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Why Barry Kitchener was a true Millwall legend
12:40pm Tuesday 3rd April 2012 in Millwall
LIONS columnist MATT LITTLE pays tribute to Millwall legend Barry Kitchener, who died last Friday at the age of 64.
THE sad and far too early passing of Lions legend Barry Kitchener has really struck a chord with me, as I am sure it has with all Millwall fans.
I never saw the great man play due to making my first trip to The Den in 1987, five years after our record appearance maker retired.
However, I have of course heard all about him, football fans are like the clans of old and stories of former warriors and heroes are passed down by one generation to the next.
Yet some of the most lovingly told stories about Kitch were not by my uncle or granddad, two staunch Lions fans, but by an ex-girlfriend’s dad, a Southend United fan.
You see he was a regular visitor down Cold Blow Lane in the early 1970s at a time when Barry Kitchener was racking up his record breaking 602 appearances and helping the Lions to become the only club to remain unbeaten at home for a whole season in four different divisions.
Millwall achieved that feat in the 1971-72 season when the likes of Dennis Burnett, Barry Bridges, Dougie Allder, Alex Dorney, Gordon Bolland, Byran King, Brian Brown, Eamon Dunphy, Gordon Hill, Derek Posse, and of course the gentle giant himself Kitch, made The Den a place to fear.
This side came within a point of promotion to the top flight and no doubt would have made a real fight of staying there.
And leading that fight would have been big Kitch, who joined the club as a 16-year-old and who proudly represented the club for 15 years.
According to his team-mate Gordon Hill, Kitch would run through brick walls for Millwall and such was his legendary courage and determination, he has become for many older football fans the archetypal Millwall player.
You would never have caught Kitch going down from the slightest of touches, or refusing to go on, or trying to get a fellow professional sent off by play acting.
This is why his sad passing has struck such a chord because Barry Kitchener was a footballer from a different age.
It wasn’t a perfect age, but it was an honest one.
His family thanked Millwall for making his dreams come true, an amazing sentiment in this day and age of Bentleys and Hello shoots.
That’s because he loved football and he loved playing at The Den.
My ex-girlfriend’s dad loved going along to watch him.
I know he’ll be sad on hearing the news, he used to always say what a special place The Den was back in those days, amazingly warm and humourous, as well as rough and ready and thunderously loud and partisan.
And there was Kitch in the middle of it all – hair flowing, wide smile, hands like shovels, with a barrel chest and legs like tree trunks.
This was his patch and he never let opposition players forget it.
One of the occasions my would be father-in law always waxed lyrical about was when more than 23,000 packed in The Den to see the second placed Lions take on table-topping Norwich City.
The game was 1-1 before who else but the never-say-die Kitch, who had played a blinder in defence, grabbed the winner, prompting the crowd to make a noise so loud that it could be heard on the Old Kent Road, or so he reasoned.
I have never been one for naming stands after players, always believing records can be broken and new heroes born, but in the case of Barry Kitchener I think there’s an exceptional exception.
This is a man who was Mr Millwall and epitomised everything the club stands for.
He had courage and honesty, was big and strong, but never a bully, and he used what he had to the best of his ability.
He was a man’s man and would have easily fitted in with the dockers who adored him so much and after a hard-fought battle, he always extended his opponent a big smile and a warm handshake.
I feel for his family, who have lost a wonderful husband, father and granddad, and who want him to be remembered with a minute’s applause at The Den on Saturday to celebrate, rather than mourn, his life.
As for his football family, we have lost a great character and true legend.
My granddad could barely believe it was true, after all, how can Barry Kitchener die?
I hope that with every year that passes and every story told, Kitch gets taller by another inch, he becomes even more barrel chested and every tackle and goal becomes more important and glorious.
The Den will be an emotional place on Saturday and there can be no better send off than seeing us record our 1,000th home win in a manner of which the Big Man would have been proud.
RIP Barry Kitchener. A true Lion.
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