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Old 17th October 2009, 05:23   #1
tomclare
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Default "50 Years On" - Geoff Bent

50 Years On – Geoff Bent – Mr. Loyalty

On February 1st 1958, Geoff Bent and Ronnie Cope, two young Manchester United Reserve players, played together in a Central League fixture at Old Trafford. Events that afternoon down at Highbury where the first team were playing away to Arsenal were to impact both their young lives significantly. For one of them, Geoff Bent, it would end in tragedy.

Geoff Bent was born in Salford on September 27th 1932 and in August of 1948, just before his 16th birthday he joined the Manchester United ground staff. For a young boy who was Manchester United crazy, coming almost immediately after the ravages of the Second World War, it must have been a dream come true. My good friend John White,

“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 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 it 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.”

Although Geoff’s appearances in the first team were sporadic and spread out to say the least, there was no histrionics from the likeable, quiet Salfordian. No banging on the Manager’s door demanding a transfer. On February 1st 1958, Geoff was already 25 years old and I think that it would be a fair assumption that given the amount of talent that was coming through from the junior teams at Old Trafford, if he wanted to progress his career as a First Division footballer, then a move to another club was almost inevitable.

The party to travel to Belgrade on February 3rd had already been named, and big Ronnie Cope was one of the 16 players scheduled to be in the party. However, after the game at Highbury on February 1st, Roger Byrne reported a slight thigh strain. On the way back to Manchester that evening, Busby mulled over the matter and then the following morning made the decision that Cope would not travel, but that Geoff Bent would as cover in case Byrne was not fit to play in Belgrade. He was reasonable in his thinking – the original party contained two centre halfs – Cope and Blanchflower. Notwithstanding Blanchflowers versatility – Bent was an out and out full back and left sided at that. So it was logical that Cope would be the one to be left behind.

Big Ronnie wasn’t happy about the situation and spoke to Jimmy Murphy about it on the Sunday morning before Jimmy left for Wales to become involved in their World Cup Qualifying match against Israel, which was scheduled for the same day as United were playing in Belgrade. Cope said that he would be handing in a transfer request, and Jimmy told him to sleep on it.

Geoff Bent was a very quiet individual. He was married to Marion, a local Salford girl and just four months previously, they were over joyed with the arrival of their baby daughter, Karen. Geoff was probably the lowest profile player with the “Busby Babes” and was quite happy to keep it that way. Like the rest of the married lads in the club, once training or a match had finished, he just wanted to get home to his family.

The day before the game in Belgrade, skipper Roger Byrne declared himself fit to play, and Geoff had to be content with a seat in the stands. Sadly, the following afternoon in Munich, he was one of the seven players to lose their lives. It was so tragic and broke Marion’s heart. I also often think about how this affected Ronnie Cope in the years that followed. Geoff’s daughter Karen, grew up not knowing her father. She went on to have a fairly successful career in the music and entertainment industry.

Geoff was laid to rest in St. John’s CE Church, Irlam o’th’ Heights. God grant you eternal rest Geoff and on behalf of all those many fans who never got the chance to say it, a huge retrospective thank you to you for your absolute loyalty to United's cause.

Geoff Bent played 12 first team games for Manchester United.
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