Keeping the dream alive

Thursday 2 May 2002

The journey from carpenter and non-league footballer to Premiership striker is one that very few players have made.

A relative novice to football in comparison to his fellow professionals, Barry Hayles did not have the luxury of being taught his trade in a football Academy. Neither did he benefit from having full professional status until his mid-20s.

Yet Hayles is one of those players who can conjure up romantic football notions within us all.

Since making his arrival in the Premiership it seems like almost everyone knows a friend who has played Sunday League football against Hayles. Of course that was back in the days when he occupied the less familiar role of left-back.

You'll be hard pressed to find a player who has covered such a broad footballing spectrum in the Premiership.

As someone who has stepped up through the divisions, did Hayles think the move from the First Division to the Premiership was any tougher than any of his previous moves?

"To be honest I thought we would have done a lot better this season. Before the season started I thought that the leap from the First Division to the Premiership wasn't going to be that big. This season we've found out it's a massive gap.

"After the first few games, as long as the team stayed in the Premiership, I would have considered that a good season.

Indeed, reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup and a possible top-half finish cannot be viewed as a failure for any newly promoted side.

Fulham's strikers have arguably found the step up in class hard to acclimatise to. Whereas Hayles was terrifying First Division defences last season, this time around he's found his first-team opportunities slightly harder to come by.

"In every team you need a level of consistency," said Hayles. "But the manager has brought different players into the team to do different jobs. So it's always hard when you come back into the side."

As has been part-and-parcel of Fulham's recent close seasons. One can sense the cogs of the speculation machine slowly gearing up for action. With much of the focus on Fulham's strike force, does Hayles feel that his time as a regular Premiership footballer could be coming to an end?

"Not really, I've been fearful of that from the time I got here. I'm always hearing that I'm not good enough to play at this level.

"I'm not worried about that any more, it's just the same story. When the other strikers joined I thought I was going to take a back seat but it didn't happen that way.

"I've got faith in my own ability so I'm just going to play the way I know I can play."

There's no doubt that Hayles' unique brand of bustling and delightfully skilful play has caused defenders problems this season. With his first season in the top-flight now under his belt, who's to say that the fairytale can't continue.