The family of one of Luton Town’s most recognisable and popular supporters, Nigel ‘Santa’ Martin, say they have been comforted by the messages of support that have flooded in since his sudden death at the weekend.
The much-loved character, who enjoyed nothing more than dressing up in his Father Christmas attire every year to raise money for good causes, died in his sleep on Saturday night at the age of 63.
The news has led to an outpouring of grief on social media, with many supporters posting photos of themselves with Nigel and paying tribute to “a remarkable man”.
It became a tradition for Nigel to visit Luton and Dunstable Hospital each Christmas with Hatters’ players to give poorly children a festive boost, and to also lead the team out on to the Kenilworth Road pitch for the game just before Christmas each year.
His brother Barry explained: “The Santa idea started when he was living in Portsmouth, when his son Ben joined the cubs 25 years ago and he played Santa for the Cubs, Scouts and Brownies. He obviously had the figure and the look for it and it kind of progressed.
“Fans started calling him Santa at the football, then he got ‘Santa’ put on the back of his shirt. It evolved that he became the club’s Santa and he went on hospital visits and gave out sweets at half-time at Christmas.
“For most Christmases he was doing a Santa a night for two months, it was crazy. He used to be absolutely knackered. It was unreal. He raised an awful lot of money for various charities.”
Nigel was brought up in Sundon Park. He moved to Portsmouth and most recently was living in Northampton. He had two sons Ben and Sam.
He initially trained as a chef, then had numerous jobs, before in later life he went to Portsmouth University and trained to become a Maths teacher and taught in Portsmouth, Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire.
He started supporting the Hatters in the mid-1960s and Barry recalled: “Dad [John Martin] instigated it. He used to be a Special Constable when the club was in the Fourth Division. He started taking Nigel and he’d be on duty. In 1967 I started going with him. We used to stand in the Maple near the tunnel. An old lady used to keep an eye on us for him.”
Nigel was a season ticket holder - even though it meant a long trip up from Portsmouth for many years with his son Sam.
Ben and Sam said: “He used to come out of the Bobbers Club to get to the turnstiles and it would take an age because people would just stop and talk to him.”
Nigel cheered on the Hatters with Sam, and sometimes Ben, from the Main Stand, and they had their names put on seats in the stadium too. He also used to regularly attend away matches.
However he broke his shoulder in the summer after tripping on pavement and as a consequence he had been unable to attend this season.
Barry said: “He was excited by the approval of the Hatters’ plans for Power Court and Newlands Park and looking forward to seeing them in their new ground.
“If you cut him in half like a stick of rock it would say Luton Town FC. For the boys and for me it’s been a big comfort to see the messages and reaction online and it’s testament to what kind of person he was.”
Barry also added that music had been a big part of Nigel’s life and he enjoyed watching bands play and attending festivals.
He was also a keen twitcher and during family holidays in Scotland would suddenly stop and get out of the car to indentify birds.
His sense of humour was important to the family. As a dad, his sons say he was quite strict, but his sense of humour would always seemed to prevail.
When Ben was sent home from school for showing his backside to a teacher, he told him off and sent him to his room, but couldn’t help but see the funny side.
Tony Murray, chairman of Luton Town Supporters’ Trust, told the Luton News he was in shock. He said: “I’m gutted. Nigel was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. He will be a very big loss, but we will can take comfort from the fact he was part of our lives. He was such a lovely man who always thought of others before himself.”
In 2015 Nigel won the Trust’s Kevin Catlin Award for Outstanding Contribution. Tony added: “Santa was such a popular winner of that because of what he’d done – fundraising to help children. You could hire him as Santa and all the money went to charity. He’d give up time to go to the hospital [as Santa] with the players. I think a lot of the players will be gutted too. It puts everything into perspective.”
A statement from Luton Town said: “We are devastated to learn that one of our most recognisable supporters, Nigel Martin, has passed away.
“Santa, as he was known to all, brought a smile to the face of everyone who met him. The thoughts of all at LTFC are with his family and many friends. Rest in peace, Santa.”
Meanwhile, Keech Hospice Care said: “We are so sad to hear this news. Our deepest condolences are with Nigel’s friends and family this evening. We will always be grateful for the support Nigel has given to us.
“Not only has he helped us to be able to care for more children and adults, and their families, when it is needed the most, he created joy and smiles along the way. Thank you Nigel for helping us so we can continue making the difference when it matters the most. You will be missed.”
Nigel’s funeral, for family and close friends, is yet to be arranged. It is also hoped to hold a celebration of Nigel’s life too at some point.
A fundraising page has also been set up in his memory by a friend. See https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/amanda-clifford
Have you got a tribute to Nigel, or a special memory? Email email@example.com