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


  • Total voters
    58
  • Poll closed .

Yorkshire Blue

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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)
 

Yorkshire Blue

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Because it's been quite a while, here's a reminder of the standard Hall of Famers need to obtain:

Currently in are (in order of admission):
Chris Powell with 100% of the vote and a poll of 66 votes in favour
Sid Bloomfield with a 97.73% of the vote, polling 43 to 1
Stanley Collymore with 94.44% of the vote, 102 to 6
Ron Pountney, at the 2nd attempt, with 91.07% and 51 to 5 (only 22 votes in favour on 1st poll)
Oliver Trigg with 100% of the vote, polling 47 votes
Frank Gill with 94.29% and 33 to 2
Billy Best with 97.78% and 44 to 1
David Webb with 98.44% and 63 to 1
Alan Moody with 98.31% and 58 to 1
Spencer Prior with 91.53% and 54 to 5

Those that haven't made it are:
David Crown, 51.61%, 32 to 30
Ricky Otto, 51.61%, 48 to 45
Paul Sansome, 78%, 39 to 11
Dave Smith, 89.74%, 35 to 4
Paul Clark, 89.69%, 87 to 10.
 

Napster

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When I interviewed him a few years ago, he told me he has a framed photo of that goal against Bury on his wall.
 

BrettieAngell

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Yes, yes, yes!!!!

Great write up YB, bought a tear to my eye sir!! Oh yeah and I was there!! :happy::support:
 
Last edited:

palexander

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Great write up YB.

I too was probably too young to fully appreciate the scale of what was happening (or at least now I look back I dont recall, perhaps at the time I did at around 14).

Whilst I didnt go with my Dad, I went with a mates family who had been Southend fans for generations and you could see what it meant to the older members!

I do remember the absolute chaos after the goal and at the final whistle climbing the security fence at Gigg Lane to high 5 as many of our hero's in Blue that I could... great day.

If Benji was in the side today, I think he would be castigated by our fans, especially those on SZ. His game was so much more about goals and he is exactly the sort of 'target man' that I love. Not a target man in the traditional 6ft 4 bruiser who gets it lumped up to him, but someone who is a focal point for attacks, someone that midfielders can 'hit' and the team know its going to stick there for a while, so players like Ansah, Tilson, Locke etc, never had a problem gambling on getting on their bikes when the ball was hit to Benji.

It wasnt a wasted 20-30yard run, as they knew Benji would hold it and find one of them once they were in position.

So many of our great play under Webb was the ball going up to Benji and midfielders joining in. I remember a line of commentary from one of the season review videos - "the ball goes back, to go forward" (probably Howard Southwards dribblings), but it made sense, time and again Benji would come short, lay it back to Martin/Butler who would knock it over his head for Angell/Ansah/Tilson - it was such an effective way to play.

And like you, I was devestated when Murphy sold Benji and brought in some unknow kid from Palace... "what a stupid decision that was"... oops! But still, thats what he meant to us.

Finally, I think my favourite all time Southend goal (not in terms of what it meant, but how it was scored) was Southend v Swindon (think was 91/92) - we won 3-2 and it was our second goal I think, a slick back and forth passing move, culminating with the ball played up to Benji, who laid it off first time for Angell to side-foot volley into the other corner from the edge of the box. Was just incredible - I'll dig it out on YouTube if I can.

For me, Benji HAS to be in the HoF for *that* goal and for what he gave us during those glorius seasons...
 

GNH

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Must be included for me.

I believe Benji is THE most important player SUFC has ever had. If it wasn't for him and his remarkable contribution to the team we would never have got to the higher leagues and been able to sign some of the best players we have seen at Roots Hall.

I will never forget that day at Bury (yes I was there!) and i dont think we will ever see anyone with as good a footballing brain play for SUFC agian.
 

Shrimper

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Watching that video just sends a tingling feeling down your spine, I wasn't even born then so I can't comment on it but it should hold high significance as it helped improve the team massively over the next couple of years, all from that one goal. I voted yes.
 

Not In Mohave Shrimper

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I started going regularly to see Southend that first season in the 2nd tier. First game of the season against Bristol City I remember every single Southend fan around me singing "Who Put The Ball In The Bury Net - Benji! Benji!" and wondering who this guy was. I soon found out when Benji scored Southend's goal that day, my first ever SUFC goal.

