Former Chairboy Hakan Hayrettin says his famous strike against Preston North End can partly be attributed to Martin O’Neill wandering off during a training session!
“We went up there on the Friday to make sure we prepared properly and professionally,” he said.
“Preston played on an astroturf pitch at the time and that made it a very difficult place for visiting teams to go and get a result there. But just as we were training, the gaffer wandered off and none of us knew where he’d gone.
“Anyway, we organised an impromptu shooting session, and as it happens, I was catching the ball really sweetly. So when the ball came to me in the last minute of the match, I thought I’d have a go and I knew I’d scored as soon as I hit it. I still remember that training session and I just think
Martin letting us get on with things ourselves played a huge part in our win and the whole season.”
It was Hayrettin’s first and only goal in a year-long stay with the Chairboys, but the result – coming in front of 1,200 away fans – sent out a message that the newly-promoted Wanderers meant business.
“That win elevated us to a position of real recognition,” he said. “People didn’t consider us promotion contenders beforehand but they certainly did afterwards. I know league positions are decided after a long season but that was the game that we knew we could get ourselves into the top six.”
Hayrettin wasn’t involved in the squad at Wembley and left Wycombe that summer for Cambridge United, but it wasn’t long before his career was cut short by a knee injury.
“Obviously I would have liked to have played more games in my time there and leaving the club started my downfall. When things started to go wrong for me, I wished I was back at Wycombe because we had some fantastic characters there.
“We still get together every now and then these days and it’s great to look back on what we achieved that year. I’ll always be grateful to Martin for believing in me and he had this aura about him; I saw Matt Crossley last week and he says Martin still scares him even now!
“But he was a jovial man too; the first time I met him he said I reminded him of Hanratty – the murderer – because of my name! He was fascinated by court cases and he was a very intelligent man.”
Inspired by his former boss, Hakan took his own steps into management with Waltham Forest in 2003, after a spell as youth coach at Watford, and moved on to Thurrock and Grays Athletic before landing his current post – first-team coach at Luton Town, working alongside manager John Still.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ve been coaching for about 12 years now and known John for even longer. He’s very knowledgeable and he gives opportunities to people who are out of work – he took a chance on Alan Pardew at Barnet and look at him now. John’s put his trust in me and it would be great for everyone if we can get Luton back into the Football League, where we should be.
“He shares the same philosophies as me – I like to embrace people and not distance myself. I believe that although the team on the pitch is the one that receives the accolades when things are going well, there’s a much bigger picture and it’s the whole team – the staff, the people in the office, the groundsman, the people who sweep the terraces – who are all working in the same direction to make it happen.
“Take Wycombe for example – you’ve got an outstanding manager there who’s doing a really good job, but the whole club plays its part and you couldn’t do it without them.”
So having learned from O’Neill and Still in his career so far, Hakan says he has ambitions of returning to a managerial role in future – perhaps even at Adams Park.
“I think if you ask anyone who played in that team under Martin at Wycombe, they’d all love to have the chance to manage the club, and I include myself in that.
“I had a very special time there, even if it was a relatively short one, but I still have that affiliation and keep a track of what’s going on through Facebook. I left on fantastic terms and wish everyone there a Merry Christmas and all the best for the future.”