Martyn Waghorn’s journey from the streets of South Shields to the bright lights of Portman Road
PUBLISHED: 06:29 03 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:54 03 June 2018
Martyn Waghorn is loving his time at Ipswich Town. STUART WATSON spoke to the popular street footballer who plays with a smile on his face.
Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Alan Pardew, Phil Parkinson, Nigel Pearson, Paulo Sousa, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Uwe Rosler, Malky Mackay, Steve Lomas, Neil Harris, Mark Warburton, Mick McCarthy...
Martyn Waghorn grins as the list of managers he has already worked under is recited.
“Sometimes I have to remember that I’m still only 28 because I’ve been around a bit!” he jokes.
“That smile – both broad and infectious – is only ever rested for a few moments at a time.
Born and raised in South Shields, the coastal town situated at the mouth of the River Tyne, his north-east accent remains strong despite the magical mystery tour that has led him to Suffolk via Sunderland, Charlton, Leicester, Hull, Millwall, Wigan and Rangers.
And it’s not the only thing that has stuck with him as he now looks to finally put down some roots.
A working class work ethic, the importance of family and retaining the raw fun of street football in the pressurised professional game are recurring themes for the player – affectionately known as ‘Waggy’ – as he recalls his journey.
“I’ve got so many great memories of playing footy with me pals growing up,” he says.
“We played break-time, lunch-time, then come that bell at 3.15 it was a case of straight down the park to meet all my boys for another game of footy. There was no ringing or texting to arrange it – you just knew everyone would be there. Then it was back home at six, rush some tea, then back out again until it got dark.
“It was just about having fun. I played footy wherever I could – down the park, by garages, on the streets, you name it. We’d just chuck our bags down as posts.
“In this day and age you don’t see as many kids doing that – they are on phones or computers or whatever – and that’s a real shame because I think that’s where you learn your fundamental skills.”
AFC Sunderland are situated eight miles to the south and Newcastle United located 12 miles to the north, but there was no tribalism passed down in the Waghorn family.
“My dad was originally from Gravesend, in Kent, and he used to be in a band,” explains Waghorn.
“He tries to tell me and my wife about those days but I always say ‘shut up dad!’ I think he actually had a record out so I should really make the effort and have a listen to it.
“My brother followed him into the music side of things and I went with the football.
“I was a big (Manchester) United fan. I was actually at their school of excellence at the age of six and seven.
“I’ll always remember having the opportunity to go and watch them train at The Cliff Training Ground. I went along to the Old Trafford superstore and saw a few of the players.
“It was Peter Schmeichel, a young David Beckham, all that Class of ‘92... Don’t get me wrong, I never met them, they were just like over there (points to other side of room) but to me, well, I’d met them!
“They were winning trophies, winning titles and I was wanting to be them.
“It was too far to travel regularly though, so I signed for Sunderland and came through there.”
Waghorn ended up making just six senior appearances for his boyhood club, but he still looks back on his time there as formative years.
“As a kid growing up I watched Kevin Phillips and Quinny (Niall Quinn) up top – they were some partnership,” he says.
“The likes of Micky Gray, Michael Bridges, they had a lot of good players there. When that stadium gets bouncing it’s a great place to be.
“I always remember (academy manager) Kevin Ball telling me, ‘you’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days, but nobody can take away your legs and stop you running about and giving your all’. That’s what I’ve based my game on.
“I always tell youngsters learning the game now that they need to give their all without the ball first before you can do anything with it. Give 100% for the team and then your ability will come through. That’s what the fans appreciate.
“I made my debut under Roy Keane. He always said to me ‘you’re here because you work hard’ and ‘I kept you on because you were working hard’.
“I’m from a very working class background and my parents instilled that in me from a young age. My coaches used to say, ‘you were useless on the ball today, but you gave somebody a good thumping so the fans will forgive you’.
“Of course I’d have loved to have played at Sunderland longer, but I had a year on loan at Leicester and then they came in for a permanent. I spoke to Steve Bruce at the time and he said they needed the funds to help bring in a player – that’s part and parcel of football.
“I don’t regret it. It’s helped us in my career going out and playing regular football.”
Ah, loan spells. Waggy has had a few.
Sunderland initially sent him out to Charlton and then, as mentioned, Leicester. Then Leicester, having bought him permanently, lent him to Hull and Millwall.
“I’ve always been told that you need to play as much as you can to stay in the game,” he says.
“As a footballer you need regular games to get your rhythm and your tempo because there’s no fitness like match fitness.
“When I went to Millwall there were other clubs interested, but I knew I was going to play there. Those three or four months were crucial for me.
“It’s tough being on loan though. I don’t think people quite understand what it’s like. They think a footballer in a hotel is a nice little lifestyle, but it can get lonely if you’ve had a bad day’s training or a bad game and you’re stuck in a room by yourself.
“It can send you a little bit crazy.”
He continues: “For my second loan (at Leicester) I was with my girlfriend at the time, my wife now, and she was just starting uni. I said ‘listen, I’m going on loan for a year, do you want to come?’ She said ‘yeah, let’s do it’ and packed up uni and came with us.
