Sir Alex Ferguson won 38 major trophies as Manchester United manager – but all of that success might not have happened had it not been for Lee Martin.
Ferguson is a legendary figure at Old Trafford, fondly remembered as United’s best ever manager thanks to a trophy-laden 27-year spell in charge. The Scot was a figure of unquestioned authority during the vast majority of his spell at the club, but he wasn’t always so secure in his job.
Just three years into his stint, Ferguson was under huge pressure. The 1989/90 season had not been a good one for United: they finished 13th in the First Division and, at one stage, went 11 games without a league win.
There had been unrest throughout the campaign, with fans protesting against the Scotsman. In December, a home defeat against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford saw supporters call for Bryan Robson to step up as player-manager.
Ferguson had the backing of the board and managed to survive. And a few months later he had won his first piece of silverware, thanks to his left-back.
Martin played for United between 1988 and 1994 but, had he not scored a famous goal in the 1990 FA Cup final, he might not be remembered by many fans. Former United midfielder Paul Ince revealed just how unheralded he is.
Daily Mirror / Jon Fuller Rowell)
“Lee Martin won us the FA Cup in 1990 and no one knows who he is,” Ince said in 2016. “He lives round the corner from me and we go to the pub and people come up to me and ask for an autograph and ask for a photo and no one knows who Lee Martin is, it’s so sad.”
Ferguson definitely knows who he is. After a difficult season, it was Martin who provided the relief – and a trophy – at Wembley, with a 1-0 win over Palace on May 17, 1990.
The first meeting between the two sides had been a drama-filled classic. It ended 3-3 after Mark Hughes scored late to earn a replay five days later at Wembley.
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The second meeting was much less memorable as a match, but much more enjoyable for United, who won 1-0 thanks to Martin’s only goal for the club. The left-back charged forward from defence in response to what he thought was a shout from assistant boss Archie Knox, took Neil Webb’s pass on his chest and rifled past Nigel Martyn.
His moment of glory was sweet, but faded quickly. Ferguson brought in Denis Irwin at left-back that summer, while Clayton Blackmore and Paul Parker was also signed in the following seasons. Martin struggled with injuries and was eventually sold to Celtic.
“After the final we went on a tour to Ireland and I twisted my back in a game at Waterford. I’d been having problems with it and was out for a few months,” he told The Sun in May 2020.
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“The gaffer said I’d be straight back in, but he’d signed Denis [Irwin] after the FA Cup victory and he was brilliant. So yes, maybe I didn’t play as many as I could have. But if you’d told me at 16 I would play 110 games and score the winner in the FA Cup final I’d have snapped your hand off.”
Martin played for Celtic and Bristol Rovers before slipping into non-league football. He retired and moved on with his life. The Daily Mail reported that he started working in Cheshire, helping young people find jobs and apprenticeships.
He still has a link with football, having coached youth players at Chester City, while he has also worked for United, accompanying hospitality guests at Old Trafford on a match day, and as a pundit on MUTV.
Martin has played Masters Football, for retired players, and is an ambassador for mental health charity JourneyMEN Wirral.