Monday 20 May 2019

The man who is older than the club - ninety years of following Rovers

At 93-years-old, Joe Martyn has been around longer than Sligo Rovers. He discusses life, memories, and rovers with Jessica Farry

As Joe Martyn steps on to the pitch of The Showgrounds to get his photograph taken for this newspaper, he reflects on his numerous encounters with the legendary Sean Fallon.

Having grown up in Sligo in the 1920s and 30s, the pair became acquainted with one another, although they were a couple of years apart in age.

Joe even played against the legendary Fallon once when he played for Sligo Union.

"I was playing outside left, as it was called back then and I was playing against him. I saw him a few years later and he came over to me and he said 'I recognised you by your walk!"

Joe was only a child when Sligo Rovers was born. He was interested in football from a very young age, and went along with his brothers to watch football.

He recalls the days of playing football at St. Anne's, with the famous Nancy Callaghan standing on the stand-lines watching every ball being kicked.

Growing up on Knappagh Road, he was always only a stone's throw from The Showgrounds, and while it's changed a huge amount since the early days, it's still like a second home to Joe.

"I remember in the early days there was just a small shed at the side of the pitch. That was it.

"It's a great facility now. I don't miss a game. If I miss a game people would be wondering where I am.

"The Devins' always save my seat for me every week. I wouldn't miss a game."

Times have changed since Joe was a child, and no-one thinks twice about checking the score of a football result now.

It's just one click away. But back then, phones were a rarity, and televisions even more so.

So obtaining the result of a game immediately afterwards was near impossible.

"I remember one time Rovers were playing away, I think it was a cup replay. And I remember a whole crowd of people gathered at the train station.

"We waited and waited, and the man would roll down the window and tell us the result, because there was a phone there.

"And this used to happen a lot. You'd want to see the group of people that gathered around. Things were different back then and we had no way of finding out.

"I remember another time my brothers were going away to a game and I wanted to go, but they wouldn't take me. I cried. I think it used to cost about a crown back then, and my father gave me the money to go," he said.

The football landscape has changed significantly. We are a long way from the days of League of Ireland grounds being packed to well over capacity.

Joe, like most Rovers fans, has supported them through thick and thin. He's been there to watch some of the club's best ever players.

He remembers seeing Brendan Bradley, Tony Fagan, David Pugh, Padraig Moran and the likes donning the red and white of Sligo Rovers.

It's about more than the football to Joe. It's a community. He has made many friends throughout the years at The Showgrounds, his family have been sucked into it.

"Richie Young, a long time supporter and friend of mine, he never misses a game in The Showgrounds.

"Some people have passed away and I say to Canon Tom Hever that I'm in the departure lounge and he tells me 'you might be in the departure lounge but your flight's been delayed!"

If Joe can't make a game, he makes sure to read up about it in the paper afterwards, carefully analysing the manager's post match comments.

Even he is baffled by Rovers' poor home form this season.

But, he praised the loyal supporters of Sligo Rovers, who will always help the club in their hour of need.

"Sligo Rovers has always had great support down the years. In good times and bad the supporters have always been there to help them out. They're very lucky.

"I'd like to pay tribute to the loyal supporters who go to every away game and even home games.

"Some of the fans travel to Waterford, Cork, Limerick and all the long journeys, they deserve to get credit for that," he added.

Joe himself is no stranger to attending away games.

When the Bit O'Red travelled to Belgium in 1994 to take on FC Brugge in the Cup Winners Cup, Joe was there, along with his family (pictured above with his son Damien).

"We had family over there at the time and when we were there we said we'd go along to mass. So who did we bump into at mass over there, only Tommie Gorman and the family," he said.

Joe spent many years working on the road, travelling up down from the north working for companies such as Lipton.

He's always been well connected, and from his stories, was quite a popular character among those he met on the road.

He would visit many public houses and the likes throughout the week delivering goods.

"I got to know lots of people who ran the pubs. Sometimes I would go along, and I'd be waiting to get paid for the stuff I had delivered and the lady would give me a bag of money and tell me to take what I was owed.

"People were very trusting back then," he added.

There were even incidents over the years where Joe was crossing the border to Northern Ireland, when the vehicle would be stopped and searched.

In one incident, Joe and a colleague were pulled over, they had a large amount of cash on them as they had collected costs off customers.

The pair had begin to panic a bit, but the individuals who pulled them over hopped into the vehicle and drove off instead.

"Those were different times back then," he reflects. "But it's all changed now."

Joe has seen it all at Sligo Rovers. From the very dark days, to the best of days. He's seen Rovers win everything.

He's not planning on quitting anytime soon, though, and his parting words were: "we've had some brilliant days, hopefully we'll see those days soon again."

Sligo Champion