“I was fortunate that she gave up a little bit of her life. Having your partner with you settles you down. If everything off-field is in the right place it helps you on the pitch.
“Being away from my wife and little boy is still tough for me now. I don’t think people appreciate how tough it can be for young lads going on loan. You need that support around you.”
Martyn’s wife Leoni is a personal trainer having formerly been a professional freestyle dancer.
She has undertaken much charity work, including in Sri Lanka to help rebuild schools and houses in the wake of the Tsunami disaster, and has recently joined the Elena Baltacha Foundation – a project that maintains the legacy of Ipswich’s much-loved tennis star following her sad passing from liver cancer in 2014.
“Me and Leoni were born in the same area two days apart,” says Waghorn.
“We got together relatively young and stayed together ever since.
“We’re a good little team. Our son Ruben has turned five. Our birthdays are 23rd, 25th and 29th of January, so we’re all tied together nicely. Family is very, very important to the both of us. We had two very different upbringings, but our fundamentals are the same.
“We’ve got a nice little set-up down here now. My little boy has just started school and is happy and settled. My parents have also moved down to Ipswich. Everyone is settled and that helps me, knowing my family is happy. I can’t ask for much more than that. It means I can just focus on playing football.”
There were, undoubtedly, more off-field distractions during his previous two-year stint north of the border at Glasgow Rangers and Waghorn admits there were pros and cons to being in such a goldfish bowl environment in Scotland.
“The demand of performing and winning week-in, week-out, playing in front of 55,000 fans screaming at you was tough. But I tell you what, it’s is an incredible place to play when things get going,” he admits.
“The experiences and lessons I learnt during my two years there have been invaluable. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the club.
“Those games against Celtic are on a different level, not only on the field but off the field too with everything else that comes with it. The week leading up to the game there’s so much hype in the press and they just look for anything to wind somebody up.
“The downside is that you can’t really leave your house for a few days afterwards.
“As a family man I probably found that side a little bit tough. Going to the park with my little boy, you’re just trying to have a nice day, and you’d have Celtic fans, adults, coming up to you and approaching you. That’s not nice.
“There were times when it probably crossed the line a little bit. It probably got to us a couple of times and that was a learning curve. Nights out, when people have probably had a bit too much bevvy, it happens doesn’t it? You learn from that.
“It’s part and parcel of playing for a team like that in a city like that. It’s so intense, it’s so fierce and the rivalry is outrageous.”
The arrival of Portuguese boss Pedro Caixinha at Ibrox proved the catalyst for Waghorn’s bargain £250k switch to Portman Road last summer just weeks after Mick McCarthy had raided the Scottish giants for fellow striker Joe Garner.
“When I knew there was interest here and I spoke to the manager it was a no-brainer,” says Waghorn.
“I was actually a ball boy when he (McCarthy) was Sunderland manager. He has this aura about him doesn’t he? He has the same kind of philosophy as we’ve been discussing – work hard and the rest follows. I liked his ideas and everyone I spoke to about him spoke so highly.
“This is a really, really good club for me with the type of footballer I am. It suits me perfectly the way we play, the way the manager is and the set of lads we’ve got. They’ve got this way of integrating people really quickly here.”
Handed the number nine shirt, Waghorn – at the time of writing – has already reached double figures for Championship goals in his debut season at Portman Road. And his playful computer game-themed celebrations (there have already been nods to Call of Duty and Mario Kart) have certainly captured the imagination of a younger generation of supporters.
“Our away trips seem to last forever, so we started playing a few computer games,” he explains.
“It’s open for debate who’s the best. Webby (Adam Webster) has done alright the last couple of times, but probably skip (Luke Chambers) is the best at the minute. And there are a few Walter Mittys out there who think they are better than what they are! It’s a good laugh and that’s where the celebrations came from.
“For some reason, once I start playing football I act like a big kid. All the boys will say I’m just a bit of an idiot at times!
“I just like to have fun when I go out there. I can go a bit daft if I’m enjoying it. I’ll jump on people or just start doing a few roly-polies or something!
“You’ve always got to go out there and enjoy yourself because you never know when it could end. I try to do that as much as I can.
“Don’t get us wrong, I’m a big strop-about at times because I want to win. When it’s not going my way, I let people know – maybe a bit too much sometimes! But I just want to have fun and enjoy every minute of it.”
He adds: “As I said before, I’m from a working class family. Some people who come from a background like that can get so far in the game and get a bit carried away. I couldn’t be like that, it’s not in my nature.
“And I’ve got family around me that will always bring me back down to earth if they need to. Family always comes first. That’s something I’ll always go by until my day is up.
“I just want to work hard, have fun and be the best person I can be. I’m grateful for the life I have and I always remember who I am.” HHH
This interview is taken from Kings of Anglia, Issue 6.... Issue 7, featuring Tristan Nydam and Jimmy Bullard is OUT NOW
You can order online with free P&P in the UK.