We sat down with Aaron Martin following his announcement that he will retire from football following the end of the 2023/24 campaign:

Aaron, following the announcement of your retirement from football, let’s talk through what has been a career to be proud of. Your senior career started here in Eastleigh back in 2007 under the management team of Ian Baird and Mark Dennis. What was that like when you came into Eastleigh?

I do actually remember it fondly, it was tough. Being so young whilst trying to break into any first team is obviously a hard thing to do but the way that they brought me in and taught me so much, I have to give him a big thank you for giving me the opportunity and giving me the chance. So yeah, a massive thank you to Bairdy.

I’ve always remembered the things he’s taught me, the things that he said to me, and the way he used to beat me up in training to try and help me up a bit!

In terms of what you were being taught and how you’re being taught at such a mouldable age, how important is that phase of your career going into the rest of it?

It was massive! To be chucked straight into men’s football, I think did absolute wonders for me. I know it was non-league, but the grounding it gave me and the mentality it gave me from the very start was massive in how I developed.

So it was for me, it was amazing to start where I did, how I did, and in the team I did. It really was the perfect start.

You made the jump to League One with Southampton. What was that like and what was the difference when you stepped into the Football League?

The biggest difference I found was in the physical side of things and how much quicker the game was. You’re playing against and with much better players athletically, technically, and in terms of their mentality.

It was just a huge challenge to go from non-league and being part-time to then going into full-time and training everyday. I just always remember in my head I was like, ‘Yes! I’ve made the jump to Southampton.’

I still had the mentality of nothing’s gonna stop me from getting into the first-team and whatever they offered me at the time, I didn’t really care because all I wanted to do was play for Saints.

Martin spent five years with the Saints and currently coaches in their academy. Photo: Sky Sports

Whilst you were at Saints, you went on loan to three different clubs. You’ve played for 11 clubs throughout your career and within three years you played for three of those 11 clubs. What was it like moving around and changing clubs so often?

Yeah, it was difficult because I was still so young and then when I went to Crystal Palace and I went to Coventry, it was the first time I had lived away on my own. That took some getting used to and that was quite difficult, especially as all footballers will know when you have time on your own, it’s very difficult to control your mind. So that was why it was a difficult time. When you start moving away and you can’t just go and see your parents or you can’t just go and see your mates, that’s when it becomes quite difficult then. But it was all a good experience, all a good learning curve, and it taught me a lot.

You won the Football League Unsung Hero of the month in January 2016 whilst at Coventry City. How did that come about?

We used to just do a lot for the community and I donated some of my own money to one of the hospital charities because they were trying to raise money to renovate the existing children area for the hospital so I think that’s why I won the award.

Martin won the SkyBet Football League Unsung Hero of The Month in January 2016. Photo: Sky Sports

In 2015, you then signed permanently for Coventry City. I’m assuming you enjoyed your time at Coventry?

I loved it at Coventry. I loved playing there, I loved the club. The ground is obviously amazing. I just had a really great amazing time there.

Your next step saw you move to Oxford United where you had an unfortunate spell in which you ruptured your achilles. Talk us through that period?

Yeah, I had a tough start at Oxford. I didn’t start very well there and then like you said, I ruptured my Achilles which forced me out for the rest of the season, so that was that. It was tough, but when I came back I did really well and started to get back into the team.

In 2020, you made a massive geographical change for you, moving to Hamilton Academical from Exeter City. Firstly, how did that come about? Secondly, what was that like moving so far away?

That was purely because of COVID-19 and a lot of players that found themselves out of contract because clubs just didn’t know what was going on. I was out of contract for a couple of months, but then I just got a call from the Director of Football. Geographically, it was tough but he allowed me to fly back and forth to see my family. I’m really glad I did it though because again, it was another opportunity to experience another league, another part of the country and yeah, it worked out quite well in the end.

Martin made 24 appearances for the Scottish side. Photo: SNS Group

You were highly praised by Gary Warren for not exercising a clause in your contract to end the contract early to return home which you could’ve easily done. How tough was it to not exercise that clause?

It was super tough because obviously my family was missing me and it was during the time of COVID and they couldn’t really do anything. They couldn’t get out and I was obviously up there, but at the time you have to do what you have to do and for the future of my playing career and everything, it was just what we needed to do.

When I got up there, I did really well and I was really enjoying it as well, like the football side of things and that’s why I decided to stay. They looked after me really well too. They made it really easy for me to go home to see my family so it worked really well in the end.

