David Martindale's incredible journey reaches turning point at Hampden

Ewan Murray
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

If Livingston see off St Johnstone to claim the Scottish League Cup, David Martindale will have no chance of seeing his wish for diversion being granted. A peaceful, football-centric life for Martindale would have to wait for those already captivated by his incredible journey of rehabilitation.

The winners at Hampden Park will make history as the Scottish side to lift the trophy that breaks Celtic’s run of 12 domestic triumphs in succession. Try telling St Johnstone and Livingston that the absence of the Old Firm renders Sunday’s showpiece final at Hampden Park irrelevant. Within that, Martindale supplies the key intrigue.

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Almost three months have passed since Martindale used these pages to speak for the first time about his exit route and remorse after a six-and-a-half-year jail term handed town for involvement in organised crime. Following the passing of a fit and proper person test, Martindale had just been named Livingston’s manager.

The reaction to Martindale’s story – documentary offers, potential book deals – was not only epic but almost entirely supportive. Amid it all, Livingston were embarking on a 14-game unbeaten run.

“I actually thought there would be a mixed response from the public,” he says. “I thought I’d have to face a lot of negativity, maybe with some positive noises. I didn’t expect it to be as positive as it has been, where the negativity has really been so small.

“I think it probably came off the back of a winning spell, which amplifies everything. If I had lost my first four games, people on social media would have been saying: ‘He is hopeless anyway, get him sacked.’ A superb run of form and a cup final probably helped with the back story.”

Scott Robinson celebrates scoring the only goal of the game against St Mirren in Livingston&#x002019;s League Cup semi-final
Scott Robinson (right) celebrates scoring the only goal of the game against St Mirren in Livingston’s League Cup semi-final. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

So, too, did Martindale’s candidness. There will come a stage – there has to, out of respect for his work – when the narrative switches. He would rather that arrives shortly. “I don’t mind speaking about the past, but there is going to have to be a point in the near future where I stop doing it,” he explains. “I want to focus on my career, my family, Livingston Football Club. It would be nice if people wanted to speak to me about my football story rather than a previous life. I have noticed a slight change [in what people want to discuss] but it would be nice to put it to bed in the near future.

I didn’t expect it to be as positive as it has been, where the negativity has really been so small

“Maybe a cup win would give the story a bit of closure. My football journey here, as an assistant manager, really started in League One. From there to a national stadium with a chance to win a major trophy; when you strip everything back and look at it like that, it would be a fantastic achievement for everybody at the club.”

Martindale has gladly accepted an invitation to speak to prisoners about a successful life beyond law breaking. That visit has been delayed by Covid-related matters but, when it arrives, he will embrace it. It is little wonder wider society wants to latch on to Martindale’s case as an example to all.

“I’ll be fine going back there,” says the 46-year-old. “When I came out of prison, of course, I told myself I’d never be back, but I have since been to visit a friend’s son a couple of times, just to give some moral support. It’s hard to explain, prison isn’t easy, but I kind of have ‘good’ memories of it. I made the most of it, I tried to use it as a positive, I did a lot of good things in prison including working on a university degree there and that all helped me. I re-evaluated and reset my life there. If I can help anybody, that’s a good thing.”

For now it seems impossible to detach the claiming of what would be a second major trophy in Livingston’s 26-year history from the man who would orchestrate it. The last time Livingston won the League Cup, in March 2004, was one month short of Martindale’s arrest. Number two would only intensify focus on the manager.

“It would mean far more to me on behalf of everyone else than what it would mean to myself,” Martindale says. “I would take a lot of gratification on the basis of fans at home being delighted, the boys in the changing room, staff, directors, the chairman. I find it hard to think about me, honestly. I’ve never been like that. I want to win the cup for everybody else.”