This article was published in the Official Dunfermline Athletic Football Club Match-Day Programme on the 2nd of January, 2018, against Falkirk.

Thanks to DAFC for allowing me to publish my article on my website.

A match against Falkirk is always a date to put in the diary for Dunfermline fans and players alike. For the Pars’ Lewis Martin, however, there was no way he was going to forget this afternoon’s trip by the Bairns to Fife…

Martin has always been involved with football, ever since an early age:

“When I was younger, my dad [David Martin] was involved with the sport. He played for lots of teams, such as, Alloa, Dumbarton, St Johnstone, so, I think he was always a big influence. When I was old enough, I went and played for my local Boys Club called Bonnybridge. To be fair, once I had gone there, the only position left to fill was centre-back so that is where I was put; it is just a coincidence I think that I have started my career in the same position as what my dad played.

We were doing really well – we were winning almost everything. Lots of scouts were coming to watch us from Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts, Dundee United…I ended up going to Rangers from Under-10’s to Under 17’s. When I left Rangers, that is when I then came here to Dunfermline.”

Lewis was picked up by Stephen Wright.

“When I was at Rangers, they moved me from centre-back to centre-midfield – that was at Under-15’s level and I played there until the Under-17’s. I wasn’t really enjoying it as I felt I was better in defence. I asked to leave and there were a few teams who had phoned up to enquire about me. I got the call from Stephen Wright to say Dunfermline wanted me to go in and train with them and then they offered me a deal.

I have played a few positions since I joined: I think they tried me out at full-back a few times just to see how I got on and I done well there, so, it helps me as the club know if I need to play on the right or left, I can. When I was with Rangers, they played me at left-centre-back and encouraged me to use my left foot and I worked on it as it was my weaker one of the two. When I first joined the club, there was Stephen Wright, Grant Petrie and Potts [John Potter] which was great. Potts in particular was really helpful – he showed me what to do and gave me little tips. When I was in the Under-20’s for my first year, it was his first year as our coach, but, it was brilliant and he has really helped me improve as a player.”

In that first season, Martin saw the club go into administration.

“From a personal point of view, I viewed it as a chance for me to potentially kick on and get a chance at first-team level quicker than I might have done, but, at the same time it was not a nice thing to see – experienced players, good guys, like Joe [Cardle] losing their jobs. We had big characters back then such as Andy Kirk and Andy Barrowman who were let go also, so, that was hard for us too. Even though we weren’t directly affected by the redundancies, the Under-20’s were struggling too. We weren’t on a big wage so we found it hard to get transport at times to make training. Potts was great in that sense too as he helped us out with the money side of things to make sure we weren’t out of pocket.

It certainly gave the Under-20’s players a platform as we had to step-up and help out the first-team squad.”

Lewis made his senior debut as an 89th minute substitute against Morton at Cappielow.

“I remember we had a really young team back then. I was told before the game I was on the bench, but, I wasn’t expecting to get on. With about a minute to go, Jim Jefferies told me to go on and sit in front of the back four: to be fair, I don’t think I actually touched the ball, but, it was still an amazing experience!

I was really young so I was scared that when I went on I would make a mistake or cost us a goal but thankfully that didn’t happen!”

Despite the negatives of relegation to League One, as well as the well-documented financial difficulties surrounding the club, Martin took personal delight at making his senior debut, as well as reaching the SFA Youth Cup Final against Celtic during his first 12 months in Fife.

“At the beginning of the year, like every side, you are just trying to gel and get to know each other and how they play, but, as soon as we had played a few matches, it was clear to see that we had a really good and strong team. Up until we went into administration we had a really strong first-team, too, so it wasn’t a surprise for me to see so many of them step up as well as help the Under-20’s get to the Final.

I am sure we beat Montrose and then we played Inverness in the Quarter-Final where we almost chucked it away! Then we played St Mirren and we scored in the last minute but they kicked-off and equalised straight away – thankfully we were able to win it in extra-time. We all went out that night, to be fair, to celebrate. Reaching the Final was massive; the whole experience, the training leading up to the game, going to play at Hampden…to be honest though, it is tinged with disappointment as, although we were playing Celtic, I felt we were the better team. We probably should have been 2-0 up but then Celtic done what they do best and came back strongly near the end to win the match.

When I first came in, I wasn’t even playing regularly with the Under-20’s so my main aim was just to build up my playing time with them. But, then, during that season, Jim Jefferies invited me to do some training with the first-team and I ended up doing that quite a lot; after administration happened I started training with the senior squad every day. I was really young at that time, but, it really benefited me. It obviously wasn’t great for the club due to everything that happened but from a personal point of view, it was great.”

In the summer of 2013, Martin targeted getting into the first-team and playing more senior matches.

