Name: Ian Bennett
Born: 10 October 1971, Worksop.
Played for Blues: From 1993-2005 - 354 appearances.
Clubs played for: Newcastle United, Peterborough United, Birmingham City, Sheffield United, Coventry City, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town.
Only a handful of goalkeepers have ever saved an Alan Shearer penalty. Wolves’ Paul Jones once did and Thomas Sorenson, remarkably, did it twice. However, despite the latter winning a Tyne-Wear derby with one of those stops, there is no doubting the best rebuffing of a Shearer spot-kick came from Blues’ Ian Bennett.
“People always mention that to me,” reflects ‘Benno’. “It’s great really; I can remember Darren Purse doing one of his famous lunges (to give away the penalty). I knew it was a wet night, but if you look at it slowly, you’ll see that it actually hits me on the head and flies over the bar. So people think it’s this great save, but it’s just about getting in the line of it really,” he admits.
It was fitting that the penalty save came whilst facing Newcastle, as this was the club where Bennett started his career, but never got a chance to shine. That led him down south to play for Peterborough United.
“It was Derek Fazackerley who took a team of Newcastle lads down to Peterborough. We played a practice game and it escalated from there really,” he revealed. “Afterwards, I went down and had another week’s training with them and liked what I saw. I thought my chances at Newcastle were going to be limited, so I thought to be on the ladder and be involved in the first-team at Peterborough could be a better choice.”
It was a shrewd move by the shot-stopper and it paid instant dividends. Bennett was in goal as The Posh recorded back-to-back promotions to rise from what is now known as League Two. “Yeah, it was a good time; it was a great club for me and a few others who started their careers there. We had a real team spirit. To be fair, the place was buzzing for a few years.”
Such is the coincidental nature of football; Bennett faced Posh again in 2011 when his current club Huddersfield Town faced Peterborough in the League One play-off final. Benno started the game for the Terriers, but ended up on the losing side as United ran out 3-0 winners. Obviously, he was likely to be disappointed, but did losing to the club that helped him break into football soften the blow?
“At the time, not really, but afterwards you look at it differently. Once the game comes, you’re totally focused on your team. That’s your profession, that’s what you have to do. But, afterwards you’re pleased for your old team. But at the time you’re definitely concentrating on your own team.”
Bennett’s performances at Championship level had not gone unnoticed and in December 1993, Barry Fry shelled out £325,000 to bring him to St. Andrew’s. And as you would expect, the manager left quite an impression on his new recruits.
“Gary Cooper and I signed on the same day and Barry told us to wait in his office with the secretary. The next minute, Father Christmas came in and it was Barry inside. I should have realised then what it was going to be like. But things from there went great!”
Fry was infamous for his turnover of players, so much so that even they themselves did not always know what was going on.
“I remember transfer deadline day in my first or second year,” recalls Bennett. “We all had to go and sit in the dressing room after training. One-by-one people were being told they were going; it was like a revolving door in the first couple of years. But Barry loved the Blues and he got the ball started in raising the club’s profile and to me he was great.”
Bennett was soon the manager’s first choice goalkeeper and he rewarded the faith shown in him by helping Blues to what is now known as the League One title and the then Auto Windscreens Trophy double in the 1994/95 season. It was a great day for the travelling masses and the image of the fantastic support still lingers in Bennett’s mind.
“At that time it was the biggest game of my career. It was a fantastic effort from the Blues fans to come to Wembley and out-number Carlisle fans by 2:1. That’s the size of the club. Once it’s right, the fans will come. They’re a great set of supporters and we had a real rapport with them, they could understand that even though we weren’t the greatest team, we gave our all for the club. That’s what Birmingham fans want to see.”
The magnitude of that game was eclipsed six years later when, such was the length of Bennett’s stay at St. Andrew’s; he played in the 2001 League Cup final defeat to Liverpool.
“I’d say it was the biggest game of my career. It was really good; they had closed the roof too. Trevor (Francis) took us there the day before and everyone was laughing and joking. But then when you go into the empty stadium, it hits home. Going back to the hotel on the bus everybody was silent. That’s when the enormity hit us.”
Bennett was beaten that day by a wonderful strike by Robbie Fowler. But, after Darren Purse had equalised, deep into extra-time, Blues were denied what looked a clear penalty after Stephane Henchoz fouled Andrew Johnson and Blues went on to lose a penalty shoot-out.
“I think that everyone was disappointed after the defeat, the fans went away feeling disappointed, but also happy at the same time. If you look through the game, you know what Liverpool are going to be like, but we more than matched them and if we’d have got the penalty that we should have, then maybe we would have won it. But I’m glad the club managed to put that behind them and put it to bed by beating Arsenal (in the 2011 final).”
Blues fans will always look back fondly on Bennett’s time at St. Andrew’s, especially as it is rare nowadays to see players stay with one club for 12 years as he did, but the keeper says the constant excitement around the club always kept him rooted in Birmingham.
“People ask, ‘why didn’t you leave?’, but there was always something going on with Blues. Whether it was a promotion campaign, or staying in the Premier League, we were always playing for something and I think that’s why I was here that long. I was always involved with the team in some way too, so yes, there may have been times when I could have left, but I was very happy. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Following his loan spells at Sheffield United and Coventry, Bennett found himself playing for Leeds United and the Blades again, before being signed by current Blues manager Lee Clark for Huddersfield where he still remains. Although he has yet to start a first-team game this season, at the age of 42, Benno is still super-fit and remains ready to step up if required.