Chris Bennion: 'It was upsetting and it hurt what happened at Monaghan'

Wed, Aug 11 2021

Edinburgh born, but never playing a senior game in Scotland and just a sole first team appearance for Middlesbrough, Chris Bennion carved out a decent goalkeeping career for himself in the League of Ireland, where he's still involved, as a coach to Bohemians' netminders.

Youth football at Edinburgh Celtic and Heart of Midlothian preceded joining Middlesbrough on a full-time contract in 1999. While on the English north-east club's books, Chris received an introduction to the League of Ireland by going on loan to Shelbourne.

“Initially, I came over as cover for Steve Williams. My first time in the League of Ireland was an eye opener, regarding facilities etc, but I was just after a bit of first team experience, which I wasn't getting in England. I loved the whole culture and felt at home, thanks to the likes of Mick Neville, Pat Fenlon and Owen Heary, who made me feel really welcome. I then went back because there was a bit of a goalkeeping crisis at Middlesbrough and I made my debut.”

Another loan spell, this time at Scunthorpe United, didn't lead to a hoped for first team appearance, but that didn't prevent the Iron from offering a permanent deal in 2002 to the young goalkeeper, but just a month after signing, he departed Glanford Park.

“My time at Scunthorpe was disappointing and probably the wrong move. There was a managerial changeover at Middlesbrough and I was just coming back from injury. I sat down with Steve McClaren. He offered me a year extension, which I accepted.

"When I went to Scunthorpe on loan, I enjoyed my time there. I travelled with the first team, they had a decent side and I felt that they could go somewhere. Middlesbrough were great. They paid my contract up and allowed me to go on a free, but at Scunthorpe it just didn't work out the way I planned.”

With his immediate future uncertain, a friendly voice from the recent past persuaded Bennion to return to the Irish domestic scene.

“Pat Fenlon gave me a call and asked if I was interested in coming over and having a chat with him. Pat told me what he wanted to do with Shelbourne and where he wanted to take it, so it was a no-brainer. The moment I flew over, I signed a two-year deal, which didn't make my wife happy (laughs). I didn't consult anybody and was worried about going on trial in England and not getting a club.

"There was probably a bit of panic involved, but a two-year contract and a chance to play in the League of Ireland. I did have in the back of my mind that I'd come to this league, make a name for myself and move back to England. I was probably a bit naive and immature, as I underestimated the quality.

"It's something that I'll always regret, but you learn from experience, I suppose. It meant that I didn't take anything else for granted, made me knuckle down and I had a fairly successful career after that and I'm still here.”

Onfield highlights include a 2003 Premier Division title with Shelbourne, in addition to First Division winner's medals at Dundalk and Longford Town (2008 and 2014 respectively). In between were stints at Athlone Town and St Patrick's Athletic, but it wasn't all plain sailing, as Chris was part of the Monaghan United squad, when every player was released due to the club withdrawing from League of Ireland football in the middle of 2012.

“It's a bit of a shock when it happens. Then you have 20-odd footballers with no club. I went up to Drogheda with Micheál Schlingermann and they ended up signing him. I was thinking about quitting and that there wasn't any point in carrying on.

"Alan Mathews called and asked me if I was interested in signing until the end of the season with Shels. I jumped at it, as I was surprised because Paul Skinner and Dean Delany were there and I really didn't think that they needed a goalkeeper. It's a tough position, being a goalkeeper because halfway through the season most clubs aren't looking for another one, but more likely a striker to help their chances of promotion, or whatever.

"It was upsetting and it hurt what happened at Monaghan, but that's the way it went.”

Upon hanging up his gloves in 2014, the Scotsman has turned to coaching goalkeepers, with those at Athlone Town, Drogheda United and currently Bohemians the beneficiaries of Bennion's vast experience and knowhow.

“I wasn't going to get involved in football any more after I retired. I promised my wife that I'd give time back to the family. Then I got a call from Eddie Wallace, who asked if I'd be interested in doing a bit of coaching at Athlone and I took it on. Bohs, the club I'm at now, I'm absolutely loving it!

"I'm learning every day from Keith Long and Trevor Croly. There's a great atmosphere between the staff and connection to each other. Working with James Talbot day in, day out is also fantastic. It's tough trying to get all your badges etc, but I keep plugging along. You're probably more out of the house coaching, as you are a player and then your family life suffers a little bit, but that's the way you have to do it if you want to be successful as a coach.”

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