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It was only five years ago when Jim caught the Spartans bug. After listening to Derick chat about the club over a drink, or two, or, if we are being honest, usually many more while in the Malt and Hops, Jim decided his Spartans away trip initiation would be Lossiemouth away in the Scottish Cup. No not City Park 5 minutes from his front door as most would choose. Having refused the offer to travel on the coach, he ordered a taxi for 8.00am to take him to Waverley, followed by the train to Aberdeen where he changed and took another train to Elgin and lastly a taxi from Elgin to Lossiemouth. Apart from the result of course, the highlight for him that day was hearing the Spartans fans singing ‘You’re just a poor man’s Leuchars’ to the Lossie boys. We should have realised then what we were all getting ourselves into and how stubbornly independent but dedicated Jim could be!
It was his generosity at the club dinners which made us first realise that perhaps the club meant more to Jim than we thought. His flat is full of items bought at auction which he could never get the benefit of. The ultimate was when he paid over £700 for an autographed snooker queue…He was never going to be able to see over the top of a snooker table, never mind play the game but, unsurprisingly, he lost it in the Grassmarket the night he bought it anyway.
When Derick and I first started discussing ideas for a new home for Spartans Jim instantly put his hand up to help with the debate. With his input the ideas flowed. How about a bit more than just a new grass pitch and a couple of changing rooms….how about a synthetic pitch which would always be playable…how about a football ground which belonged to the community and was full of life all week long, during the day as well as at weekends…how about we set up a charity to show that we are not just about putting a team out on a Saturday. Okay, we’ll go for a charity but we need a lawyer to set it up, and they are expensive. All our Scottish Cup money had gone on developing plans and doing a feasibility study and we were almost broke. That’s when Jim went from being someone who shared some ideas with us to someone who was an integral part of our lives. Jim became a trustee and director of the Spartans charity and he was the person who ended up taking on the biggest workload over the next few years.
Jim spent so many hours on legal documents, in negotiations, and on funding applications. Emails sent at 3am from Jim were the order of the day for nearly two years. He had very high standards and we benefited fully from this. If he thought something could be done better he would tell us in no uncertain terms. We were nearly all on the receiving end of his words of “encouragement” at some time, although, often that “encouragement” could be described more accurately as a “withering put-down”…and if you were due a piece of Jim’s mind it was certainly better to listen to what he had to say early in the evening before the Pinot Grigio was opened! He didn’t do “I’ll agree to differ”…he was always right!
We were nearly there with the Academy and construction was halfway complete when a vacancy appeared in the Scottish Football League. DLA Piper’s profits had just returned to normal with the very long hours for the Academy project coming to an end but for the next month it was back to 3 hours’ sleep a night for Jim. As we knew they would, Annan Athletic have done us proud in the SFL but Jim, never really felt we got a fair hearing. Jim sat in front of the Chairmen from the 29 clubs that day as Derick and I answered a bizarre mix of questions. A community based football club with charity status which was able to raise nearly £4m to invest in top class facilities just didn’t make sense to them. We are sure there were many days when Jim wished he could jump out of his wheelie and confront his critics, vividly showing his passion and commitment, and this was one of those days. As it turned out, the three of us just sat there and shook our heads in disbelief. Jim had come up with a new model for combining community football and a charity. He had restructured the football club and set up the charitable trust. The structure wasn’t conventional but to do what we wanted, it had to break new ground. Jim had constructed the set up this way, because to him it was about much more than the football on a Saturday. It was about giving the youngsters of North Edinburgh a home they could call their own and use to give themselves a much better life. Some of the SFL Chairmen that day tried to pick holes in it but Jim was never beaten. He had the last laugh. We are now seen as THE model for community sport in Scotland, winning awards for what we have already accomplished and giving weekly tours to sports clubs from across Scotland who have been advised to come and see best practice in action.
To help me today I spoke to some of the Academy trustees and their views were superbly summed up by Colin…”as a fellow trustee, I would like to mention how valuable and supportive I found his quiet, thorough and professional ability to simplify complex legal matters. This coupled with his ruthless demolition of professional incompetence guided the rest of us trustees through difficult times.”
The Academy opened on Friday 5th December 2008 and Jim was there. Jim hadn’t seen much of it the inside as it was being built, his wheels weren’t conducive to a building site! But he was, quite rightly, proud to have played his very big part. There was one item missing, though. Jim had spent a few thousand pounds on an Academy stain glass window. We were met with the usual “it’s not in the contract mate” story from the contractor as we suggested they install it above the entrance door. We hadn’t got round to fitting it, however, we remedied that last week. When you all come up to the Academy this afternoon please take a look at the window over the entrance. It is spectacular, especially in the evening when the light shines through it. It will be a great lasting memory of Jim.
He continued to be active as the Academy grew over the last year and the real impact we are having in the community became clear. He donated the Ronnie Swan Challenge Cup and was delighted when we beat Hamilton Accies in the final to win it. He was with Gordon Strachan the day he came to visit in September. When one of Scotland’s most famous players and managers says what you have achieved for the youngsters now growing up in his home territory is simply phenomenal, then you can be very proud and, in his own way Jim was very proud that day. Mind you we did lose to Tynecastle later that afternoon and by 6pm the website forums and our management team had the benefit of Jim’s wisdom on what we might have done differently!
Jim was never the most optimistic guy but the Academy was beginning to change his outlook. He had been working closely with Dougie our Academy manager who was so positive about the impact we wanted to have and had so many ideas about delivering the impossible. We did really think Jim had been transformed when Derick went to see him in the hospital at Southampton. Derick walked into the ward and saw Jim curled up beneath the covers in his bed. As Derick said hello, Jim’s first words were “tell Dougie I’ll be walking on hot coals by the end of the week!”
Our plethora of community programmes gave him the biggest buzz. Only three weeks ago, he sat in hospital and was keen to know how the team had played against Forfar in the Scottish Cup but more so he wanted to know how the community had enjoyed the day….he was delighted. The North Edinburgh baton twirlers had put on a show before the game and raised £140 in their buckets, the young reporters on our Read and White Army literacy project interviewed both managers and Stewart Fowlie after the game for their publication, then there were the Wardie Primary School kids who did “Half-Time Heroes”, the 150 local youngsters who got into the game free, the team mascots who had won an art competition in Craigroyston which meant they and their families had a memory to savour and our Under 16 Boys who enjoyed being close to the action performing their ball boy duties. He listened and then asked…so what more can we do the next time?
Jim was never what some people would think to be a ‘typical’ lawyer. I think that goes without saying! He wasn’t actually a typical anything. The Academy was a true labour of love for him and his legacy is The Academy and all that brings to the people of North Edinburgh. It would simply not be there without him. He may have never kicked a ball for Spartans but in the last five years he was as important a winner and a leader as anyone who played on the pitch. As a friend and as a Spartan, he will be badly missed.
Jim Martin, RIP