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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

John White on Geoff Bent

50 Years On – Geoff Bent

By John White

Of all of our Red heroes lost in the snow and ice of Munich that grey Thursday in Feb 1958, the case of Geoff Bent, Salford born in 1932, is probably the most poignant and difficult to write about.

In many respects, Geoff was probably like any number of understudies anywhere - good enough in his own right to get a place at almost any football club in the land. But as a local lad, he joyously signed trainee forms for his heroes Manchester United on leaving school in August 1948 just a month away from his 16th birthday.

Little could he have known then that secure and valuable to his club as he certainly was, his United career was to be a brief and not so glorious one, being kept well in the background at Old Trafford as cover for the man who would ascend to the captaincy of Manchester United - and also automatic left back for England - Manchester-born Roger Byrne.

All this was in the future back then and Geoff must have been on cloud nine as he signed his name on that first contract for Matt Busby in August 1948. I’ll bet he was even more ecstatic in May of the following year when he signed his professional contract!

I genuinely hope that Geoff gleaned every moment of personal joy from those two highlight events - because the lad wouldn’t be getting much joy in the way of appearances for the Reds!

It was actually well over 5 long years later before he made his first team debut in the away game at Turf Moor in the 4-2 win over Burnley in late 1954 which IMO speaks volumes for the health, form and consistency of performance from Roger Byrne who kept the lad out for all those years.

Probably THE highlight of his career (in his own view anyway) was taking the ball off the legendary Tom Finney in a game against Preston (one of his total of only12 first-team games).
He treasured the newspaper cutting of the event he valued so much. I think that is simultaneously wonderfully poignant and yet carries in it the joy of a footballer who was also a huge fan of the game's finest.

The whole bloody irony of his death at Munich was he only travelled to cover Roger Byrne who’d taken a knock in the Arsenal game on the previous Saturday.

In the end, Roger passed his fitness test and poor Geoff never even got to play in Belgrade. Remember, not even the substitutes bench was in play back then.

I think his wife Marion must have been doubly distraught at his death given his journey had proved to be unnecessary AND she was left with their 4 month old daughter to raise alone. So very sad.

I’m reliably informed that their daughter Karen went on to become a professional big band singer in a top Manchester dance hall. Her successful career is a great tribute to her mother’s battle to raise her through very difficult times.

Geoff was 25 and is buried in St John’s in the Salford borough of Pendlebury.

God grant you eternal rest Geoff and on behalf of all those many fans who never got the chance to say it, I'd like to say a huge retrospective thank you to you for your absolute loyalty to United's cause during what must have been soul-destroying for your personal career.


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