Barry Kitchener: Millwall defender who holds the Lions' appearance record

 

With his rugged looks, flowing locks and immense physical presence, Barry Kitchener was the epitome of the warrior centre-half, and from the middle 1960s to the early 1980s he embodied the indefatigable spirit of Millwall Football Club.

Exuding strength, defiance and a certain unflappable dignity that somehow remained intact no matter how tempestuous the action around him, he hurled himself fearlessly into every game with inspirational relish. He was a pillar of reliability, exactly the sort of team-mate every professional loves to play alongside when the going gets tough.

Kitchener compiled a club record of some 600 senior appearances for the Lions, an astonishing 244 of them in consecutive contests, and it wasn't only regular attenders at The Den who reckoned he was unfortunate never to test himself in England's top division.

As it was, he shone consistently in the middle tiers, suffering relegation to the Third in 1974/75, then captaining the side which bounced straight back to the Second at the first attempt, only to experience the trauma of demotion again three seasons later.

Through all the ups and downs, as managers Benny Fenton, Gordon Jago, George Petchey and Peter Anderson came and went, the quiet, craggy Kitchener was a constantly reassuring figure.

Spotted in Essex by a shrewd Millwall scout, the Dagenham-born defender was recruited from Newbury Park Youth Club as a 16-year-old. He signed professional forms in 1965, turned out at left-back for the youth team and reserves, then made his senior entrance in the No 3 shirt, deputising for Den idol Harry Cripps in a 2-0 defeat at Birmingham in February 1967.

But with the exuberant and popular Cripps in his pomp, with many seasons on the left flank of the Lions' defence still ahead of him, and stalwart stopper Brian Snowdon reaching the veteran stage, the rookie Kitchener was seen as an ideal replacement at the heart of the rearguard.

So instantly successful was his conversion that he was ever-present over the next five Second Division terms, reaching new heights of dominance in 1971/72 as Fenton's team finished third in the table, only a point adrift of promoted Birmingham.

Kitchener was commanding in the air, not prone to over-elaboration when the ball was on the ground, but capable of safe and sensible distribution – and ready to hurl his body into the way of anything that threatened the Millwall net.

Apart from spending the summer of 1979 on loan with Tampa Bay – he excelled in the US, helping his team to reach the Soccer Bowl final, in which the Rowdies were beaten by Vancouver Whitecaps – he played all his senior football for the Lions, his loyalty never in question.

By the early 1980s, feeling the inevitable wear-and-tear of a decade and a half in the professional game, Kitchener was supplanted as a regular in the side, first by Tony Tagg and then by Sam Allardyce, who would also see service with Tampa Bay.

After finishing as a player in 1982, he coached the club's reserves and youngsters, and when Anderson was sacked as manager that November, there were plenty of Millwall fans who reckoned their old favourite should take the reins. In the event, he did so for a handful of matches as caretaker before George Graham was appointed.

Thereafter, he did not remain for long in the professional game, but went on to run a souvenir business in Norfolk with his wife.

He remained a regular visitor to the Den, where he will always be revered, his lasting stature emphasised in 2007 when he was chosen as Millwall's entry in the Professional Footballers' Association Hall of Fame, which was set up to commemorate the union's centenary that year.

Barry Raymond Kitchener, footballer; born Dagenham, Essex 11 December 1947; played for Millwall 1965-82; married; died 30 March 2012.

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