Your penultimate club was Port Vale, you moved there and what was it like again not being close to home? You also knew Andy Crosby from your time at Southampton?

It was great at Port Vale. I knew we would have a really good season and I actually said to Andy during pre-season that year, I think we were only about three, maybe four weeks in, and I said to him we’ll get promoted this year, 100%! You could just tell, like you had the feeling you knew like the players were all on the same wavelength. And yeah, we obviously ended up getting promoted at Wembley which was just an incredible moment for me. It was a boyhood dream come true!

Across your career, you’ve been described as a model professional by the coaches and managers that you’ve worked with. Is that something that you had to work on from a young age or was that just in your personality naturally?

I think for me it’s in my personality. I can honestly say that I gave football absolutely all of me, like 100% of the time. I don’t think I could have trained any harder or run any more than I did. I can walk away from football knowing that I probably couldn’t have given anymore and that’s what I wanted to be able to say when I did finish.

As a footballer you never think you’re going to finish. You never think that day will come  and for it to come the way that it has done as well has been super difficult for me mentally. But you know, the day is going to come at some point and unfortunately it’s coming maybe a couple of years early. But I’m happy with what I’ve done in my career and happy that I gave it all I had.

Martin won the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley in 2022. Photo: Stoke-on-Trent Live

After that season with Port Vale, you returned to Eastleigh, where it all started for you. How did that come about and what was your thought process when you were approached by the club?

Yeah, I just couldn’t be away from my family for any longer. It was tough enough being away for the time that I was. My children were in very good schools in Southampton so I didn’t want to disrupt that so that’s why my family stayed on the south-coast.

When I first left Eastleigh, I said I’d always come back and yeah, I was just grateful that it all came about really.

This is your second stint with the Spitfires and it has been a rollercoaster of a season to say the least. How frustrating has it been to be unable to influence things on the pitch due to injuries?

It’s been the toughest season of my career, to be honest. To know that mentally you can still do it and you still feel 25 in your mind and to be always let down by your body is just the most frustrating thing for any person but especially a sports person and a footballer.

And obviously the season that we’ve had has been really up and down and to not be able to help on the pitch has been incredibly difficult and it’s sort of resulted in me making the decision that I have made.

It’s starting to affect home life now as well. I do still have a life after football and I wanna be able to enjoy that with my kids and my family and not be always worrying about things like, ‘Oh is my back going to go again?’.

Looking back on your career as a whole, what have been some standout moments?

Signing and playing for your hometown, that was just unbelievable. To experience the promotions that we did and to score at St Mary’s, that will always be a highlight in my career for me.

When I started my first game for Southampton in the season that we got promoted to the Championship, I made a tackle in front of the Northam End and they were all just singing my name and that’s just never ever left me.

The obvious one is playing at Wembley Stadium multiple times. That is any boy’s dream so to achieve it is just surreal to me.

Martin returned to Eastleigh FC in 2022 where he began his career as youth product. Photo: Graham Scambler

What’s next for Aaron Martin?

We’ve got a few things going on outside of football which is exciting. I’ve done my coaching badges and I’m currently coaching at Southampton FC in the academy so that’s been really enjoyable and I would like to build on that some more. Eventually, I think I would like to be coaching and managing full-time.

More importantly, I will be spending plenty of time with my family. As you know I have had to sacrifice a lot of time with my family for football and when you have young children, you can’t get that time back. My main priority now is giving my kids everything and setting them up for their futures.

Finally, there will be some Eastleigh supporters who will have seen both of your stints at the club and others who will be only seeing you during this stint. What would you like to say to the supporters of Eastleigh Football Club?

I would just like to say a massive thank you. I can’t thank them enough, really. Like you said, there will be some supporters that were there from the very beginning, the ones that saw my first game and some will now see my last game. So that for me is an incredibly special moment and I’m sure it will be for a lot of the fans as well.

In regards to this season, I’m not sure if an apology is the right word but it’s not far from it. I just want to say that I’ve tried to give everything I can off the pitch when I’ve not been playing. I’ve tried to help out as much as I can and it’s just a shame that I’ve not been able to help out on the pitch as much as I wanted to because that’s ultimately why I came here and why I wanted to be here.

It’s just one of those things you can’t control, especially with your body. It’s been a tough one this season, but overall, I’d just like to say a massive thank you for the support and everything that they’ve done for me as well.