The Starting Eleven – Dave Bennett

It’s the 40th anniversary of the 1981 FA Cup final on May 9 and ten years ago, as we looked forward to Manchester City appearing in the 2011 FA Cup final, I was asked by the Manchester Evening News to write profiles of the eleven players who started the 1981 final.

For the next few days I will post those profiles, one a day, free to read here. These will only be free to view until May 16, so please read them while you can. Thanks.

Here’s the latest (appearing here as it was written in 2011)…

As we look forward to the 2011 FA Cup final, Gary James takes a look at the eleven players who made the starting line-up for City’s last FA Cup final in 1981.  Today, midfielder Dave Bennett.

In the days before squad rotation became the norm, 21 year old Dave Bennett was initially used by manager John Bond in the League Cup to fill the gaps left by the cup-tied Hutchison and Gow, and in League games following injury to Tueart. 

The young Mancunian had made his debut in 1979, but it was in the 1980-81 League Cup run that he really impressed, scoring five goals in the four games he played leading up to the semi-final.  He admitted:  “I’ve really battled hard in recent months, because there were times before when my attitude wasn’t quite right.  I’ve had my chance to grab a regular place in the side, but didn’t play well enough.”

Most assumed Bennett’s chance of appearing at Wembley ended with the League Cup semi-final defeat but, surprisingly, Bennett was selected for the FA Cup semi-final.  Shoot magazine explained:  “Bond opted for the speed and control of Bennett in preference to the guile and experience of Dennis Tueart.”

Bennett performed well and was desperate to be selected for the final:  “Wembley is the ultimate aim.  I want to play, and I don’t care if it’s in midfield or up front as long as I’m out there.  John Bond is a very determined man and he’s also a winner.  I hope I get this opportunity to prove that I can be a winner as well.”

Bennett was selected, becoming the first black footballer to represent either Manchester side in a FA Cup final.  The Mancunian played a part in the final’s first goal and, in the replay, he was the player pushed by Spurs’ Miller which led to a penalty, scored by Reeves.  The final ultimately ended in defeat of course, meaning Bennett’s chance of being a FA Cup winner was over – for a while at least. 

Five days after the 1981 FA Cup final Bennett played in City’s 1-0 League defeat at Anfield.  It was the last game of the season but, surprisingly, it was also Bennett’s last competitive game for the Blues.  The arrival of Martin O’Neill in June for £275,000 made it clear that Bennett’s opportunities would be limited and the following September he was sold to Cardiff for £100,000.

O’Neill’s form at City was poor.  Many fans felt that City would have been much better, both financially and on the pitch, had they kept Bennett.

A promotion with Cardiff in 1983 was followed by a move to Coventry City.  In 1987 Bennett scored and set up another goal as the ‘other’ Sky Blues won their first major trophy, the FA Cup.  He was also the undisputed Man of the Match.  It remains the highlight of his career:  “So special, and it felt like revenge as we beat Spurs who I lost to with Man City in the FA Cup final six years earlier.”

In 1989 he moved to Sheffield Wednesday and then Ossie Ardiles’ Swindon a year later.  The two had come face to face at Wembley in 1981 when Bennett rated him as the best in the League:  “Ossie has skill, control and a quick footballing brain.  He is dangerous, but I’m hoping we can shackle him.” 

Obviously, he did enough to impress Ardiles.  Unfortunately, Bennett was unlucky with injury and only managed one appearance for Swindon.  He suffered four leg breaks between 1988 and 1992, bringing his League career to a premature end.

Employment outside of the game, including work as a warehouseman, followed.  Today Bennett is a regular commentator on Mercia Radio covering Coventry’s games.  In March this year he was highly critical when the Board – at the time under the final days of Ray Ranson’s chairmanship – sacked manager Boothroyd:  “Ten managers in 10 years? Not good is it. We’ve had enthusiasm, we’ve had experience, now we need a magician.”  He joked:  “I’d like to see Merlin come in next!”

When interviewed he often talks fondly of his influences at City, including players Colin Bell and Brian Kidd:  “they gave me a great boost and were mentors for me.  Tony Book gave me my first chance as a professional footballer and took me under his wing.  John Bond helped me improve.”  

My biography of Peter Barnes is now available to subscribe to. Order by May 15 and you will receive a copy signed by me & Peter, the book posted to your home address before it appears in any shop AND your name printed in the book. Order (and more details) here:

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