David Martin has done his first newspaper interview since his costly mistake in Millwall’s FA Cup quarter-final exit – and admits the support from club staff and fans helped him cope with the setback.
The 33-year-old made his first appearance for the Lions in 15 months when he kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win at Birmingham City in mid-March.
But Martin was left crushed by his error in his next action just four days later as he inexplicably turned Solly March’s innocuous-looking free-kick into his net against Brighton.
It was virtually the final kick of normal time and saved the Seagulls, who went on to win in a penalty shootout after extra-time ended 2-2.
The former Milton Keynes man was back between the posts after the international break for the high-profile match at Leeds United and saved Patrick Bamford’s penalty.
And Martin is happy to front up over one of the most testing moments in a career that has spanned 16 years and seen him play 385 matches.
“I was absolutely devastated – and that is football in a nutshell. I went from Wednesday [against Birmingham City] – a massive high – to the Brighton game, where I felt I actually had a better game.
“I can’t tell you, to this day, what I did or what I was thinking.
“After that I was lower than low. It was a long 13 days. After the first few days I was thinking ‘you’ve got to step up now and try and prove yourself’.
“I’ve played a lot of games at MK Dons and worked on a career of trying to be as solid as possible, to not let your team down. And on that day, I did, I let everyone down massively.
“It was about me coming into the Leeds game and being as secure as possible. You can’t be too hard on yourself because it’s not going to help, especially being a goalkeeper.
“Normally what I try and do every day is deal with what is put in front of me – you can only save or react to that. That’s what I tried to do going into Leeds.
“As soon as that starting whistle went at Leeds you kind of go into auto-pilot and you’ve got to try and be there for the team. I thank the gaffer for believing in me and keeping me in against Leeds.
“I just hope he does the same against West Brom.”
Martin tweeted an apology not long after the Brighton tie had finished. The reaction was almost universally supportive.
“I felt I had to apologise,” said Martin. “I didn’t expect the reaction. I wasn’t putting it out to say: ‘Feel sorry for me’. I honestly wanted to say that whatever opinions you vent at me then please do – I felt like a didn’t deserve anything else at the time.
“All the lads inside the dressing room and the gaffer – he pulled me to the side afterwards and said some comforting words – were so supportive. It gave me a huge lift.
“I was really down in the dumps. I couldn’t even look at the game or read Twitter. My wife was the one relaying it all and telling me the messages were positive.
“You can’t stand still in football, you have to move on. The support I got, I felt that was Millwall as a club. It’s a proper club. They knew I never wanted to make a mistake like that and I felt like it would probably haunt me until the day I die – that’s how I felt.
“It gave me the strength to go into the Leeds game thinking ‘I need to make this right and support the team as much as I can – because I owe everyone one’.”
Martin has played six senior matches for Millwall – four of those in the FA Cup. His last competitive appearance before Birmingham had been against Rochdale in a fourth round replay in February 2018.
That inactivity could have been some kind of factor in his FA Cup clanger.
Martin said: “I got to about 80 minutes and I was screaming to myself, because I knew I was getting tired.
“You have a physical stamina, but you also have a mental stamina. It takes time to build that up. Probably after the game on Wednesday you are playing catch-up with sleep.
“I felt like I had such a good game before that [mistake].
“It would have been great to save a few penalties but I just couldn’t get near enough to them without selling myself too early.”
Martin came back on to the Lions bench when Ben Amos was ruled out with a dislocated finger.
Then Harris chose to go with him ahead of Jordan Archer for the game at Birmingham.
“No, I didn’t think so. It was almost 16 months since my last league game. It was a tall ask, but I back myself and always believed I could play.
“It [the lack of action] has been very mentally tough, especially with Ben coming in and me being third choice. Then I stayed on the bench after Ben had got back fit. Then I had the shout to play. You have to be ready at the drop of a hat, which I thought I was. I wanted to go into the Birmingham game and get a result, which luckily we did.
“You could go in and have a worldie – but lose 3-0. It wasn’t the best game that I’ve played but the team played really well in front of me – which they have in the last three matches.”
Martin had looked at potential moves last summer.
“There were a few options but nothing that really took my fancy,” he said.
“January was the same, but Ben breaking his finger limited my options a little bit.
I think it was January 5 when that happened. There wasn’t a lot of movement then anyway. I stayed here, trained hard with LT [Lee Turner, goalkeeping coach] and waited for a chance really.”
Martin insists that making plans beyond this season is not on the agenda.
“I’ve gone from not playing to suddenly I’m in,” he said. “It does take over your life.
“Especially when you haven’t been playing, you forget what it is like to deal with it. And it is 24-7, so as soon as the game finished at Leeds then I’m thinking about West Brom on Saturday.
“That’s all I’m thinking about. If the gaffer wants me in the team then I’ll do everything I can to get a clean sheet. First of all it is about getting the team safe.”