Legendary Chelsea centre-forward Roy Bentley is 90 years old today (Saturday).
The captain and leading scorer in the club’s first league championship win in 1955 was the special guest, along with family and friends, at the final home game of the season to celebrate his birthday, and he made an appearance on the pitch at half-time.
Roy still stands joint fourth in the list for all-time Chelsea goals scored, having netted 150 times in a 367 games and is without doubt one of our greatest players – but what made him so special? To find out, and to mark his 90th birthday, the official Chelsea website speaks to two of his former team-mates, two football writers, and two supporters who watched Roy in action in his prime.
Winger Frank Blunstone was Roy Bentley’s team-mate on numerous occasions, the two combining for many Chelsea goals in the mid-1950s…
‘When I first came to the club he was one of the older players and I was only 18 when I arrived. He was a great man and a good captain. As a player, he was terrific in the air, great at heading the ball considering he was only around 5ft 11in.
‘He was very strong and brave, a bit like John Terry where he would just stick his head in areas others wouldn’t, that’s why he scored so many goals.
‘He was very mobile and he could have adapted to any style of play, even the Hungarian way which the likes of Puskas played, he certainly could have played that role easily enough. He was quick in and around the penalty area, he liked to move into wide areas as well and he was a fantastic finisher. He was a great example, especially for a young player like me just coming through.
‘Tactics in those days weren’t like they are today, but Ted Drake’s team-talk to Eric Parsons, who was outside-right, and myself, outside-left, was always to take the full-back on, get to the byline and get your cross in. That was all he ever said to us and it made a lot of sense because if you get to the byline you can’t be offside, and you knew if you got your cross in Roy would more often than not get on the end of them.
‘He went to Fulham when he left us and played in central defence, they put him back there when he lost a bit of his pace and he played there for quite a while. That shows how good a footballer he was and how he could adapt to play in different positions.
‘He was a big influence on the squad in the year we won the title, that’s why he was the captain. He was a hard player as well, we played a team in the FA Cup and they had a young kid playing right-back for them. He kicked me all over the place and then had a go at Roy. He grabbed Roy by the shirt and threatened him so Roy head-butted him and he went down. Roy was in the navy, he certainly wasn’t the type of player you’d mess around with!’
Peter Brabrook (pictured below right with Roy) played 271 games for Chelsea as a winger and broke into the team when Roy was the established star…
‘Roy was so good in the air and he was a strong player. He was so dedicated and had a great attitude. He was strong, powerful and he put his body where it hurt. He used to score a lot of goals that way and he was a great team player, he certainly wasn’t selfish.
‘I was only a baby when I came into the side during the 1954/55 title-winning season and played three games, I’d been in the youth team and I was only 17. Roy was an experienced player and, at the time, he was playing for England, but he was great for me. He was a massive help and was a genuinely nice man. The fame and fortune that came with the game in those days wasn’t the same as it is now but it didn’t affect him. He was very important for me in terms of my progression in the side.
‘When you’re 17 and you’re in the dressing room with internationals you just have to get your head down and listen to what they have to say. He was a big help but nice with it, just a lovely man.
‘He went into management which didn’t surprise me. He was good on players and he was good on the game.
‘Roy was the main man in 1954/55, no question about that. In some games, when we looked to be struggling, he used to score goals from nothing, he’d pop up with a couple of headers and win the match for us. His attitude was that you’re never beaten until the final whistle’s gone.’
Albert Sewell was the editor of Chelsea FC’s match programme throughout most Roy’s time as a Chelsea player, including the championship win…
‘I was privileged to be the programme editor for nigh on 30 years and was appointed in 1949, as Roy Bentley was starting his second season at Stamford Bridge. He’d been signed by manager Billy Birrell for £11,000 as a replacement for England centre-forward Tommy Lawton, who’d left Chelsea for Notts County for the then record transfer fee of £20,000.
‘Taking Lawton’s place presented a huge task for the 23-year-old Bentley, but his 23 goals in his first full season showed the Chelsea fans the club had bought well, and he got even better. He was the Blues’ top scorer for eight consecutive seasons and with 21 goals captained Ted Drake’s Chelsea to their first league title in 1955. Roy’s picture illuminates the cover of the book Chelsea Champions, which I wrote to celebrate the title.
