Barry Kitchener, Harry Cripps, Teddy Sheringham, Terry Hurlock, Tim Cahill, Neil Harris, Paul Robinson. There have been many players who whenever Millwall fans reminisce, will eloquently wax lyrical about how these are some of the greatest/hardest/most terrifying players they have ever seen at the Old and New Den. Players who we remember growing up watching wishing we could be, who we would cheer and chant their names from the stands and terraces.
But what about the others? The players who when we find old programmes in the garage, we would flip it over and have completely forgotten that these players played a part in successful teams of the past. The ‘Steady Eddies’ who may not have scored hat-tricks or hit crunching tackle every week, but those who were reliable and wouldn’t let you down.
The fifth addition to my Unsung Heroes section is another player that has been chosen by the fans in an online poll. As with Christophe Kinet, the fans decided to choose a winger with bags of pace. A classy winger who joined the Lions when we were on our knees, but was a major part of the squad that was promoted and managed to establish the Millwall team in the English second tier. This instalment of the Unsung Heroes is Chris Hackett.
After spells at both Oxford United and Heart of Midlothian, Chris Hackett joined the Lions in August 2006, along with a large influx of players which also included the likes of Darren Byfield, Filipe Morais, Tom Brighton, Lenny Pidgeley, Richard Shaw and Zoumana Bakayogo to name but a few. This was Millwall’s first season back in League One and although the 2005–2006 Championship season ended in the disappointment of relegation, there was an air of confidence that with these new additions that the Lions would return to the Championship at the first attempt. The first thing that was noticeable about Chris Hackett was his blistering pace and his ability to stay glued to the touchline. Like the Road Runner meep meep-ing his way down the right, Hackett did not seem to lose any speed even with the ball at his feet and no Acme rocket tied on the opposition’s back could help the full-back Coyote catch him.
Millwall’s form that season was up and down. An embarrassing 5-1 away defeat to Chesterfield and an even worse 5-2 home defeat to Leyton Orient, which involved the Lions being 3-0 in the opening 12 minutes, highlighted that most of these signings could not perform for the South London club. But Hackett was not one of these. A constant threat whenever he played, Hackett was a stand-out player in a poor side. His four goals that season included one in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth in an important league game and an equaliser away against Doncaster Rovers, which resulted in Millwall leaving the Keepmoat stadium with a vital point. A topsy turvy season ended with Millwall finishing the table in 10th place, a position which would’ve seemed disappointing at the start of the season, but one that many Millwall fans were very grateful with considering the mess that Nigel Spackman had left Willie Donachie to fix. Hackett finished the season with a respectable 4 goals from 38 games in his debut season.
The 2007-2008 season was one of major disappointment for Hackett. After featuring in only seven games early on, his season was cruelly cut short by a nasty knee ligament injury which resulted in Chris spending the rest of the season in the treatment room. The winger, however, was offered a six-month contract to prove his fitness. After two seasons of Millwall playing chaotic football that looked like it could be taken straight out of the pages of the anarchic comic the Beano, our Billy Whizz showed no sign of rustiness and joined our Bash Street Kids in royal blue as the Lions were starting to show signs of promise. Early into the 2008-2009 season Hackett’s great form was rewarded with a two-year contract extension which, to the fans delight, he signed. A season which saw the winger also drop in at full-back when needed, Hackett excelled and he did not show any signs of resting on his laurels after he secured his contract. Although there were no goals in Hackett’s 28 games for Millwall, he did feature in Millwall’s FA Cup run that year, including the 2-0 away defeat to Hull City in the fourth round as well as coming on as a 63rd minute substitute in the heart-breaking 3-2 play off final defeat to Scunthorpe United.
Millwall’s 2009-2010 season was one of success, which ended with the 1-0 play-off final victory against Swindon Town and Chris Hackett was one player who was ever present in that campaign, playing 48 times. Millwall’s second game that season was a 4-0 victory against AFC Bournemouth in the League Cup and although he wasn’t on the score sheet, Hackett was in top form and he played a key part, providing a great assist for Gary Alexander’s goal. Hackett was back on the score sheet for the Lions, scoring the first goal in a 3-1 victory against Huddersfield Town in September and again netting in the 3-2 home win against Milton Keynes Dons. Hackett was injured for Millwall’s two play-off semi-final legs against Huddersfield, but he was back in time for that famous game at Wembley and Hackett’s 48th and final game of 2009-2010 was again coming on as a substitute in a League One Play-Final, but this time our Billy Whizz had a winner’s medal around his neck.
In 2010-2011, Millwall were back in a new League, in a new navy blue kit and our Speedy Gonzales was also finding a new position on the side lines, watching the likes of James Henry and Danny Schofield taking up the wide positions in Millwall’s midfield. Like games, goals were hard to come by and Hackett was not on the score sheet in any of the 18 games that he played the Lions, although he did start in the 1-0 away victory against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. This season, however, proved to be Hackett’s last full season at The Den.
After only four games for Millwall early in the 2011-2012 season, Hackett went out on loan to Exeter City until the New Year. Returning in January 2012, Chris’ final two games were two substitute appearances against Southampton and Watford in the FA Cup and Championship respectively, before leaving to join Wycombe Wanderers on loan for the remainder of the season. Hackett was released at the end of the season, ending a six year stay in South London and went on to join Northampton Town before ending his playing career with a loan spell at Barnet. He is now a coach at his first club Oxford United.
In all, Chris Hackett played 145 times for Millwall in all competitions scoring 6 goals. Although at times in and out the side, the winger was a very popular member of the squad and turned down several longer offers after his bad knee injury to repay the faith that the club, fans and staff had shown him during his treatment. A player who was lightning quick and a handful to mark, Hackett lit up The Den and showed moments of brilliance and class which made fans sit on the edge of their seats.