We look at the career of Morecambe boss Jim Bentley
NO player has ever won the hearts of Morecambe fans quite like Jim Bentley. A glance at the programme for his testimonial in 2012 is proof of that.
“The best organiser, motivator and leader I have ever seen on a football pitch,” said one fan.“And a gentleman who always has time for the supporters.”
“His aerial ability defensively was immense,” said another. “I still remember his headers going over the stand and into the carwash.”
And isn’t only fans who eulogise his ten years at the heart of defence. “He was bold, he was brave, he put his body on the line – he ticked every box for a defender,” said former Shrimps boss Jim Harvey. “And from the moment I met him, I realised that he loved the game and would inspire everyone around him. That’s exactly what happened.”
Sammy McIlroy, who succeeded Harvey in 2007 and eventually made Bentley his assistant, had similar praise.
“Jim was our leader on the pitch and greatest example in the dressing room,” he said.“He has a great attitude, a tremendous will to win, but most of all he is a great example to the younger players. Every player, young or old, looks up to him.”
Every opponent will attest to the words of Harvey and McIlroy. A six-foot, barrel-chested bear of a defender, Bentley was the classic no-nonsense centre-back, a man who, in the words of former Telford team-mate Steve Palmer, “could head the ball further than I could kick it”.
Yet talk to anyone at Morecambe about Bentley and it is obvious that the 37-year-old’s terrifying appearance was a million miles from his warm personality.
Take, for the instance, the day in 2005 when Bentley walked into the club shop before a Conference game purely to say hello to fans.
“He said good evening to everyone in turn and then got into discussion with a ground hopper who had travelled up from Brighton especially for that game,” recalls one.
“Jim spoke to him for a while about his exploits, shook him by the hand, welcomed him to Morecambe and hoped he had a good evening with us.”
Born: Liverpool, 1976 (age 37) Playing career: A trainee at Man City, Bentley played both as a striker and a centr e-half, signing his first pro contract under Peter Reid and winning pr omotion to the reserve team aged just 16. However, the quickfire departures of Reid, Alan Ball and Steve Coppell left Bentley struggling t ow ina place
and he was eventually let go by Frank Clark in 1997. While working part time for his father’s removal company, Bentley signed for Telford United, quickly be c o ming captain and making 161 appearances in five years. In 2002, B e ntley signed for Jim Harvey and fellow Conference side Morecambe, finishing second in his first season but losing to Dagenham in the play-of f semis. Further play-off heartbreak followed in 2006, but a year later Bentley skippered the Shrimps to the Football League
with a play-off victory over Exeter at Wembley. He effectively retired on becoming manager in 2011, ending his ten-year career at Christie Park with 29 goals in 328 games. Managerial career: Appointed manager in May 2011, Bentley guided the Shrimps to finishes of 15th and 16th
in his first two seasons. This year – described by Bentley as his toughest yet – saw the Shrimps briefly challenge for the play-offs before finishing 18th.
Or the aftermath of Morecambe’s devastating 6-0 defeat to Dagenham in the first leg of the 2010 League Two play-off semis, when Bentley personally wrote a public letter of apology for both his and the team’s performance.
Or just the hundreds of Saturday afternoons when Bentley would chew the fat with punters in the clubhouse after a match.
“I value that strong bond with the fans and I’ll always appreciate them, win, lose or draw,” he says.“I go into the supporters’ bar after every home game, and if I can explain a few things or answer questions I will. Sometimes I’ll rile them and sometimes they’ll rile me but, to me, that’s what football is about.”
It’s an appreciation born of knowing what life outside football is like. Released by Man City – where he played both up front and at the back – as a teenager, Bentley played part-time for Telford while working for his dad Jack’s removal company.
“I got up at seven o’clock, did a day’s graft, and then drove 70 miles to Telford for a match or to train,” he recalls. “That two-year spell made me realise how much I wanted to get back into full-time football.”
Five years and hero status at the Bucks was followed by that decade at Morecambe, crowned in 2007 by skippering the side to promotion from the Conference
Appointed manager in 2011 – aged just 34 – he has since kept the Shrimps in League Two three years running, despite a tiny budget and small gates making them favourites to be relegated every season.
“We once said that if anybody from that side was going to be a manager it was Jim,” said Palmer. “Even in his early twenties he was a born captain. He had every quality and I wasn’t at all surprised to see him take over at Morecambe, or that he’s doing well. People just follow him.”
And as for Bentley, he never had any intention of leaving Morecambe, whether there was a place in the dugout at the end or not.
“I’ve always felt very comfortable at Morecambe, with the town and the people,” he said. “It’s a very honest place.
“You see some players with a string of clubs next to their name, and they seem to move here and there every few months.
“But I’m the type of person who likes to be settled in life. I don’t like change, and Morecambe has been a settling influence on my career. I love it here.”
SUCCESS: Jim Bentley celebrates with the Conference play-off trophy in 2007