I CLAPPED LE TISS FOR HIS FOUR NUTMEGS!
GOOD BAD & UGLY: MARK BENTLEY
MARK BENTLEY was sitting at work “getting stressed out by students” on his 26th birthday when the phone call he’d always been waiting for finally came.
Having done the hard NonLeague yards at Aveley, Enfield, Gravesend & Northfleet, Aldershot and Dagenham & Redbridge, the Football League had finally dialled his number. Bentley, one of the Conference’s most influential midfielders, was on his way to Southend.
In his own words, he was never blessed with the technique and grace some players possess. But he more than made up for it with his winning attitude and graft.
And when he got there, that mentality helped him stay and taste consecutive promotions with Southend, as well as getting up to League One with Gillingham.
For the Shrimpers’ win at the Millennium Stadium in 2005 he even cancelled his stag do!
I left Spurs when I was 15 and did a YTS scheme, as it was in those days, at Enfield FC. I think there were about eight of us and that was the only time they did it. It was two great years. As a young lad, playing football every day, it was all part of the learning curve.
Getting released from Tottenham was actually a bit of a relief. I’d been there for three years but never really felt wanted. There were a lot of lads from the same clubs and I was the one from Hertfordshire. I’m a Tottenham fan so it was a big thing for me, but I didn’t ever feel part of it.
My first men’s football was for Aveley in what was Ryman Division Three. I was there two years and it made me a man. You learn how to stick up for yourself. Then I went back to Enfield for a year before going to Aldershot. That’s where it all started kicking off for me.
I always say Steve Tilson. Not necessarily because of anything he did or didn’t do, but he gave me my big chance to play in the Football League with Southend.
I loved working under Ronnie Jepson at Gillingham. He was an honest guy, a tough character, but someone who really appreciated what I gave to the team. I wasn’t the fanciest of players, but I was a grafter who would put the team before myself. I think he appreciated that.
When Freddy Eastwood first came to Southend he was frightening. He was quite a lazy person in training, but he more than made up for it in games.
Between him and a couple of others, they got us into the playoffs in my second year at Southend. He was scoring goals from everywhere.
I remember the hat-trick on his debut. I was injured and doing commentary for the radio. He scored his first after about eight seconds and didn’t look back.
The League Two play-off final with Southend ten years ago. We beat Lincoln City 2-0 at the Millennium Stadium. We’d been up there most of the season only to fall out of the top three on the last day of the season. We needed to win at Grimsby – and drew.
So we had to dust ourselves off and go into the play-offs. But what an experience. We’d played at the Millennium in the LDV Trophy a couple of months earlier and lost, so to go back there and win was fantastic.
Even now when I’m feeling a bit low I stick on the DVD and bring back the memories.
It was a mad week because I got married five days later. The play-off final got me out of my stag-do!
Clint Easton is a character. I drove in with him in my first year at Gillingham and all year I was laughing – belly laughing! Even though we only finished mid-table that season, we had a brilliant team spirit and it was one of the most enjoyable seasons of my career.
When you’re meeting characters like Clint and you’ve got Bas Savage doing his moonwalk, it’s great. Bas’ moonwalk was shown on Soccer AM all the time, so we were doing dance-offs and all sorts. Something was always hap
Every Friday at Gillingham we’d have a court session. It was basically a chance for the lads to stitch each other up. People would get charged and fined for all sorts of things.
Parking on the kerb was a fine, but lads would have been bumping cars up there and taking pictures for evidence to get them.
If you appealed it would be doubled, and you’d never win an appeal because someone would have photographic evidence.
I remember I was found guilty of parking on double-yellow lines – one of the lads had drawn fake lines on the road and put my car on them.
Making it into the Football League. It took me a lot longer than most. When you’re in the Ryman League playing for Aveley it’s just a dream.
But that call I got, ‘You’re going to be a professional footballer,’ is every boy’s dream. I was a recreation officer at a college – basically playing table tennis against students all day. I was sitting at work when the call came and it was on my birthday so a very good day.
I had a mare on my debut against Doncaster. We were 2-0 down after about ten minutes and I’d been booked. You don’t realise how unfit you are when you play part-time in Non-League football, as I was at Dagenham & Redbridge. And I was always the type to do the extra.
When I went to Southend I realised very quickly I wasn’t fit enough for the Football League. So it took me a bit of time and the next season, after a good pre-season, I really started to shine.
This is going to sound strange but the play-off final with Gillingham in 2009 at Wembley – even though we won. It sounds really selfish but I didn’t get on and I found it so hard to celebrate after. I did, because I didn’t want to spoil it for myself or the team, but deep down it was hard.
I’d played 90 per cent of the games that season, out of position,
but I lost my place two games before the play-offs. I was gutted not to get on. Even now when I go to Wembley to watch Tottenham I have a look at my seat on the bench. They’re not good memories.
TOUGHEST PLACE TO GO
Doncaster’s old Belle Vue ground was always hard. There was never a nice welcome and it was intimidating. You’d walk out of the tunnel and people would be spitting at you.
I remember going there with Gravesend & Northfleet and our goalkeeper Paul Wilkerson was bending over to pick the ball up for a goal kick and he was hooked by a little old lady with her umbrella. Very strange.
I was a combative player, I loved a challenge and the physical side. So the toughest for me were the little players.
Being 6ft 2ins, I always struggled with those little wingers who had all the tricks in the world and would get under your feet.
Even in the air they were the ones who would give you a nudge before your jump, beat you in the air and then you’re getting a rollicking from the sidelines.
That aside, I remember a preseason game for Aldershot and Matt Le Tissier nutmegged me four times!
He was tough but I pretty much got up and clapped him.
FAVOURITE PLACE TO GO
Gillingham played Leeds on the last day of the season. They needed to beat us to get in the play-offs and they opened the whole of the ground up to their fans.
I think we needed to win by five or six to have any chance of staying up. It should have been a massive low point but I remember in the warm-up singing along to ‘Marching on Together’.
It sent goosebumps down my spine because you’d hear it all the time. It was disappointing to get relegated but it was an amazing experience.
I always loved playing at Gillingham and Southend, too. The crowd would be right behind us when we were winning games which was great.
I’ve fallen into the manager’s job at Grays Athletic in the Ryman Premier. Results have gone well and it’s given me belief I can do it. I really want to see how far I can get. I’m going to work as hard as I did as a player on management and coaching.
I love coaching, I’m at Leyton Orient with the U15s and I enjoy it. I’m trying to inspire some players to say ‘it can happen’. I say to the boys at Grays: Don’t look at this as just a football match. People could be watching you and you never know where it might take you.
Toughest place to go: Doncaster’s Belle Vue
Lowest moment: Not playing in Gillingham’s play-off final
Best manager: Steve Tilson
Favourite place to go: Elland Road
DETERMINED: Mark Bentley in typically wholehearted action for Gillingham against Millwall
Toughest opponent: Matthew Le Tissier
Best team-mate: Freddy Eastwood