Everyday Obituary: Sam Martinez

 

Neil DRysdale - Sam Martinez

Sam Martinez

 

The chances are that if you live outside Scotland, you will never have heard of Sam Martinez.

 

He never scored any international goals, or hit a Test century, sank a putt at the Open or sprinted to Olympic glory, and yet … when the news came through that this wonderful old man had died on August 24, it immediately provoked widespread tristesse.

 

There was no denying the fact he lived a full life, one replete with family, friends and his beloved football, because Sam was 106 by the time he breathed his last. So why the sadness and litany of tearful messages?

 

Well, perhaps that reaction sprang from the knowledge Sam wasn’t just an individual with a passionate devotion for Hibernian, but he was the sort of redoubtable, irrepressible character who was prepared to follow his heroes through thick and, mostly, thin.

 

Time after time, decade after decade, this fellow journeyed to Hampden Park to watch the Leith club try to win the Scottish Cup. And, until a few months before his demise, it seemed a quest which was destined to end in failure.

 

By the stage that he travelled to Glasgow with his carer at the end of May, as Hibs prepared to tackle Rangers, he had been through this agony ten times previously, since his initial flirtation developed into a full-blown love affair in the 1940s.

 

Sam was a tree feller by trade. Born in Belize, or British Honduras as it was when he entered the world. He never asked for any favours in his life, but never shirked a day’s work, rolled with the punches, adopted the attitude that triumph and disaster are twin impostors, and savoured his generations of sunshine on Leith.

 

On so many occasions, his journey brought disappointment. But isn’t that the lot of the normal supporter, the people who don’t pursue the big teams, be it Manchester United or Barcelona, Chelsea or Bayern Munich, but march to their own tune and cherish whatever small pleasures come along.

 

The greatest thing, in Sam’s case, was that he lived long enough to see his side exorcise their Scottish Cup demons by lifting the trophy for the first time in 114 years in May by beating Rangers 3-2.

 

It was a tussle which has become mired in controversy and embroiled in scandal, following the pitch invasion and riotous scenes at the climax, which have earned a splurge of negative headlines across the world.

 

Yet Sam had nothing to do with that. On the contrary, this wonderful chap was beside himself with sheer unalloyed joy as he watched his team rise to the challenge for the first time since the days before the First World War.

 

He lived through both global conflicts, watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, witnessed the Berlin Wall being dismantled and countless other momentous acts. But not until the very end of his days was there the climax he was truly seeking.

 

But that simply made it all the sweeter. After all, Sam was there at Easter Road when the Famous Five were in their pomp and the likes of Lawrie Reilly and Gordon Smith were bewitching, bothering and bewildering opponents at home and abroad.

 

As he recalled: “I was one of a group of 800 volunteers who took on forestry work in the Highlands [in the 1940s]. During my very first month in Edinburgh, I was walking down York Place and a crowd of people were coming down the road in the other direction.

 

“I asked what was happening and they told me there was a football match at Easter Road. So I joined the queue and suddenly, I was handed a free ticket.

 

“At first, I thought the lad was taking the mickey, because I was the only black man in the queue, but I took it gratefully and I enjoyed the game.

 

“From that point, I just kept going. The atmosphere was terrific, there was always a lot of singing and people chatting and it was a fantastic experience to go along on Saturdays and cheer on the boys. It didn’t matter that they didn’t always win; we enjoyed it, all the same.”

 

Sam wasn’t the most optimistic member of the crowd, prior to his last final. As somebody who has spent nearly 70 years watching The Proclaimers’ favourites, he had grown inured to travails and trapdoors as Hibs suffered relegation from the Premier League.

 

He wondered whether the new generation possessed the necessary grit and gallus qualities to transcend adversity and transform it to advantage. But he never lost the faith and, however belatedly, his unswerving allegiance was vindicated.

 

There were other joys in abundance. He had six children and his extended family marvelled at the sharpness of his mind after he reached three figures. On his 106th birthday, he was treated to a special meal at the Merchants Hall in Hanover Street, where was presented with a cake, given lunch, and spent time with some of the members of the society, reminiscing about the many events on his CV.

 

As Pat Denzier, master of the company, said: “He has had a remarkable life and has seen so many changes in the world.” But he never changed from the genial, effervescent free spirit who arrived in a strange country in his 30s.

 

No wonder that Hibs manager, Neil Lennon, spoke warmly about Sam when he learned of his passing. And the players wore black armbands at last weekend’s contest where the attendant throng showed their appreciation.

 

As I said at the outset, he wasn’t a sports star in the sense we often understand it. But Sam Martinez was very much worth celebrating.

 

RIP, blithe spirit!

 

Comments

  1. Dennis Gedling says:

    An all of a sudden there’s hope for Doggies fans!

    Great summing up of an amazing life with an amazing bit of timing at the very end.

  2. Neil Drysdale says:

    Sam’s funeral is on Monday, and it’s expected that Leith people will turn out en masse to say goodbye!

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