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 tackles every week, but those who were reliable and wouldn’t let you down.
For this edition of Unsung Heroes, we look back at a player who arrived later in his career and was seen as an experienced Mr Miyagi type leader to his team mates, Barry Hayles.
Spending time at Stevenage Borough, Bristol Rovers, Fulham and Sheffield United and featuring in both the English Premiership and Football League, 32-year-old Barry Hayles joined the Lions on 31st August 2004 after an unsuccessful short spell with the Blades. Starting for Millwall, only twelve days after signing for the South London side, Hayles led the line with Mark McCammon in the away league game with Ipswich Town at Portman Road, but two late goals from Darren Bent and Pablo Counago in the final ten minutes of the game ensured that the veteran forward's Millwall career did not get off to the best start. Although a player who some thought was coming to the end of his career, Hayles was a hit with the Millwall fans and still had the reflexes of a karate master who could catch insects in his chopsticks with ease. Scoring vital goals against the likes of Gillingham, Queens Park Rangers, Preston North End and Nottingham Forest, the striker rolled back the years as the fans roared with delight at his performances. "We've got Barry Hayles, we've got Barry Hayles!" rang around the stands of The Den and the forward's 12 goals in 33 games in the 2004-05 season was an excellent return for Hayles in his first season for the club and Millwall went on finish the Championship campaign in 10th place with 66 points.
After a pre-season of behind the scenes politics and uncertainty, Dennis Wise left his position as manager of the club with a number of players and the 2005-06 season would begin with Colin Lee leading the side into the Championship campaign. Two seasons after a memorable FA Cup run and one season after a European tour in the UEFA Cup qualifying round against Ferencvaros, this campaign was one of disappointment and saw lots of changes in the managerial hot-seat throughout the football year. Hayles again featured in a respectable 27 games for the Lions and although he scored against the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield Wednesday and Crewe Alexandra, the striker's goal return was not as successful as his first season and he managed 5 goals in the season that Millwall were relegated to League One in 23rd place with only 40 points. The managerial changes of Colin Lee, Dave Tuttle and joint managers of Alan McLeary and Tony Burns did not help with club stability and Hayles' last appearance for the Lions was in the 2-0 home defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion in April 2005.
After leaving Millwall, Hayles went on to play for Plymouth Argyle, Leicester City and Cheltenham Town, before featuring in the non-league for Truro City, Chesham United and is now featuring for Windsor FC, a remarkable feat considering at time of writing the former Millwall danger man is 46 years of age. In all, Hayles played in 60 games for the Lions and scored 17 goals. Fans ask what we would have got from the forward if we would have signed him earlier, but our young squad learnt a lot from their experienced tutor and he was a player that will be fondly remembered by the Millwall fans.