Toolstation NCEL Premier Division
Non League great Andy Hayward will bring down the curtain on a glorious near 30-year playing career tomorrow.
The Hemsworth Miners Welfare player/assistant manager is hanging his boots up at the age of 46 after the trip to Rainworth Miners Welfare. He will stay on as Wayne Benn’s assistant.
Benn has known with Hayward for nearly 20 years. Their friendship began when they became team-mates at Bradford (Park Avenue) in 2000 – the season they helped Avenue win the old NPL Division One title under the management of Trevor Storton.
And Benn has nothing but praise for striker, turned right-back Hayward, who is still Avenue’s all-time goal-scorer.
“In my opinion he has been one of the best Non League players in recent memory,” Benn told Non League Yorkshire.
“When I first got to know him, Bradford paid what was big money at the time for him.
“He was probably the best striker around at the time. His impact was unbelievable. He scored twice on his debut at Trafford and went onto score 23 more times that.
“He wasn’t the main reason, but he was a major factor in why we got promoted that year. That’s incredible when you consider we signed him two months into the season. He kept scoring for Avenue and he’s still their all-time goal-scorer, as far as I’m aware.
“He’s scored goals wherever he has been. At 46 he’s still going strong and doing a job.
“He’s reinvented himself as a right-back in recent years, but his body is starting to ache a bit so he’s decided the time is right to call it a day.
“He deserves a lot of credit for playing regularly well into his 40s. I haven’t got anything concrete, but he must have played well over 1000 competitive games in the Football League and Non League. That’s phenomenal.
“He’s been loved by every club he has been at and he’s an unbelievable character. He’s always got a smile on his face. We’re very fortunate to have him at Hemsworth.”
Hayward’s journey began with Pontefract Collieries where he was given his chance in the first in 1990, playing alongside the likes of current Glasshoughton Welfare joint manager Darren Holmes and former Wells joint bosses Darrell Bowman and Alan Billingham.
His big break came in 1994 when performances for Frickley Athletic earned him a move to Rotherham United with whom he made 120 Football League appearances for.
He moved back into Non League with Barrow before prolific spells with Avenue, Stalybridge Celtic, Ossett Town, North Ferriby and Garforth Town.
In 2010 he was reunited with Benn for their first stint in charge of Hemsworth. The pair then briefly piloted Goole AFC before returning to Hemsworth in October 2013 to lead rise their from the lower reaches of Division One and into the NCEL’s top flight.
In recent months, Hayward has featured regularly for the Wells, defying his age. However, Benn is not surprised by his decision to retire from playing.
“We’ve had a laugh and joke about it (retiring from playing) for a few months, but he’s kept going,” he said.
“His performances have been very good. He was in the Team of the Year two seasons ago.
“He’s had less involvement playing-wise this season and I think deep down he made the decision (to retire) three or four months ago.”
Hayward will certainly be given a send-off from playing by Hemsworth. There is not one spare seat on the coach to Rainworth and the club’s supporters are going in fancy dress.
Benn has confirmed they are planning to make a presentation to Hayward tomorrow, as well as one at their presentation night in early June.
Although giving Hayward a day to remember is a priority, the Wells boss is still urging focus on picking up three points.
“We want to win and finish on a high note,” he added.
“If we win we’ll finish either eighth or ninth which for a first season at this level would be very respectable.”