We had alot of great players at that time who would become legends, Tilly, Sir Chris of Powell, Spinner, Ansah, the list goes on but everything went through Benji. It may seem like there's alot of that side in the HoF, but there's a bloody good reason for that.

I was lucky starting to support SUFC at that time, as YB & pboreham have said I didn't realise how lucky I was at the time. Now Benji deserves his dues, Vote Benji In!
 

Yorkshire Blue

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It can be a valid view to vote no, but I'd be interested in hearing exactly why those who voted no, did so.
 

Kent Shrimper

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100% Yes, i was lucky enough to be there and that goal is as clear in my mind as the day it was scored. Great write up YB
 

leeblue

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It can be a valid view to vote no, but I'd be interested in hearing exactly why those who voted no, did so.

if paul clark does not make it then I will not vote for anyone tbh with you, explain again how he is not in, I was at bury and it is in the list of greatest days of my life absolute ecstacy at the end, benji is an absolute legend but as stated above no clark = bollox
 

OldBlueLady

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Took a while to vote on this one, but I feel similarly. As far as I'm concerned, Ian Benjamin scored one momentuous goal, that doesn't earn him the right to be included in the Hall of Fame when you look at others of the calibre of Clark and the rest of those who've not been admitted in the list above.
 
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If the HoF was based on footballing ability then I doubt if Benji would be in the top 50, but then THAT goal took us into the promised land of division two. This one has probably been the most thought provoking, it's a yes from me.
 

Yorkshire Blue

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if paul clark does not make it then I will not vote for anyone tbh with you, explain again how he is not in, I was at bury and it is in the list of greatest days of my life absolute ecstacy at the end, benji is an absolute legend but as stated above no clark = bollox

Fair enough.

Took a while to vote on this one, but I feel similarly. As far as I'm concerned, Ian Benjamin scored one momentuous goal, that doesn't earn him the right to be included in the Hall of Fame when you look at others of the calibre of Clark and the rest of those who've not been admitted in the list above.

Ian Benjamin scored one momentous goal AND was an integral part of our most successful team ever. It's that second bit that has him nominated - Duncan Jupp scored a similarly famous goal and doesn't warrant a mention.

Benji was the player we played through. His intelligent hold up play was the reason that three midfielders hit double figures that season (Butler, Locke and Cornwall scored a further 10 between them as well). He was arguably Dave Webb's first name on the team sheet - the likes of Angell, Ansah, Powell, Tilson, Prior, Butler, Martin all found themselves dropped to the bench at various times yet Benji started every game (but the final game of the 92 season, when he was injured, and we lost without him). In fact he didn't just start every game, he also finished every game for his first 18 months at the club. When Webby wanted to change things around it was Angell or Ansah or Tilson or Martin that he hauled off. He was so much more than just that goal.
 

OldBlueLady

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Benji was the player we played through. His intelligent hold up play was the reason that three midfielders hit double figures that season (Butler, Locke and Cornwall scored a further 10 between them as well). He was arguably Dave Webb's first name on the team sheet - the likes of Angell, Ansah, Powell, Tilson, Prior, Butler, Martin all found themselves dropped to the bench at various times yet Benji started every game (but the final game of the 92 season, when he was injured, and we lost without him). In fact he didn't just start every game, he also finished every game for his first 18 months at the club. When Webby wanted to change things around it was Angell or Ansah or Tilson or Martin that he hauled off. He was so much more than just that goal.

And I'd put Tilly, Prior, Angell, Ansah and Powell from that team all in ahead of Benjamin. Unlike some of the earlier rounds where people just voted against because they never saw them play, I have at least given my reasons and I stand by my right to make that choice.
 

Yorkshire Blue

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And I'd put Tilly, Prior, Angell, Ansah and Powell from that team all in ahead of Benjamin. Unlike some of the earlier rounds where people just voted against because they never saw them play, I have at least given my reasons and I stand by my right to make that choice.

Hall of Famer Dave Webb clearly would disagree with you, but you're entitled to your opinion.
 
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