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Interviews

First, Best, Worst: Graham Benstead

From facing the late, great Cyrille Regis to clinching promotion at Peterborough, we chat to former gloveman Graham Benstead about his first, best and worst experiences in professional football

6 June 2018

A solid presence between the sticks, Graham Benstead began his career at Queens Park Rangers before enjoying a two-season spell with Norwich City. Following his time at Carrow Road, Graham joined Sheffield United before signing terms with Brentford in July 1990.

He was an instant success, keeping 23 clean sheets during his first season as he scooped the Club’s Players’ Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year trophies. The following season was even better, as he played a crucial role in helping The Bees to the Third Division title.

After a further season in West London, he took his leave from TW8 to join Kettering Town. Graham made a brief return to Griffin Park in 1997, appearing against York City and Colchester United, before leaving for good the following January.

 

FIRST…

Time you signed an autograph

It would have been when I was around 19 or 20, having left QPR to join Norwich City. There was often a crowd outside the team hotel and I recall a couple of kids who recognised me and asked for an autograph. I found it a bit weird at first; I was concerned they wouldn’t be able to read it!

 

Time you realised you could make a career out of football

Having left school, I was on the books at Wimbledon as a part-timer. I was thinking my days were numbered, but then I played against QPR in a junior game and happened to do quite well. Two months later, I got a call from them and it all stemmed from there.

I had a year’s apprenticeship, but it wasn’t until Terry Venables turned up that I made my debut against West Bromwich Albion, who had Cyrille Regis at the time. We ended up losing 3-1 and, while I don’t think he scored that day, it was quite daunting coming up against him. Cyril was enormous and, back in those days, goalkeepers didn’t receive as much protection as they do now. The fans behind me were chanting “Cyril’s gonna get you,” which started off quiet but got louder as the game progressed. It was a little unnerving, but a fantastic experience nonetheless!

 

Room-mate

Gary Blissett was my first and only room-mate. I don’t know why, but I think the trend back then was for centre-forwards to partner up with goalkeepers. It was an interesting combination because Bliss was a bit of a night owl and I like my sleep, but we got on well. I used to make him tea and mollycoddle him – I was a bit of a motherly figure! When we went away we were very serious, but we did have the odd occasion where we let our hair down a little. The back four were all big characters and I was part of that.

 

BEST…

Game you played in for Brentford

The game against Peterborough United will always stick in my mind. There was a lot of pressure as, for us to claim the league title, we had to win and Birmingham City had to lose. It was quite daunting, especially as a goalkeeper, because if you make a mistake it’s highlighted and the opposition normally score from it. I had a coupe of little saves to make and took a high cross under pressure, which for me is as good as a big save.

 

Player you came up against

When I first started, I played up at Liverpool when they had an unbelievable side. As a goalkeeper, I tend to remember centre-forwards and Ian Rush sticks out. He was as quick as a flash and could make you look a bit silly when you were distributing the ball.

 

Manager you played under

When I first arrived at Brentford I was a Tottenham Hotspur fan, so to have to Steve Perryman there was special. Another contender would be Terry Venables - even at QPR, his coaching ability was second to none. The best though would be Dave Bassett. He was an excellent man manager. The game back then wasn’t as reliant on technical ability as it is now, but he paved the way for teams being successful with limited resources.

 

WORST… 

Prank you saw played on a Brentford team-mate

We used to play a card game called Hearts at the back of the coach, and the loser had to do a forfeit. There was a young lad who signed for us called Simon Line, who didn’t play too many games but was in and around the squad. Simon came to the back of the coach to play with us and ended up losing; his forfeit was to crawl down the middle of coach on his knees and bark like a dog! David Webb had just taken over and it didn’t go down too well - all card games were banned from that point onwards!

 

Moment as a Brentford player

Being released. David Webb came in and got rid of a lot of players which was sad. I still return to Griffin Park and sometimes even get recognised! It’s a family club and it has gone on to bigger and better things these days. I miss being part of that family and, looking back on it, I’d love to be part of it still.

 

Thing you had to do in training

Running! In those days, the goalkeepers had to do all the fitness training. Phil Holder was fantastic for bringing in a Goalkeeping Coach, which was unheard of. He was a man called Gordon Phillips, who played for Brentford himself and was a breath of fresh air. Before Gordon’s arrival, us keepers had to go off on our own, which could be quite demoralising. But, with him, we had an organised session, which was useful because, as keepers, we needed different physical training. It was more useful to practice diving and getting up than to do a six-mile run with me bringing up the rear! It helped, too, because if I had any problems, Gordon was always there for me.

 

Away trip

To be honest, I thought the long trips were fantastic. We would split into our little groups and play cards, or watch videos and things like that. Perhaps one of the worst ones came when we played Birmingham City in the Milk Cup on a Tuesday night. We went up in the morning and went straight to the hotel for an afternoon nap. When we woke up, the place was covered in snow and the game was called off. We got back late on Wednesday night, trained the next day and then had to go back to play them in a league fixture.

 

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