Simply loving his sporting memories

RUSSELL Martin's lounge, garage, wardrobes and bedrooms are packed full of sport shirts, match programmes, pictures, hats, photographs and autograph books - all signed by the famous and not so famous.

MOST women complain their other half is sport obsessed. So spare a thought for Janet Martin whose house is crammed full of sporting regalia collected by Russell, her football-mad husband, over nearly four decades. IAN EVANS reports.

RUSSELL Martin's lounge, garage, wardrobes and bedrooms are packed full of sport shirts, match programmes, pictures, hats, photographs and autograph books - all signed by the famous and not so famous.

Visiting his home is like stepping into an Aladdin's cave recalling some of Britain's greatest heroes and events.

In one corner are signed shirts from John Wark, Paul Mariner and Arnold Muhren along with Bobby Robson's autograph.

Although an Arsenal fan, Russell is fond of Ipswich Town.

He said: “I used to be a Mod and ride up to Clacton and loved the area. My sister Teresa lives in Colchester and my youngest sister Tina has just moved to Tenerife from Witham.

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“I have fond memories of visiting Suffolk, watching Town and collecting.”

He is proud of four David Beckham shirts signed by the former England captain, one of his boots and autographed pictures.

Then there's three signed strips from the 'Hand of God' himself Diego Maradona, Brazilian star Ronaldo's boots, a signed West Ham ball, an autographed England shirt from when they beat Germany 5-1, and countless other strips and photographs.

Look around and there are cricket pads signed by England bowling great Fred Trueman and gloves from arguably the country's best wicket-keeper/batsman Alan Knott.

Then there's a cap from golfer and winning Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam; a signed Jonny Wilkinson rugby shirt; an autographed picture of Olympic rowing gold medallists Steve Redgrave, Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell and Tim Foster.

He's got snooker cues from Jimmy White and Stephen Hendry and old-style football boots once owned by Blackpool and England winger Stanley Matthews.

Lying on a settee are two blown-up photographs of Muhammad Ali's fights against Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, signed by the boxers.

Elsewhere there is a flag from the 18th hole at Pebble Beach signed by golfer Tiger Woods after his US Open Golf win in 2000 and a miniature cricket bat signed by the touring Australian cricket side of 1947, including Don Bradman.

“I'm a passionate collector, I just love collecting this stuff,” said Russell, 60, who grew up in Essex, but now lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

“I've tried to write down everything I've got but it goes on and on. I've got over 1,000 signed pictures and paintings of footballers, jockeys, tennis players, swimmers, boxers - you name it, I've got it,” he laughed. “I've also got all the James Bond signatures, films, records and videos.”

Russell, 60, collected his first piece of sports memorabilia when he was 14.

He said: “My dad was running a hotel in London at the time and the Blackburn Rovers team were staying.

“I got the autographs of Eddie Clayton, who was captain of England and Blackburn, and Bryan Douglas who was great winger.

“They were playing Arsenal and I managed to get on the coach and see the game. It was then that I started supporting Arsenal.”

At 18 Russell became a cocktail barman and began a near 40-year career running bars and restaurants in London, Essex, Herefordshire, Wales, Greece and South Africa, during which he collected most of his memorabilia.

“That industry is great for meeting stars, sportsmen, actors or people who knew them.

“I've met so many people I can't remember them all.

He thinks he has raised more than £50,000 pounds over the years via auctions, dinners and guest speakers.

Janet, 45, to whom he has been married for 23 years and had three daughters, despairs. “It's everywhere and it's getting bigger by the week. It is his passion but I just wish it didn't take up so much room,” she said.

Russell is currently negotiating with banks to open a themed sports restaurant where the memorabilia will be on show to customers.

Called 'The Experience', the venue which will be in Cape Town will incorporate a conference centre, television lounges, 250-seater restaurant and shop.

The Ipswich Town memorabilia will be on show too, with the bar planned to be open in time for the tourist influx for the 2010 World Cup.

Janet will drink to that.

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