David Martindale's journey from prison to leading Livingston

Ewan Murray
·6-min read

Arresting baddies on the Friday before a holiday Monday is a well-known police ploy. It is Easter weekend, 2004, and David Martindale must stare at blank walls until court sits on Tuesday. “Four days locked up in a cell is horrific,” he says. “It feels like four months. I knew I had to change my life.”

Martindale’s subsequent journey is among the more incredible Scottish football has witnessed. Partly, that is, because he is full of remorse about the actions that landed him in a police station yards from Celtic Park. Livingston’s board confirmed on Friday they are “comfortable” with Martindale continuing to manage the team on an interim basis. Such a statement is understandable given the top-flight club’s trajectory, with Martindale an increasingly significant figure and on the verge of a Uefa A coaching licence.

Related: Celtic squander lead in Milan defeat to increase pressure on Neil Lennon

Externally, though, there will always be murmurs. In football, sniping and suspicion are constants. “I know people will read this and have their reservations, and that’s totally acceptable,” Martindale says. “All I ask is they judge me on the person I am today, not David Martindale from 2004.”

Martindale’s involvement in organised crime was sufficiently serious to warrant a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence. As his pub and restaurant businesses started to haemorrhage cash Martindale, who had no background in professional football, turned to crime. “Listen, I knew what I was doing,” he admits. “I’m not trying to sugarcoat my involvement. My motivation was financial, purely greed.

“I grew up in housing schemes. You aspire to be the guy driving the BMW or the Range Rover; you don’t want to be the guy constantly in and out of work struggling to meet his rent.”

In August 2004 and when on bail, Martindale enrolled at Heriot-Watt University to do a construction project management degree. Eight years later, he was awarded a 2:1 with honours. Heriot-Watt, proving a commitment to rehabilitation, took Martindale in full-time when he left jail in 2010. If that afforded him a sense of self-worth and credibility, the scars of October 2006, when he entered a guilty plea, lingered. “Standing in the high court, knowing that you were at the mercy of the judge and he held the future in his hands was an experience I will never repeat,” he says.

“I vividly remember my QC saying to me: ‘It’s going ahead today, the Crown are ready.’ We all thought it would be adjourned to a later date. I took my wallet out of my pocket, my watch off my wrist and gave it to my partner. She broke down in tears and I had a huge surge of anger; at myself that I could put people I love through this pain.

“My QC said if it wasn’t for me pleading guilty I would have been looking at 10 years. I deserved everything coming my way and I was determined to get through whatever sentence was imposed on me. From day one I knew I was pleading guilty. I was guilty and the only way to put it ‘right’ – if that’s the correct word – was to take my punishment.”

After his degree, Martindale began working on building projects but football was in the background. He had been a promising junior player and took on coaching duties at Broxburn United after being released from prison. “I never reached anywhere near the potential I had,” says the 46-year-old. “Another football player who threw it away to the streets while growing up. Football has always come relatively easy to me in all honesty, albeit I wasn’t playing or coaching at professional level. I know I wasted the opportunities that came my way when I was younger.”

Circumstances and references from friends allowed Martindale to help Livingston, under John McGlynn’s management, in 2014. “I had no input,” he says. “I picked cones up, collected balls and watched John. I was volunteering there on a Tuesday morning and a Thursday morning, then went back to a construction site.”

McGlynn’s successor, Mark Burchill, knew Martindale and that was the precursor to a little more involvement. By 2015, Martindale celebrated with his young daughter on his shoulders on the McDiarmid Park pitch as Livingston won the Petrofac Cup. “I had a pathway into professional football,” was the key realisation. Yet Martindale was still fixing seats in the press box, or arranging new flooring for the boardroom, during routine 70-hour weeks.

Burchill’s departure meant the appointment of David Hopkin, who asked Martindale to become his assistant. “Hoppy was incredible,” says Martindale. “I will remain indebted to him for the rest of my career.” Recruitment became Martindale’s responsibility; back to back promotions were achieved. “Some of the players had historical baggage. But I’m proud of the fact that, just like with me, Livingston were open-minded.” That is easier, of course, when the team are winning.

David Martindale with the Rangers manager, Steven Gerrard, in August.
David Martindale with the Rangers manager, Steven Gerrard, in August. Photograph: Reuters/Alamy

As recently as 2016-17, Livingston played in the third tier. Martindale’s role has gradually become more influential: from coach, to assistant manager and head of football operations to dugout figurehead since Gary Holt’s resignation last month. Last season’s fifth-placed finish in the Premiership was arguably the most impressive in Scotland given financial context. The signing of Lyndon Dykes from Queen of the South in 2019 was a masterstroke, Queens Park Rangers spending more than £1m to coax the player from West Lothian 18 months later.

Martindale – engaging and intelligent – reels off the people he is grateful to; from directors to the chief executive, John Ward, the chairman, Robert Wilson and scores of players. There hasn’t, intriguingly, been sniffiness from rival playing or coaching staff. “Actually, the opposite,” Martindale says. “Opposition players and managers across the game have all been great. They’ve probably been more supportive than if I never had baggage, without ever speaking to me about it.”

Related: Europa League roundup: Rangers surge through in style but Dundalk lose again

Last weekend’s trouncing of Ayr United in the League Cup marked a strong start to Martindale’s own, if interim for now, managerial path.

In typical circumstances, a manager succeeding at Livingston should have aspirations of moving up the football chain. Finally, Martindale can have such thoughts. “I never used to,” he says. “I was worried I’d be miles out of my depth in the Premiership so I never really thought that way. It isn’t just me, there is a structure and great staff, but then you realise you aren’t a million miles away from it at all. The team gets results against Celtic and you think about recruitment then get a boost: ‘I can do this, I have a wee chance in football.’”

But will the past always play on the minds of directors at other clubs? “It probably just makes that wall bigger for me to get over. There will always be obstacles but I honestly don’t mind that. I created the obstacles. Have I got to work a bit harder than the guy who hasn’t been to prison? Probably, rightly so. But so long as you are given an opportunity.” Think on the basis of 2020 rather than 2004. It seems a fair request.