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Maidstone United head coach Hakan Hayrettin talks punch-ups, wars, wonder goals, promotions and injuries in a career spent working with some of football's biggest characters

What do you get if you cross Barry Fry, Martin O’Neill, John Still and Graham Taylor?

Hakan Hayrettin is the answer, if the old saying about taking bits from all your old managers rings true.

Hakan Hayrettin has just celebrated his 50th birthday Picture: Andy Jones
Hakan Hayrettin has just celebrated his 50th birthday Picture: Andy Jones

The Stones head coach, who's just turned 50, has been privileged to work with so many big names and the list goes on with the likes of Frank Clark and Gary Johnson.

He’s seen it all over the years, from Fry having a punch-up with his Barnet chairman Stan Flashman and ordering the players to stay out until the early hours the night before a game, to the deep-thinking O’Neill, who told him he was signing him because his name reminded him of a place off the M1.

Throw in two Conference titles, FA Trophy glory, a Football League play-off victory and a spell in Turkey which could have led to him fighting in a war and it’s been some ride.

Unfortunately injuries were cruel to Hayrettin who snapped both cruciate ligaments, robbing him of the career he might have had.

Hayrettin started off as a schoolboy at Tottenham before signing a part-time apprenticeship at Leyton Orient.

He did well in the youth team and was in the first-team picture under Clark who, like O’Neill, was a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest.

The next stop was Barnet before the former QPR striker Mike Ferguson took him to Turkey to play for Karsiyaka, where the prospect of national service had him heading for home and back to Barnet.

“I was in the team playing against all the big boys and then they wanted me to become a Turkish citizen,” said Hayrettin.

“I got advice from the PFA and at the time there was an Iran/Iraq war and Turkey were involved and the PFA said if you do that you could be subscribed to be in the Army.

Martin O'Neill took Hakan Hayrettin to Wycombe Wanderers Picture: Matthew Walker
Martin O'Neill took Hakan Hayrettin to Wycombe Wanderers Picture: Matthew Walker

“So I went back and said no, and by the time I got back to my apartment, which was a beautiful place by the sea, all the furniture had gone.

“They wouldn’t release my clearance on my right to play and I had to go to the court of arbitration. I trained for five months without playing.

“In the end I got my clearance and signed for Barnet again.”

Hayrettin won his first Conference title under the colourful Fry, who was forever falling out with Flashman.

“Barry didn’t really take any training sessions but he signed all the best players so from that respect he had a good eye for a player.

“I saw him fight with the late Stan Flashman. Barry got sacked and the next thing they were rolling about on the floor.

“He was a character. We always stayed overnight for away games and Barry used to say, ‘I don’t want anyone getting in any earlier than 3 o’clock in the morning.’

“I thought, ‘We’ve got a game the next day, what’s happening here? Where have I come?’ But we got out there and we won.”

Hakan Hayrettin with mentor John Still Picture: Andy Jones
Hakan Hayrettin with mentor John Still Picture: Andy Jones

Hayrettin first met Still when he went on loan to Dagenham from Barnet after recovering from injury.

But it was Wycombe where his career went to the next level as the young midfielder helped O’Neill’s Chairboys win the Conference championship and FA Trophy final at Wembley.

He further wrote his name into Wycombe folklore with a 30-yard wonder strike in a 3-2 win at Preston en route to another Wembley visit as Wanderers won the play-offs and a second promotion.

Hayrettin said: “Martin O’Neill was very deep, very thoughtful, a tactician but he never really worked on anything other than five-a-sides and getting people fit and the minimum he asked for was everybody worked hard. I bought into that.

“If you look at some of the teams Martin O’Neill built, they were never great players but we had success and he’s had success wherever he’s been.

“When I first went to meet him, he said, ‘Do you know why I want to sign you other than you’re a good player?’ and it was because my name reminded him of a place off the M1 or A1 and that was how the line of conversation went.

“He sussed me out as a character and got me on board.

“I remember we were playing Preston that day when I scored that famous goal.

“He made sure we brought our own tea, (there were stories John Beck, Preston’s notorious manager, used to put pounds of sugar in the visitors’ tea to affect their performance) and he refused to play the game until the sand was taken off the corners of the pitch where John Beck put sand on the astroturf to make the ball hold up when they knocked it long.”

Hayrettin joined Cambridge from Wycombe, which was the start of his injury problems.

He snapped his cruciate ligament in an FA Cup tie with Huddersfield, in what was due to be his final game for the club before signing for Millwall.

“My whole world fell apart,” he says and there was further misery after getting himself fit and joining Doncaster when he snapped his other cruciate ligament.

He joined Peterborough but Hayrettin knew his pro career was up.

“I just wasn’t the same player, not at all,” he says.

“But during that short time I won two Conference titles, an FA Trophy, and I won promotion with Wycombe in the Football League via the play-offs, so I did quite a bit and I was grateful for that.”

Hayrettin started coaching the youth team at Watford and his one big regret was turning down the chance to go full-time with the late, great Graham Taylor.

He said: “I went to work with the kids at Watford and I got offered a full-time job there under Graham Taylor. Graham said to me, ‘Do your rehab here, get fit, play in the reserves and do the youth as well’ and I turned it down. I don’t know why.

Barry Fry took Hakan Hayrettin to Barnet Picture: Steve Terrell
Barry Fry took Hakan Hayrettin to Barnet Picture: Steve Terrell

“I went and worked in the family business with my brother and then I started coaching.

“I was player-coach at Harrow Borough, and I got my first job at Waltham Forest and I won the Essex Senior Cup and finished about fifth.

“I got my move to Thurrock and I did really well there with no money at all and then after that I went to Grays and won the Ryman North.

“That’s when I rekindled it with John and went to Luton. After that I went to Braintree and the rest is history.

“Watford is the one I regret. I should have gone full-time with Graham Taylor.

“That was a big mistake and I felt sorry for him when he got all that stick with England.

“If I’d taken that chance with him anything could have happened.”

Hayrettin was fresh from title success at Grays when Still came calling with an offer to be first-team coach at Luton.

They'd had been stuck in non-league for several years and saw Still as the man to finally take them back into the Football League.

The pair won the Conference at the first attempt and almost reached the League 2 play-offs the following season before Still was replaced.

Maidstone United head of football John Still Picture: Andy Jones
Maidstone United head of football John Still Picture: Andy Jones

“John saw what I did at Grays and I’d kept in touch with him anyway,” said Hayrettin.

“We were talking about how to do things and he invited me to Luton.

“I got off the plane and the next day I’m on the plane to Portugal for a pre-season tour.

“I would tell John exactly what I thought, I wouldn’t hold back.

“There’s no point otherwise and I think that’s why we were successful because we worked really well together.

“The recruitment was very important.

“We signed some players while we were in Portugal and we moulded a very good team that went on to have an unbelievable record to get promoted.

“We actually put the structure in place for them to be where they are now, and the second season we only just missed out on the play-offs.

“I was told I was going to be put in charge when John left and then I wasn’t so I knew it was the end of the road for me there.”

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