“I knew that I was close to the first-team, so, I knew I had to go away and work hard during the off-season. I came back to training and I hoped I’d get my chance; thankfully that season I managed that. The Under-20 matches weren’t easy, either. You could still play five over-aged players so it was tough. It was just a case of me going out there and trying to impress Jim Jefferies as I knew if I done that, he would eventually give me a chance.”

After nearly 6 months of inactivity in the first-team, Martin made his senior starting debut away to Ayr United in December of 2013.

“I remember when we got there, the weather was really, really, bad so there was a chance the game would get called off. Thankfully we went out for the warm-up and the game was fine; we got the win and I felt I played really well in that match. It was pouring of rain and really windy so the conditions weren’t easy but I managed to get through it pretty well as John Potter had told me on the Friday night I was starting and I felt that helped me ahead of the game because it allowed me to prepare correct mentally: I was nervous, as I was young, but I certainly enjoyed it.

At that time, players were a lot bigger and stronger than me. In League One, that season, we were basically second favourites behind Rangers; that helped me as our squad was really good and you can’t not learn from good players.”

‘Lewy’ played in a further 17 matches that term.

“I was still young, as I said, so, to start every week really helped me come on as a player. I played at centre-back for all of those matches too, I think, which was good as I feel that is my strongest position. I remember my first senior goal came that season too! It was funny as Ali [Alex Whittle] went across to take the corner and he never took them; he swung the ball in and it was hanging in the air for a long time and I just remember it coming closer and closer to me. I managed to get my head on to the ball and I saw it hit the crossbar and bounce down: I wasn’t sure if it was going to go in but thankfully it did as it was a fantastic experience.”

Martin played in all 4 of the play-off matches that season.

“I thrived playing in those games as we all knew Dunfermline shouldn’t have been playing in League One. We didn’t have a great result in the first-leg against Stranraer before we played really, really, well in the return match at East End Park. I felt we done really well against Cowdenbeath too in the first match but they scored late on, but, then, we just didn’t turn up when it mattered. We didn’t play the way we can and at the end of the day, Cowdenbeath deserved to stay up. It was, definitely, the toughest moment of my career so far. There was a massive expectation on us that we would beat the, so when we didn’t, the players were disappointed just as much as the supporters. It was a really hard one to take but we just had to get on with it and try put it right the following year.”

That season, 2014/15, started brightly with Lewis once again getting his name on the scoresheet.

“We were practising things in training in the lead up to that match [vs Annan in the League Cup] and Neil McCann had come up with a few set-piece routines. One of them was the “ring-a-ring-a-rosy” move and when we tried it in the match, I got a goal from it. I know it maybe looked a little strange and unusual to others but from a players’ perspective, what we had been working on had come off, which is pleasing. I think we started the season good but by the time Jim Jefferies left – even though we weren’t doing as well – we were still up in the top four, if I am right. When he left, everyone was a bit shocked. It was an easy transition for myself though as both Neil McCann and Potts had put as much faith in me as Jim Jefferies had so it was just a case of me continuing to play my natural game and thankfully I managed to play the majority of those matches that season. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end result that we all hoped for as a team and it is difficult to put my finger on why things went so wrong, to be honest.

I started most weeks which was a big thing for me still being so young. We finished 7th that campaign so it was a bit of a bitter-sweet end to the season for me; it was great to be involved so much and playing so many games, but, ultimately, we hadn’t met our targets from the beginning of the season and that was the most disappointing part of it all.”

From a personal perspective, Martin probably had his best term in football that season with recognition at Scotland Under-19 level coming the way of the defender.

“They came to watch myself and Ryan [Wiliamson] against St Johnstone at East End Park. We had done really well and we both got called-up into a couple of squads. We didn’t play in any matches as they were just training camps. We were meant to be playing Serbia, I seem to recall, but it got cancelled; the next squad which was announced I was in it but Ryan wasn’t, sadly. I wasn’t expecting international recognition, to be honest, but I took it all in my stride. It is an honour to play with your country: I really enjoyed it, I trained hard and tried to force my way into the team. A lot of the boys are from Celtic and Rangers as well as clubs down south. The standard is really good as they are top quality players so it was brilliant to work with them every day. When we went away to countries like Lithuania and Austria, it was new for me, in terms of staying in a different country for 10 or so days, but I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from that experience.”

Martin continued to kick on the following season, playing 24 times as the Pars won League One.

“With the new manager coming in, it was just a case of getting my head down and trying to impress him, just like it was for everyone else. We got off to a really good start that year: The first few games we hadn’t really noticed but after we won 6-1 against Brechin, we kind of realised the pattern that was happening. It was strange the following week as we were 7-0 up against Cowdenbeath and their boy hit a shot from way out – it must have been at least 40 yards – and it went in the top corner. Then to hear your own fans cheering, it was a bit surreal. I am guessing they must have had a pound or two on at the bookies! As a defender though, it was really, really frustrating as we were playing really, really, well but we kept on conceding a goal each game.”

