From prison to Hampden: The meteoric rise of Livingston’s David Martindale

In 2006 you’re convicted of being a part of organised crime and sentenced to prison in which you serve three and a half years. In 2021 you’re the first manager in two decades to lead Livingston Football Club to a cup final.

There cannot be a more remarkable story of redemption and beating the odds in British sporting history than David Martindale’s fall from grace – ending up as a convict – and meteoritic rise – becoming one of Scotland’s best club managers.

Last Sunday Livingston’s former groundskeeper, who the club hired on a voluntary basis to help with his rehabilitation, led the Lions out at Hampden in their first cup final in twenty years.

Before that Martindale led the club on a two month unbeaten run and has all but secured the club’s second top six finish since 2002.

Martindale’s incredible story couldn’t be topped off with the cherry of lifting the trophy as Livi succumbed 1-0 to St Johnstone – the first time in the club’s history the Saints had ever lifted the League Cup – however it is almost inconceivable the life the Livi boss was living fifteen years ago and what he’s doing now.

Martindale served over three years for being part of organised crime and was released in 2010

Failing businesses force a turn to crime

“I needed money. I had failing businesses. I can understand the decisions I made. Would I make those decisions again? Obviously not, but I could half see why I did.”

Martindale makes no excuse for his decisions that led to his conviction for being involved in money laundering and cocaine dealing back in 2006.

Martindale spoke in-depth about his former life with Martin Geissler on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show. The straight talking Glaswegian made no bones about his circumstances at the time.

On the reason he turned to crime, Martindale said: “I needed money. I had failing businesses, I had family working at these businesses and I needed the money. I can understand the decisions I made but I do not agree with them. Would I make those decisions again? Obviously not, but I could half see why I did.”

Martindale was born in Glasgow and played football at a high level being a youth player at Motherwell and Rangers before an injury picked up in a bounce game of football with friends ended his career.

Martindale then went into business and owned a number of hospitality venues. When one of his pubs went on fire without insurance this was the point Martindale turned to crime to try cover the bills.

He was arrested in 2004 for being involved in the large-scale supply of cocaine as well as money laundering and served over three and half years at Berlinnie Prison.

On his release he was re-employed in the construction industry and became involved in Livingston FC as groundskeeper and assistant in training on a voluntary basis.

Martindale worked his way up in the club to eventually become manager at the time Gary Holt’s assistant.

After Holt surprisingly resigned Martindale was given the top job at the Tony Macaroni Arena in November 2020. It was at this point Martindale began his fabled fourteen game unbeaten run whilst leading the Lions.

David Martindale was past fit and proper to manage a football club by the SPFL and SFA earlier this year

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Not a bad bone in his body. Getting a second chance

“Prison is not full of bad people. There are a lot of like-minded people in there trying to reform their life through the prison process.”

Martindale served his term in HMP Barlinnie, Glasgow, which he described as ‘horrific’, recalling times when he was locked in his cell for 23 hours a day.

But such is the man – Martindale probably holds the moniker of nicest person in football – that the Livi boss didn’t heap down on the justice system or the prison service, saying prison officers did the best they could for him.

There were clear signs Martindale wasn’t inherently bad. He enrolled in a degree in construction project management at Heriot-Watt while awaiting trial and completed the course on his release.

Martindale still visits prisoners today and tries to spread the word of how he turned his life around as an example to others.

Having been one himself, and having lived with them, the Livi boss has huge sympathy for a lot of people inside.

“Prison is not full of bad people.

“There is a lot of people who have been put in prison for making bad decisions and making mistakes. There are a lot of like-minded people in there trying to reform their life through the prison process. I think people are sometimes to quick to jump on the band wagon without knowing the situation or the individual.”

Martindale is probably one of the better placed to offer credible solutions to a prison system that is overcrowded and still seeing a high rate of reoffending. For Martindale though, the problem of what to do with convicted criminals is a difficult one.

“From my experience of dealing with prisoners like myself I know there is a lot of people who go into prison that have not got a lot, but when they come out they have even less so they revert to what they know.”

Livingston’s Tony Macaroni Arena where David Martindale started out as a volunteer after serving his sentence and is now manager **Photo CC BY 2.0 daniel0685 flickr

His experiences influencing his management

Martindale is one of the hottest managers in Scottish football right now and when he was asked what happens if a big club comes calling – there’s currently a vacancy at a certain Celtic after Neil Lennon’s resignation – Martindale shakes his head and says he owes Livi to much to leave the club in the lurch.

Martindale says his past definitely influences his actions now.

“I have good intuition and I can maybe see things before someone who has maybe not had the same past experiences as me. I was in prison three and half years and you live on intuition. Reading people, understanding people is a major part of getting through the prison system.”

Martindale’s a realist which isn’t surprising considering the experiences he’s had. If one of his star players gets a good offer from another club Martindale doesn’t hold back or try keep them, he encourages them. Better wages, better length of contract, better terms, go take it because your career is short – Martindale put this in the stark light of day saying a footballer will be lucky to receive 142 pay checks in his career.

A realist, down earth, working class, a man of the people. Can you think of any managers like this in the past? Messrs Shankly, Busby, Ferguson….Martindale.

Considering where he’s been and where he’s come, that doesn’t sound as far-fetched as it seems.

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