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Is Ian Benjamin one of the greatest 12 players in SUFC history?


  • Total voters
    58
  • Poll closed .

Yorkshire Blue

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 27, 2003
Messages
34,301
Location
London
It's the answer to the most famous question in Southend United history: who put the ball in the Bury net?

And as every Southend fan will gleefully tell you: Ian Benjamin, Ian Benjamin.

Now this poll's been a long time coming*, but in some ways that's apt.

*He received the required nominations approximately 14 months ago but that appeared to have slipped my attention at the time, oops. It's also taken a long time to write this because I keep on going back and watching that goal over and over again. I just can't help myself

Firstly it's apt because that goal at Bury represented something that was a long time coming. Now as a wide-eyed kid who'd been going barely five years - this was my second season I'd been allowed to go to every home game - this meant nowhere near as much to me then as it did to my father who'd been watching since the 60s. And it probably didn't mean as much to my father as it meant to my grandfather who'd been watching since the 30s. My father had seen us yo-yo between divisions 3 and 4, whilst my grandfather had seen us do that after being seemingly perpetually stuck in division 3 South before that. For 85 years Southend had striven for second division status. As the introduction to the Official History of Southend United states: "Other teams dreamt of Wembley, some hankered for the first division championship or a place in Europe - but Southend only ever wanted second division status".

Secondly, because now we're back in the 4th division, where we were when Benji joined us. After a six year sojourn, flirting with the idea that we are a 2nd tier club, we're now basement dwellers once more. The sheer magnitude of what we achieved with Benji in the side will now be more appreciated. Because when Benji joined us in March 1990 we were a 4th division side. One of the better 4th division sides, but a 4th division side whose aspirations seemed limited to reaching the division above and then trying to stay there. And those hopes seemed to be slipping away. A 0-0 draw at home to Scunthorpe on a Friday night had seen us sink down to 4th. This was followed by a potentially devastating away defeat to fellow promotion challengers Cambridge.

It was then that Dave Webb acted, signing the veteran forward Ian Benjamin on a free transfer from rivals Exeter. Benji was keen to move closer back home and after securing his veteran influence to complement the youthful exuberance of teenagers Austin, Edinburgh, Paul Smith and Ansah, Southend never looked back. By the time Benji next missed a minute's action, Southend were a 2nd division club pushing for promotion to the top tier.

That all started with his debut at home to Carlisle and we won 2-0 with two thumping Guy Butters headers, incredibly the same scoreline we achieved in each of our next three home games, with Benji netting in each. With Benji up front for the final third of the season we won over half our remaining games - including a certain game at Layer Road where he opened the scoring to effectively relegate Col Ewe to the conference (although Peter Daley followed it up with an even more memorable goal). Then, on the final day of the season, we won 2-1 at London Road to secure promotion to the 3rd division.

That was nothing compared to the following season, where we won our opening five league games (with Benji scoring in 3 of them) to storm to the top of the table. It wasn't just in the league that we were on fire. We put 10 past Aldershot, 4 past Reading and 7 past Torquay in the Leyland Daf. In the league we were never lower than second all season on route to a historic season. Ian Benjamin played every second of all 56 games that season and with his classy lay-offs and intelligent hold-up play we lashed in nearly 100 goals. The climax to all this was of course Bury, away.

We'd had an outside chance of promotion the previous game when we played out a nervy goalless draw at home to Cambridge in front of a packed Roots Hall where over 10,000 had crammed in. So with three games to go, it was off to Gigg Lane, knowing that three points would write this team into history. As you all know, it wasn't the best of starts, when Pat Scully got sent off for a perfectly fair tackle on David Lee that wasn't late at all (well, maybe just a bit). But with 10 minutes to go, the ten men were still holding on.

Then it happened. Ooh Andy Ansah twisted and turned and ran at the Bury defence, the defender got his foot in but the ball bounced off Ansah. Ooh Andy Ansah retrieved it from out wide and crossed it in with his left foot, the ball somehow bobbled over to Benji, with his back to goal. Benji took a touch to control it, and feinted to go right, instead he went left, spinning on a six pence before guiding it into the far corner of the net to spark off pandemonium.

[video=youtube;s94LR_50iGU]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s94LR_50iGU[/video]

To my eternal regret, I was too young to be allowed to go to away games. I was instead listening to it on the radio. It seemed like an eternity. My father, never the most outwardly emotional, was clearly feeling the tension on the inside. He decided to go for a drive to try and relax. Desperate not to miss a second's worth of action I tagged along. Not having anywhere to go, we went to fill-up with petrol. So I was in an Esso petrol station when the final whistle went. I heard the final whistle, but the commentary was cut off and we were left in suspense until the phone line could be restored and confirmation came through that Southend United were a division 2 side.

In the days before the internet I think this meant a lot more than it does now. Now it's easy to get hold of Southend United info, but back then the only way was through the newspapers or teletext. All of a sudden the newspapers would start carrying the occasional Southend United match reports, sticker albums (or rather the cards as was then the fashion) would include Southend players. For a kid growing up starved of Southend related stuff - in Southend you were suffocated by Wet Sham, Liverpool and Spurs fans - this was fantastic. We had a national profile.

And this was to only grow that first season in division 2, with Benji once more integral to things. Around November time we really seemed to hit our strides. Benji's strike-partner Brett Angell began scoring for fun - 9 goals in 7 straight games. Yet tellingly it was Benji who was the one who was never dropped. Brett Angell would occasionally make way, but Benji was an automatic selection. He was there when we beat Newcastle 4-0 to go top on New Year's Day and he was there all the way through to the final game of the season, which he missed through injury. It was the first game he missed after 121 consecutive games during which we'd gone from 4th division to top of the 2nd division.

The following season was his last. With Webb gone and Angell injured we were struggling, but the one thing that was keeping us from falling adrift under new manager was Benji. 8 goals in our opening 20 games. But then in November he was sold to Luton.

And for £50,000, a desultory figure for such an inspiration.

I was devastated (until I saw his replacement). That's how good Benji was, the only man who could replace him was Stan

So that's Ian Benjamin. Not only the most important and famous goal in the club's history, but also a key inspiration behind probably the most successful spell in the club's history. Other may have been here longer but have they been more influential?

Ian Benjamin
Southend United 1990-1993
Total Appearances 141 (125 league, 2 FA Cup, 8 League Cup, 16 Other)
Goals 29 (24 League, including 1 v Col Ewe; 2 League Cup; 3 Leyland Daf, including one in our record win)
Promotions: 2 (1989-90, (1990-91)
 
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