Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire born centre half Eric Hayward played for Hanley and for Leek based side Wardle’s in 1933 but began his senior career with Port Vale as an amateur in July 1934, signing professional forms two years later. He made his Football League debut at The Old Recreation Ground in a 1-0 defeat to Bury on 30th March 1935 still aged 17, and made four appearances in 1934-35 and 13 appearances in 1935-36, when he was described as “a player of great promise”. He continued to skirt the fringes of the first team as The Valiants were relegated from the Second Division into the Third Division (North), featuring 21 times in 1936-37.
He was transferred after 38 appearances to Joe Smith’s First Division club Blackpool in May 1937, with whom he would spend the next fifteen years, a period which would prove one of the brightest periods in the club’s history.
He made his debut for The Seasiders on 27th November 1937, in a single goal defeat by Liverpool at Bloomfield Road. He went on to make 23 further appearances during the 1937-38 season. He missed only one game of the 1938-39 campaign, before the Second World War intervened in September 1939, forcing the abandonment of peacetime football. During the hostilities he served in the Armed Forces and guested for Stoke City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wrexham, Walsall, Birmingham and Luton Town when he wasn’t stationed with the Army in India. He also featured for Blackpool in the 1943 League War Cup Final victory over Arsenal. When the Football League resumed in a regional form in 1945-46, Hayward returned to Bloomfield Road.
In 1946-47, Hayward made 20 appearances. The following season, he missed only one game as Blackpool finished in the top ten in the First Division for a second consecutive season and played in the 1948 FA Cup Final at Wembley, which ended in a 4-2 defeat to Matt Busby’s Manchester United. He was then an ever present in 1948-49.
Described as “exceptionally strong in the tackle and good with his head”, Hayward appeared in the first two-thirds of the 1949-50 campaign, before an injury ruled him out of the remaining 15 games. In 1950-51, Hayward made 37 League appearances as Blackpool finished third, their highest ever finishing place in the League at that point. Hayward also made his second appearance in an FA Cup Final; again, they were unsuccessful, losing 2-0 to Newcastle United at Wembley in April 1951.
Hayward missed out on Blackpool’s third, this time successful, attempt at winning the FA Cup two years later, the so-called “Matthews” Cup Final. He had retired at the end of the 1951-52 season after making 294 League and Cup appearances for the club, without ever scoring.
He was the elder brother of Basil and Doug Hayward. Basil played mainly for Port Vale and also for Portsmouth, Doug played mainly for Newport County.