OUT OF work, just divorced and nowhere to live. Martin Green, former Co-op store manager had hit rock bottom.
He was 35 years old, living back at his parents’ house in Tinsley and beginning to wonder if life had dealt him a rag hand.
Then he had a eureka moment. He had begun earning money from writing and selling pub quizzes but was not yet able to earn a proper living until one morning, lying on his bed, it came to him.
A Family Fortunes based pub quiz. Based on the TV series where a ‘survey says’ which are the most popular public answers to trivia questions, Martin’s new Fun Fortunes game helped turn his life around.
That was in 1999 when he aspired to reach the £32,000 salary he had earned as manager of Hillsborough Co-op with 170 people working under him.
Today things are slightly different.
Now Martin Green runs redtooth, new shirt sponsors of Sheffield United, suppliers of 23 kinds of quizzes to thousands of pubs all over the country and kings of hugely popular pub poker.
Last year the company turned over £2.3m and made almost a million pounds profit. Martin lives with his wife Julie and family in an £875,000 house on the outskirts of Rotherham and has lots of moneymaking plans for the future.
Did he ever doubt himself in those dark days?
“I always believed in my ability but at that time I was rock bottom, I have to say,” said Martin, aged 49. “I thought I would make it one day and I had the confidence but there was a time when I wondered. I had been divorced and was out of work and I went home to my parents house one night and my mum was cooking ‘finny haddock’ and I hate the smell of smoked fish.
“There was only one TV in the house and my mum had Songs Of Praise on. The only place I could go was to my old room which was the same as it had been ten years before. I remember lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling thinking:’ This is as low as it gets, I was 35, I’d always worked hard and look where it’s got me.’
“It was a real low point but I knew I would bounce back. We just had to go for it. We did and it started to pay off.
“One day we signed up 35 pubs in Barnsley and that first year we got over 200 pubs playing Fun Fortunes. By the end of that year 1999 I was making more than I had been at the Co-op,”
That all seems a long way off now. After one or two scares, competitive clashes, a takeover and a lucky break or two, the company, redtooth - originally Called Hemlock Promotions - was on track for the big time.
Then came Jeremy Beadle. The late You’ve Been Framed Star was at the height of his popularity when he called Martin Green one day out of the blue to tell him he wanted to be involved in the pub quiz business.
“He was so enthusiastic and clever and he wanted to be involved in redtooth,” said Martin.
“At that time he had the biggest private library in Britain and was hugely into trivia and quizzes. He worked for us for a while but it didn’t really work out long term.
“Although he helped us raise our profile it wasn’t really successful in terms of the business he brought in.”
But business continued to grow for redtooth and in 2005 things changed again. That was when the law on small stakes gambling was changed and a new industry began.
“The change in law allowed small stakes poker to be played in pubs. The changes actually came into force in 2007 but we had a 500-pub poker league up and running and playing for trophies the year before. Now we run the world’s largest live poker tournament with 145,000 players in 1000 pubs. We will take 100 winners to Las Vegas, all expenses paid, for the grand final. It’s a big deal.”
Sitting in the huge kitchen of the Green’s six-bedroom, four-bathroom home on white leather seats with two new Audis on the gated drive outside, it’s difficult to conjure up those fish-scented days.
“It’s a rags to riches story and I’m a bit tired of that now but we have lived with it for the last 13 years so it seems a long time since the rags,” laughs Martin.
“It’s been a gradual thing,” says 35-year-old Julie. “We have worked very hard for it and it is something we very much deserve.”
“We aren’t quite living the Alan Sugar lifestyle but we have been living in this house for a year now and we love it. It’s been quite a journey.”