In commemoration of the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, we are running a series looking back at some of the lesser celebrated ‘Babes’ who lost their lives and some lesser known information about their careers.
Today the focus is on Geoff Bent.
Bent was born in Salford on 27th September 1932, and inevitably joined United as a young player.
His was a career spent predominantly on the periphery. He played twelve times for the first team, all in the First Division, and so there is relatively little known about his career other than he was essentially the cover for either full-back in the first team.
In some ways that is fortunate in terms of research for columns such as this as it means I am able to share a little more information about Bent than is widely known.
In 1952/53, he had a shirt mid-season run in the Central League wearing the number 11 shirt, having a run of five goals in six games, before later moving to the number 3 shirt, where he played 14 games over the winter. There was nonetheless something remarkable about Bent’s goalscoring – though he certainly wasn’t renowned for getting on the scoresheet, when he did it for the first time, he did it in style, scoring a hat-trick at Huddersfield in a 5-2 win on September 27th, 1952.
In the 1953/54 Central League season, Bent played the first fourteen games consecutively but didn’t play from November until the end of April, where he managed three late season run-outs in defeats at Sheffield United and at home to Huddersfield, as well as defeat against Aston Villa. In the latter game he was in an unfamiliar position, wearing the number 10 shirt.
United historian and author Roy Cavanagh does not really recall Bent as a versatile player. “Geoff Bent was a true, local Salford lad,” he says. “He captained Salford Lads to the English Schools Trophy in late 1940’s, I always remember him as left back not a left winger, that reverse role had been Roger Byrne.”
Bent made his first team debut in December 1954, in a 4-2 win at Burnley, and he played one more time that season, in a 5-0 win at home to Sheffield United. In fact, despite his sparse appearances, he was something of a lucky charm for the first team – over the three years of his first team games, he lost only one, and that was his ninth game, at Birmingham.
He had been a dependable member of the Central League besides that – playing 37 games in the 55/56 campaign, and 24 in the 56/57 season.
“Now you could ask did he lack ambition, but then again, we were in the minimum wage era so a good player at United would not get more at Tottenham, except more first team games. But then again, his family and life was in Salford so why move?” explains Roy. “Happy, in a great club, all his mates around him. A top class left back, and it took a world class full back to keep him out of the side.”
Bent travelled to Munich in a similar capacity to Jackie Blanchflower. Neither were expected to play. Bent was part of the squad really only because of doubts over Roger Byrne’s fitness; Bent himself had been injured with a broken foot and hadn’t played for the first team since his 12th and final appearance in April 1957.
Following his injury, Bent had seen Peter Jones take his number 3 shirt in the reserves, but he reclaimed it once fit again in order to take his place in the team in the crazy goalscoring winter of the 57/58 season.
His first game back was a 4-2 loss at Huddersfield; that was followed by a 4-1 win against Blackburn, a 6-5 loss at Barnsley, a 5-3 win against Leeds, a 2-2 draw at Bolton, and, in his last game for the reserves, a 4-3 win over Wolves in a game where Blanchflower, Whelan and Pegg all starred too.
“Just an opinion, Geoff only went at the very last minute due to possible injury to Roger,” recalls Roy. “If he had not been needed, I feel he would have played in 1958 World Cup finals at left back for England.”
Geoff Bent was a dedicated professional, the sort of player everyone needs, and the sort of player that often gets overlooked in squads. Sometimes, in order to keep the best players at the top of their game, they need to have the threat of a top class reserve waiting to take their place.
For Roger Byrne, United had Geoff Bent, who could have gone on to play for almost any other club in the First Division.
This article is part of a ‘Lost Babes’ series which will run through the following days. If you have enjoyed it, please consider purchasing the forthcoming biography of Jimmy Murphy, “The Man Who Kept The Red Flag Flying”. The book has been heavily researched and is the official biography of his life as authorised by the Murphy family.
Additionally, this series will not feature Duncan Edwards in great detail. So much has been written about Duncan that there was little point writing an individual feature about him, but he was featured in the first in this series which included Eddie Colman. Tommy Taylor will also not feature due to the intention of this series, to shine a light on those young players who came through the Central League, and to present some facts and figures that most supporters are unlikely to know.