Born in Glasgow, Martin started his career with Hamilton Academicals before moving south to join Hull City. He was signed by Everton in the latter stages of the 1927/28 season and made ten appearances in their ultimately successful title run in to earn his only major honour in the game, the League Championship. Martin's time at Goodison Park was mixed however as he spent the majority of his time as a fringe player during the club's relegation in 1930 and promotion again in 1931 before finally making just two appearances in Everton's 1932 title winning side, which was not sufficient to earn a medal. Martin left Everton for Middlesbrough and then finished his playing career at Luton Town before moving into management.
Martin became a coach at Luton Town in August 1939, and was appointed manager on 4 December 1944. After guiding Luton through their first post-war season, he was appointed as Newcastle United's first manager since the end of World War II in May 1947. One of his decisions at the club was surprisingly to sell prolific goalscorer and fans' favourite Len Shackleton to Sunderland for £13,000. This concerned some supporters and Martin was at first criticised for making this move. However the protests were short-lived as Newcastle gained promotion without Shackleton and other popular players were introduced. These included the club's current second highest all-time goal-scorer, Jackie Milburn.
He resigned from Newcastle in 1950 after establishing them as a top six side in the First Division and took over at struggling Aston Villa. He later returned to Luton for a short-lived spell in 1965; he left a year later.