SINCE getting involved with Weymouth Football Club in March last year, MARTYN HARRISON has ploughed more than £1 million into it.
He is also a major investor in the town’s holiday trade.
Here he talks about the beautiful game, how he started out as a businessman and his dreams for the football club.
IN a corner of the bar in Weymouth’s Hotel Prince Regent sits a gentleman of certain age.
Curly-haired and casually dressed, he could be a tourist, one of the many thousands of coach-party trippers that pour into the resort each year.
Or, as he lights a cigarette and sips his coffee, scanning the back pages of the Dorset Echo, he could be a resident blown inside by the chill winter weather, trying to warm up while wondering whether it’s worth his while going to see the Terras play at the weekend.
In fact he is neither.
He is Martyn Harrison, entrepreneur, millionaire, hotelier and latest saviour of Weymouth Football Club.
It is almost a year since Martyn stepped in to save the once-more floundering Terras, pumping more than a million pounds into the club just as, in the past few years, he has invested millions into three of the town’s largest hotels.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that Martyn is ploughing his cash and time into the club and the town for purely altruistic reasons. –
He’s a businessmen first and foremost and, no matter how laconically he spins the line, his acquisition of the Terras is likley to be a well-thought-out commercial risk.
“It’s not just a business gamble, you know,” he states, pausing here and there before letting his thoughts out in a rush of non-sequiturs.
“I’m like a boy with a train set.
I was up in London the other day, it was 10.45 at night and the manager Steve (Johnson) calls me up to talk about a new signing.
He knows he can call me at any time.
“If I can’t sleep I’ll read the fans’ forum on the website and add something to it.
It’s the fans’ club and I like to keep them informed.”
Martyn Harrison doesn’t come across as your average millionaire, despite the fact that he drives around in a powder-blue, top-of-the-range Jaguar with personalised number plates.
On the surface he wears his status lightly – usually in the form of checked shirt and baggy cord trousers topped off with his trademark salt-and-pepper curly hair.
On the whole he is wide open about his past and dreams, almost apologetically laying down the boundaries of what he will and won’t discuss.
It is this everyman look and laid-back, accessible approach that has made him such a hit with the fans, a fact of which he is well aware.
“It wasn’t always an ambition to own a football club, but I’m loving it now,” he smiles.
“I was talking to a mate of mine who’s chairman of Watford and I’ve put more money into Weymouth than he has into his club.
“Getting involved in the club wasn’t an ego trip for me, but it wasn’t a big money thing either.
So maybe it was an ego trip – it’s fun.
When we last won the fans made a big ring round me on the pitch and were dancing and singing.
It’s a natural human reaction to be pleased when something like that happens, I suppose.”
He thinks a while and sparks up a Silk Cut blue.
“I gave these up for two years,” he sighs through the smoke.
“Then I bought the football club and started again.
Mind you, I only smoke into the run-up to the match and during the match and then I stop again, apart from one or two during the week.
So I suppose I only smoke for two-and-a- half days a week, really.”
Relaxed and approachable maybe, but under that exterior is a canny businessman.
No one can start from nothing and go on to own business concerns around the globe and a football club – however minor – without having a certain inner steel and determination.
Martyn, now 55, was born in Shepherd’s Bush and started his working life selling furnishings and curtains.
He did this for 20 years before moving into the package holiday market, starting and selling two companies – one to Thomas Cook for what he coyly describes as ‘a lot of money’.
He then started developing and selling holiday complexes in Portugal and Florida and buying up hotels in the South West of England.
His links with Weymouth were forged in 1998 when someone told him about the Riviera Hotel at Bowleaze, which was owned by Pontins and up for sale at the time.
Martyn saw the potential in this crumbling art deco white elephant and snapped it up, followed by the Hotel Prince Regent in 2001 and the Russell Hotel a year later.
“You can’t buy a location like that,” he says of the Riviera, which he has spruced up and now illuminates with blue flourescence, to great effect, each night.
“It was built in 1936 in the art deco style so I wanted to paint it different colours, like the art deco buildings in Miami, but the council wouldn’t have it.
They like the lights, though!
“I got into the travel business after going on holiday and having such a bad time that I thought I could do it better.
So I did.
Anyone can do anything if they really want to.”
He talks of leaving London and moving to the resort at some point in the future when the time is right and
feels very much a part of the resort.
His staff seem to be full of affection for their boss, and he treats them like family,.
“I brought my staff from London down here for their Christmas party last year and put them up at the Prince Regent,” he says.
“The local staff were having an Anne Summers party there as well, and afterwards they came up and joined us and were telling me what they’d bought and what not.
We’re a close-knit team.”
The deaths of Portland girls Catherine and Lucy Brakewell, employees of Martyn’s, last September hit him hard, for once throwing his business deals and football club concerns into second place.
“You do what you can,” he says, thinking back to the memorial fundraiser he hosted at Bowleaze, maybe thinking of his own three daughters Fay, Clare and Lucy “.
But there’s no consoling a family that has lost two of its children.”
His ownership of Weymouth Football Club – which he calls his ‘expensive hobby’ – started in March last year when he was taken to a match and asked to invest some money.
“I started with £30,000 but it’s over a million now,” he says.
“Why did I buy the football club? Because I could at the time.
I didn’t plan it, it just happened and I was in a position to do it. If I’d thought about it I probably wouldn’t have done it.
But anyway, it’s a good excuse to have a burger every week!”
He breaks off to chat to his hotel manager about a re-tiling job being done in the ladies’ toilets.
“Why do they do it? Why don’t they use the bloody ash trays instead of leaving burn marks everywhere in the toilets?” he demands, perplexed.
“Where was I? Yes, football.
My aim is to get the club to where Yeovil are now, in the League.
We would get money back if we could achieve that.
“We have our setbacks, but we are doing well as a whole.
We’ve got youngsters playing which is good.
They are at the age where they still want to play for Manchester United, they have that dream, that hunger, unlike some of the older players who maybe just turn up and go through the motions.”
Martyn himself is a hands-on chairman, going to every match where possible and spending some time during each 90 minutes behind the home goal, cheering on his boys and getting to know the supporters.
Does he know the off-side rule?
“Hah, I know everything there is to know about football,” smirks the life-long QPR fan.
“I was at the game a couple of weeks ago when they scored in the seventh minute of overtime – extra time, oh, what’s it called – injury time, better get that right.
That’s when some of the fans did a little lap of honour and were dancing round with me in the middle.
“They’re a bunch of great blokes.
There was a bit of trouble with name-calling at one of the black players a few months back but I knew who the culprits were and at the next match I took them aside and had a word and it hasn’t happened again.
Most of them just want to pay their money and watch the game, get pleasure from it.
It’s a way of release, of relaxing for normal people.”
So how does Martyn Harrison, entrepreneur and football club owner, relax?
“I don’t!” he smiles. “I go and have a curry and a few drinks after a match.
And I’ve got a few more ideas for the town to think over.
What are they? I’m not likely to tell you, am I?
“I don’t get scared about my commitments.
It’s just something I do, a job. I’m the boss and it’s nice not having someone telling me what to do.
I started up on my own when I was 18 and I haven’t been employed by anyone else since then.
“I do like Weymouth, though, and the prospects for the town are good, with the public hearing about theAsda move being held in May and the Olympic bid.
“Everyone knows everyone and if I go into town shopping I usually get a couple of lads coming up and singing a football chant.
“It’s a nice feeling, I suppose – although if we lose the next couple of games I expect they’ll be singing something completely different!”