The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Matt Bad­cock

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.


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.


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

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

DETERMINED: Mark Bent­ley in typ­i­cally whole­hearted ac­tion for Gilling­ham against Mill­wall

Tough­est op­po­nent: Matthew Le Tissier

Best team-mate: Freddy East­wood

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