The 21-year-old feels that having defeated Dundee in the League Cup and came mightily close to knocking Ross County out of the Scottish Cup, it gave the Dunfermline players the confidence required to make sure they succeeded in their title assault that campaign.

“The game against Dundee, I thought we were brilliant. The goals at the end from Joe [Cardle] and Faiss [Faissal El Bakhtaoui] made it a really special night for everyone involved. The matches against Ross County I wasn’t involved with, I think I must have been injured, but, the boys did really well again. At that time, both sides were top 6 of the Premiership I think so it showed we had a good team and one which was more than good enough on our day to defeat anyone.

I think everything just came together that season. The players we had retained were all good players and the guys the manager brought in complimented what we had. Straight from the off, we gelled as a group of footballers; we knew the quality we had and it helped us really kick on that season. I was delighted with how I got on that term. I was starting every week until I was involved in a car crash and then I picked up an illness around December time which kept me out for a few games too. That was hard to take, but, when I got back involved I just had to try take my chance when it came along; thankfully I done that but it was frustrating as I picked up a wee injury right near the end of the season again. It was brilliant getting a winner’s medal though and being a part of something as amazing as that season.”

Last season was a learning curve for everyone in the squad as the club made its return to the Scottish Championship.

“We got off to a good start with the win over Dumbarton, but, we got beat against Hibs the following week despite playing really well. We were making mistakes and I think it came down to us as a team not being street-wise enough to play in that league. By the time we got to Christmas we had picked up a wee bit and kicked on from there, showing that we really were a good team in this league.

Against Dundee United, I got my first senior red-card. I tried to pull the boy back as in my mind it would have been a yellow card and I was willing to take one for the team. I tried to stop him but, in hindsight, it was probably a silly mistake from me and it is just something I had to try learn from. Unfortunately, I got sent off against Ayr for a second yellow card and then I got dismissed versus Falkirk too after I had just come on. I felt it was probably the right decision but there was no intent in the challenge as I had slipped on the surface. I did catch the boy so I probably can’t complain. Once again, it was all a big learning curve for myself and it is something I have tried to work on and improve on. That is all you can do, work on your weaknesses to try stop them happening again in the future.”

The sending off against Falkirk was the final match of Martin’s season, but, the positional versatility he has seen him get another chance to impress at the beginning of this season, albeit at left-back.

“We played really well in the opening games of the season in the BetFred Cup and then we played Hearts at Tynecastle to make sure we got through. We conceded early but we played brilliantly that day to get it back into our favour. Obviously they scored late on to make it 2-2, which made the end to the match a bit intense but we defended really well and got the draw we needed to get through.

The Rangers game was a sore one to take. They were miles better than us on the evening and they punished us. We made a lot of mistakes, myself included. It was a game we learnt a lot from – we watched the video back and tried to improve as a team, to cut out the errors we were making defensively. The following match, the gaffer made a few changes – and rightly so – and unfortunately for myself, I was one of them who dropped out, so I have just had to be patient and wait for my chance.”

In recent weeks, Martin has been deployed more as a central-midfielder rather than a defender.

“I remember sitting on the bench at Hampden watching us against Queens Park and then Sandy [Clark – Assistant Manager] shouted me across and he told me I was going on in to the middle of the park. It was a new experience as I hadn’t played that position since my youth days with Rangers but I was just glad to get back out on to the park and help the team get the victory.

I came in late on for Dean [Shiels] against Dundee United after he was caught up in the car crash but that didn’t impact me or my game. I prepared right the night before, as I do before every game, as you just never know what might happen before 3pm on a Saturday. I thought I came in and done really well. Nat [Wedderburn] was told to sit in front of the back four so myself and Pates [Michael Paton] got a bit more licence to roam and get forward. I felt I done that and I was unlucky not to score, as well, I think.”

Looking at today’s match, Martin knows the Bairns extremely well.

“Obviously as I come from the area, I see a lot of their players around the town and stuff like that, but, at the end of the day it is my job to go out and perform for Dunfermline and if I am picked today, that is what I will do. I have always done that. I have a lot of friends who support Falkirk and who are season ticket holders with them so I have always had it a bit tight from them, especially if they have beaten us, but that is part and parcel of football. You get that banter and that flak no matter who you are or where you go. I just keep my head down before a match and let my pals say what they want to say; I try to do my talking on the park and hopefully tonight I will be the one who is able to get the bragging rights.

The players know how important these games are and how much it means to the fans. We want to win the match as much as the supporters want us to. I just want to thank everyone for their support so far this season; hopefully we can put on a good performance today and get a good result for everyone connected to the club!”

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