Roy Bentley: 1924-2018

Chelsea Football Club is deeply saddened to announce the passing of Roy Bentley, our first trophy-winning captain and star of our 1955 League Championship team.

All at Chelsea send our condolences to his family and friends. Roy was 93.

He spent eight years at Stamford Bridge after signing in January 1948, finishing top scorer in seven consecutive seasons and amassing 150 goals from 367 appearances, the joint-fifth highest goals total in Chelsea’s history. He was appointed captain by manager Billy Birrell in 1951, and inspired the side to glory with his mobile displays four years later.

After going on to represent our neighbours Fulham and Queens Park Rangers, Roy also managed Reading and Swansea, and became a frequent visitor to Stamford Bridge in his later years.

Born in Bristol on May 17, 1924, Roy Thomas Frank Bentley was one of eight children and excelled across a range of sports including long jump, athletics and boxing, but it was football that dominated his attentions, and he was signed onto the groundstaff by local club Bristol Rovers as a 14-year-old, before quickly switching to neighbours Bristol City a year later due to financial problems at Rovers.

Bentley made his debut at 15, scoring away at Walsall before the outbreak of World War II brought competitive football to a halt. He regularly took part in wartime games before departing to serve in the Navy in late 1942, but even then he spent time playing the game in Canada during his tours of duty.

The bustling, powerful forward transferred north to Newcastle upon the resumption of peacetime, where he developed a roaming style that involved him dropping deeper than traditional strikers to link up play. Two goals on his debut suggested good times ahead but bouts of ill health and a struggle to adapt to life up north meant Bentley was soon seeking a move back south.

Chelsea paid £11,000 in January 1948, with Bentley employed to replace one of his childhood heroes, the great Tommy Lawton. In a difficult start to life at Stamford Bridge, he scored just three times in his first 15 appearances as an outside-right, but after a summer break and a change inside to centre-forward, his Chelsea career began to take off and he struck a first hat-trick during the 1948/49 season against Preston North End. The player himself admitted how fortunate he had been, sliding the first over the line from close range, converting the second from an offside position and the third coming courtesy of an obvious foul.

In the 1949/50 season Bentley became top scorer for the club, with 21 goals, as well as making an England debut. Internationally, his career would be tinged with disappointment, earning only 12 caps despite scoring nine times including a hat-trick against Wales in 1955. Before then he was involved in the 1950 World Cup shock, where England lost to America in Brazil.

In 1951, Bentley replaced close friend and mentor Johnny Harris as captain of a Chelsea side that won its final four league games to stay in the top division, but that summer the pair went on strike over a contractual dispute, and did not play for eight weeks. ‘The clubs have footballers over a barrel,’ he said at the time. ‘They’ve got the money, and we’re the tools.’

A principled man, Bentley was glad he had fought his corner and returned to the side to help win another battle against relegation. He earned the then maximum £12 per week from football, but supplemented his income by working part-time as a salesman, and also benefited from advertising Colman’s mustard and milk, as well as featuring in the movie Cosh Boy alongside Joan Collins and Sid James.

During the 1952/53 campaign, Bentley was joined at the club by 18-year-old Frank Blunstone, whose arrival helped spark Chelsea’s development into champions two years later.

Ted Drake took over the managerial reins in 1952 and brought a more forward-thinking approach to the game, and captain and manager worked together in unison, fostering a strong team spirit allied to high technical ability throughout the squad.

Although Chelsea only finished eighth in 1953/54, Bentley and co. had helped despatch then leaders West Bromwich Albion 5-0 and eventual champions Wolverhampton Wanderers, going 21 games unbeaten in the process.

His 1954/55 campaign began with a goal in a 1-1 draw at Leicester City, coming from two down to beat Bolton in the third game of the season, and a brace against his former club Newcastle, who had become a favoured opposition since his move back south.

One point in five October games damaged the title pursuit as Chelsea dropped to 12th, though Bentley notched his 100th Chelsea goal in the 3-3 draw with West Brom, and witnessed one of the great games of the era in the 6-5 defeat to Manchester United.

Drake’s capture of defender Stan Wicks seemed to revitalise Chelsea, and Bentley scored the winner at Wolves before a hat-trick against Newcastle and another in a 4-2 comeback against Aston Villa. A 1-0 win at Cardiff City moved Chelsea top for only the third time in our history.

Two games in two days produced a draw with Sheffield United and a win against Wolves in front of almost 80,000 spectators at Stamford Bridge. Victory against Sheffield Wednesday in the penultimate game of the season, combined with Portsmouth failing to beat Cardiff would make Chelsea champions.

The Blues did the job, winning 3-0 and after a nervous 15-minute wait to hear the outcome from Wales, were informed by the radio that we were indeed champions. Bentley was called into the Stamford Bridge stands to address the 40,000 spectators still in the ground.

That day was to be the high point in his Chelsea career, although there was no sign of the First Division trophy or even the players’ medals, which they did not receive until the summer.

Charity Shield victory over Newcastle followed, but the league form was poor with three hard years taking their toll on the team. It took a Bentley hat-trick against Everton and two more a week later against Blackpool to guarantee the team’s safety, finishing 16th in the table despite his 14 goals.

Drake informed Bentley that summer of the club’s decision to move him on, and despite widespread protest from the fans, he was allowed to leave for neighbours Fulham late in the summer of 1956, playing almost 150 times for the Craven Cottage club as he became an accomplished centre-back before a short spell at Queens Park Rangers and his retirement from playing in 1962.

‘I always found Chelsea fans a great bunch,’ he later said. ‘Running out onto the old Stamford Bridge pitch and seeing the applause spread round the whole ground, all the way up to The Shed at the back, really did make you glow. When we were doing well and the ground was packed with more than 70,000 fans, it was something else.’

In his management career, first at Reading where he spent six years, Bentley gained a reputation as a disciplinarian and earned promotion with Swansea into the Third Division.

It will forever be for his achievements at the top of the First Division, however, that Roy Bentley will be remembered, and he was there on the day the team were presented with the league championship trophy for a second time, this time promptly after the final whistle of the last home game of the 2004/05 season. He and his former team-mate Stan Willemse carried the silverware onto the pitch to great applause before it was handed to John Terry and co.

Stamford Bridge on home match days remained one of his favourite places in his later years and Chelsea celebrated his imminent 90th birthday at our last home game of the 2013/14 season, with his family and friends as special guests and Bentley taking to the turf once more at half-time to a fantastic reception.

A Chelsea legend in the truest sense of the words, his importance in the club’s story never has, and never will be forgotten.

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