‘Big Kitch’ was a true legend at Millwall, an old school player who spent almost his entire career playing for one club. Unsurprisingly, he holds the record of being Millwall’s longest serving player, making 602 senior appearances for the club.
When I first started going to watch Millwall with my grandad in the 1970s, Big Kitch was still playing for the club. He was my grandad’s favourite player and having to listen to my grandad praise him week in, week out has left a wonderful legacy with me: a true Roy of the Rovers character, one of ‘us’, a man who gave everything for Millwall.
Yesterday the team wore black armbands in Big Kitch’s honour. Below is the tribute from the Millwall FC website:
Big Kitch, Gentle Giant, Mr Millwall to Lions fans or quite simply Barry, Dad and Grandad to his family – Barry Kitchener was quite simply a lovely, genuine human being whose sudden passing is as cruel as it is premature.
Kitch’s love affair with The Lions started over five decades ago when he first came to the notice of the club via the scouting system in Essex.
At the time, he was a gangling, somewhat awkward 16-year-old playing for Newbury Park Youth Club, but didn’t need asking twice when the opportunity came to join Millwall.
Kitch signed professional terms in August 1965 and played at left-back in the Youth and Reserve teams, finally making his first-team debut in that position against Birmingham City on 11th February 1967.
He was converted into a centre-half to take the place of Bryan Snowdon when he retired, and with his 6ft tall frame tipping the scales at 12st 7lbs, he made an ideal replacement.
Kitch took a while to settle, but once he did there was to be no other contender for the number five shirt during the next 11 seasons.
Commanding in the air and not daunted by bustling forwards, Kitch never seem to be rattled and when Harry Cripps relinquished the captaincy, there was no finer, or more obvious replacement. The captain’s armband was worn with pride and Kitch truly led the team by example.
By his own admission he was never the greatest of footballers, but when it came to effort, honesty, humility and integrity, Barry was in a league of his own. He truly knew what passion and pride meant to the supporters; he understood Millwall, and Millwall loved him as Lions fans took Kitch to their hearts, admiring his never-say-die attitude.
Kitch is Millwall’s record appearance holder in all three major competitions. In the FA Cup he has just one more appearance than old-time favourites, Len Graham and Alex Jardine.
He is also out on his own in terms of the most consecutive League appearances (244), and in a brief spell away from the club, Kitch played with Tampa Bay Rowdies during 1979, when they lost to Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL Soccer Bowl final.
He played his last game for Millwall on 15th May 1982, then coached the Youth team and the Reserves. He looked after the first team for six matches before the arrival of George Graham.
After his football career was over Kitch went into business in Caistor catering for the tourist trade in that part of Norfolk. Lions fans were regular visitors, and it is a wonder that he and his beloved wife Hazel made a living as Kitch would readily down tools to talk about Millwall with anyone who cared to raise the subject.
He was a regular visitor to The ‘New’ Den following the club’s relocation in 1993 and was honoured to have a restaurant named after him.
Kitch’s genuine humility was only surpassed by his generosity of spirit, and hundreds of supporters will tell stories of ‘days made’ by Big Kitch taking the time to chat to them, pose for a photo and sign an autograph.
Kitch’s passing marks the end of an era. The batton now passes to the likes of Keith Stevens and Neil Harris, both of whom adored the big man and will be devastated by the news of his untimely death.
The life and career of Barry Kitchener will be celebrated at The Den next Saturday when Millwall play Hull City in the Championship.
Anyone who wishes to send a message of condolence to Hazel and the Kitchener family may do so via email to firstname.lastname@example.org