I was listening to Sleaford Mods on 6Music this morning and as I looked at the map to see where Sleaford was I saw the town of Boston, which got me thinking of Tom Bennett who left us to play for them. This set in motion another chain of thoughts that took in Dino Menillo and a whole host of other ex Walsall players after reading a chapter from this book. Before I knew it, my plans to make a roast dinner, sort my bills out, clean the house, apply for several jobs, learn another language and complete in a triathlon had disappeared in a Wiki Whirlpool.
But anyway, back to the main point. Tom Bennett. My main memories of him are leading us to promotion via the play-offs at Cardiff – before becoming a target of the boo boys the season after – and regularly seeing him on a Wednesday night in Gasp! nightclub on Bridge Street knocking back blue WKD’s and smoking(!!).
Bennett first arrived at Walsall on loan from Stockport County (remember them?) on the first day of the Millennium when we beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at home. He played three games for us, which we all won and even scored in a cracking 3-2 victory away at Crewe. After being recalled by Stockport he came back for the last eight games of the season, scored two more goals (including an important goal against relegation rivals, West Brom) but couldn’t prevent us from being relegated.
His performances were inspired and really galvanised the team so it was an exciting day for me when I heard that he had signed on for next season. He became our club captain and was a virtual ever present as we were immediately promoted back to the Championship. However, I do find it difficult to recall any performances where he really grabbed the pace of the game and drove us forward like he did in those two loan spells. He was solid rather than forceful and become more of a latter day Roy Keane – someone who broke up the play- rather than the earlier version who would break up the play and drive the play forward.
The next season was one of struggle for Tom as the team were near the foot of Division One for most of it. He played in the majority of games up until February before being left out for a couple of games as Fitzroy Simpson and Martin O’Connor occupied the central midfield positions. By this time he had become a target of the boo boys because of his tendency to slow play down by only passing the ball backwards when we desperately needed some momentum.
It was a game against Barnsley at home on March 16th 2002 which proved to be the lowest point in his Walsall career and his last ever start for Walsall as he got himself sent off in the first half for two bookable offences. Thankfully Don Goodman’s efforts meant we managed to record a famous 2-1 victory.
Not one Walsall fan would have been sad to see him leave for Boston United in that summer and despite being our captain on that glorious day in Cardiff he isn’t recalled with much fondness when Walsall fans think of his time at the club. I think of him as a decent player who really impressed me with his first two loan spells because of his drive, nous and resilience but as he never seemed to recapture those performances he is often the forgotten man of those glorious Graydon years.