A tribute to the one-club men in football

On 30th March this year, former Millwall defender Barry Kitchener died at the age of 64 after a short battle with cancer.

To followers of top-flight English football, he may not be well-known, but in the lower leagues, he was something of a legend. As centre back, he was the epitome of reliability, tenacity and composure. He was strong in the air and confident and assured with the ball on the ground. He even had the occasional eye for goal, scoring a 30-yard screamer against Sheffield United in only his second game for the club. He was the centre back that all managers dream of.

But his most endearing quality was his dedication to Millwall FC. He started and finished his playing career at the Den, amassing a club record 602 appearances between 1966 and 1982. This included an astonishing 244 consecutive appearances, a feat almost unheard of for an outfield player. Despite never playing in the top-flight, and suffering relegation to the third tier of English football on two separate occasions, Kitchener always stuck with Millwall.

For a player to represent only one club throughout their career is very rare these days, especially outside the Premiership. It is only down to playing for the powerful, wealthy clubs that the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Tony Adams and John Terry have been able to stick by the club that they love. But in the lower leagues, where financial insecurity is a constant burden, it is almost impossible for a player to stick with one club for more than two seasons, let alone an entire career, regardless of their love and devotion to that club.

So, as a tribute to players like Barry Kitchener, here are a just a handful of ‘one-club men’, who dedicated their careers to the team they love:

John Trollope – Swindon Town (1960-80, 886 appearances)

Wiltshire born and bred, left-back John Trollope currently holds the record for the most number of league appearances for one club, with 886 appearances in all competitions for Swindon, including 368 consecutive matches. Swindon spent the majority of this period in the second and third tier of English football and Trollope never experienced the joys of playing top-flight football. Despite this, he was part of the Swindon team that won the 1969 League Cup, their greatest achievement to date.

Colin Cowperthwaite – Barrow (1977-92, 704 appearances)

While Kitchener and Trollope never played in the top-flight, Cowperthwaite never even got to experience playing in the Football League. He started out with Barrow five years after they were relegated from the Football League. He helped them win two Northern Premier League titles, and the FA Trophy in 1990, scoring in the final at Wembley. He also holds the record for the fastest goal in English football, scoring after just 3.5 seconds against Kettering Town.

John Askey – Macclesfield Town (1984-2003, 698 appearances)

Like Cowperthwaite, Askey spent the majority of his career in Non-League football. But during his spell, he helped guide Macclesfield to the Northern League title in 1986 and the Conference title in 1994 and 1997. He was part of the side that won back-to-back promotions in 1997 and 1998, which saw the club reach the third tier of English football for the first time ever. Askey scored in his final match for the Silkmen in a 3-2 win over Rochdale. He is currently manager of Macclesfield’s youth team.

John McDermott – Grimsby Town (1987-2007, 754 appearances)

At the peak of his career, McDermott was regarded as one of the most respected defenders outside of the Premier League. He was linked with Premiership moves to Sunderland and Ipswich Town, but chose to stay with his beloved club. McDermott experienced promotion and relegation on nine separate occasions with Grimsby, with his biggest success coming in 1998, when he helped them win the Auto Windscreens Shield (now known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy). McDermott was once quoted as saying: “If someone would rather sit in the reserves at a big club and drive around in a Ferrari rather than going out on-loan and playing, then I think it’s a sad day.

Alan Knight – Portsmouth (1978-2000, 801 appearances)

Alan Knight currently holds the record for the most appearances for one club by a goalkeeper, beating the previous record held by Peter Bonetti at Chelsea. Unlike the others on the list, Knight did play in the top-flight, when Portsmouth won promotion in 1987. However, they were relegated the following season. His greatest success with the club was winning the Third Division title (equivalent of League One today) and helping Pompey reach the semi finals of the FA Cup, losing on penalties to the eventual winners, Liverpool. He was awarded an MBE in 2001 for his services to football.

It’s sad to say, but thanks to the strains of modern football, players like these are a dying breed. There must be thousands of professional footballers out there who would want nothing more than to play for the club that they love, and no-one else. But it is getting more and more difficult for clubs to justify holding on to their most dedicated players for this length of time. In this sense, players like Kitchener were privileged.

Kitchener played in an era when money was not the significant influence that it is today. Nowadays, the consensus is that if you play for a lower league club, play well for that club and show 100% dedication, you then look out for bigger and better things. With the opportunity to earn crazy amounts of money, it’s no wonder that players like this don’t exist anymore.

This did not influence Barry Kitchener. He played for his club through thick and thin. He never set his sights on playing for a ‘bigger’ club or vehemently pursuing titles and trophies. He simply played for the love of football and for the love of his club. It is because of this that he was and will always be a legend in the hearts of Millwall FC.

In April, Barry Kitchener’s daughter, Nikki, set up ‘The Big Kitch Appeal’ in a bid to raise money and awareness for local cancer charities. Nikki and other supporters will be taking part in a 134 mile bike ride from Gorleston in Norfolk to Millwall FC in memory of her father. For more information about this very worthwhile cause, or to make a donation, please visit www.bigkitchappeal.co.uk, or follow them on Twitter (@BigKitchAppeal).