Having enjoyed a prolific stint at non-league Stevenage, Barry Hayles was picked up by Pirates manager Ian Holloway ahead of the 1997/98 season.
It proved to be an inspired signing for the Division Two side, with Hayles netting 38 goals in under a season-and-a-half at the Memorial Stadium.
“Going from the Conference to [what’s now] League One, I adapted fairly well,” Hayles told fulhamfc.com modestly. “I hit the ground running and started scoring goals early days, which settled me right in really.
“Having come out of part-time football and having to adapt to full-time and the stress on the body and all sorts, it’s not easy, but I had a great start and it just got better and better really.
“I got the golden boot that year so people who had never heard of me, they were looking at me and seeing where I’d come from, which was definitely quite pleasing.”
Everyone loves a goal scorer, and that was certainly the case for Hayles who enjoyed a great relationship with the Gas supporters.
“It was brilliant,” he stated. “I was a proper Rovers man, proper blue half of the city.
“There was an opportunity after my first season finished for me to go to Bristol City, but being Rovers through and through I turned that down. And it worked out to be the best move of my career, most definitely, as I went to Fulham a few months later.”
That switch to Craven Cottage came about in November 1998 as the Mohamed Al Fayed revolution continued to gather momentum, with the Whites paying £2m for his services.
“It’s probably still their record sale,” Hayles said. “And I think it might still be a record signing at that level.
“From where I’d come from, to then be in that situation, was very eye-opening. There was a lot of pressure involved as well.
“Rovers weren’t a massive club, they didn’t have a massive stadium, their revenue wasn’t huge, so they would definitely have been pleased to receive the offer and for it to go through.
“I’m sure the chairman at the time would have been very happy, having spent £250,000 a year and a bit ago, to then get more than £2m within that period.”
Hayles certainly has a foot in both camps ahead of the Carabao Cup meeting between the two sides, but he’s backing the Whites to progress to Round Three.
“I think Fulham should have enough to see them off,” he stated. “Of course anything can happen in the cup, but I do think Fulham will definitely have enough to dispose of them.”
Secure your seat at Craven Cottage for our meeting with Rovers, with tickets priced at just £15 for adults and £10 for juniors & concessions.