‘Roy was capped 12 times by England and his nine international goals included the winner against Scotland that silenced the Hampden roar in 1950. He then scored all England’s goals in a 3-2 victory against Wales at Wembley.
‘He never made the coach drive down Wembley Way on Cup Final day. In 1950 he became the all-time unluckiest semi-final loser. He gave Chelsea a 2-0 lead against Arsenal at White Hart Lane but Arsenal forced a 2-2 draw and won the replay.
‘Roy left Stamford Bridge in September 1956 for four seasons with Fulham followed by two with QPR. Throughout his illustrious career, Roy Thomas Frank Bentley never earned more than £15 a week, plus £2 for a win bonus and £1 for a draw.
‘Analysis of the 150 goals he scored for Chelsea shows that he headed almost as many as he scored with either foot. Few forwards could match his brilliant heading ability. The timing was so near perfection that he regularly beat taller opponents, even goalkeepers with outstretched arms. While so many forwards, at the peak of their climb, got under the ball, Roy had the knack of hanging in the air and heading downwards.
‘Through all the years, one thing has never changed about Roy Bentley. He still talks with the West Country burr of a man who began in football as a Bristol Rover. After serving in the Royal Navy ‘towards the end of the war, he picked up his career with Bristol City on his way to Newcastle and Chelsea.
‘To return to where I began, about Roy’s arrival at Stamford Bridge in January 1948, I’m informed that the £11,000 he cost Chelsea all those years ago would work out at roughly £500,000 in today’s money. The number nine has been significant in Roy’s career; nine England goals and to these eyes, the greatest number nine in Chelsea’s history.
‘Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to say Happy Birthday, Roy, and thanks for the memories.’
Brian Glanville is one of football’s most respected writers who currently reports for the Sunday Times. He has covered Chelsea matches among others for many decades through to the present day…
‘Roy Bentley was the original wandering centre-forward. He was an excellent player and powerfully built. Very talented on the deck, he was also brilliant in the air and scored a lot of goals with his head. Such was his ability that towards the end of his career he became a centre-back with Fulham.
‘He played in the 1950 World Cup; England had a fairly disastrous tournament but he was the centre-forward. However, he didn’t play as he should have played. Bentley pre-dated Nandor Hidegkuti (pictured below shaking Roy’s hand), who was the Hungary striker who tore England apart in a 6-3 win at Wembley, scoring a hat-trick.
‘Initially Bentley was playing as a deep centre-forward, his own type of player, and perhaps if he’d played in that role for England things might have been different. He was playing as an orthodox centre-forward but he was really at his best as a deep-lying centre-forward influencing the play.
‘He had a wonderful game against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final at Tottenham in 1950. He scored two goals and Chelsea were cruising but then Arsenal’s Freddie Cox scored a freak goal, straight from a corner. They then scored an equaliser and went on to win the replay. Bentley, though, in that game, had been practically unplayable; he was absolutely marvellous and Chelsea should have won.
‘I didn’t see much of the 1954/55 title-winning side as I was living in Rome at the time, but he was certainly the crucial player in that team. I remember seeing that amazing 6-5 defeat against Manchester United and another game in February 1955, he was the absolute star of the side. The team was very cleverly constructed by Ted Drake, with players from the third division. Roy was already at the club when Ted took over but there is no doubt he was a crucial player for him.
‘His first cap for England came against Sweden in May 1949, in a game England lost. He then scored the only goal of the game in an important win against Scotland.’
Chris Gibbons was one of the adoring crowd who watched Roy in action at Stamford Bridge. A former stadium tours guide at Chelsea, he is an East Stand season ticket holder…
‘Until Roy and a guy called Ronnie Allen who used to play for West Brom, centre-forwards were all like Tommy Lawton, they were big, direct strikers. Roy had more skill but he was also unbelievable in the air, he was not the biggest but you could equate him with David Speedie who younger fans will remember for jumping very high for his height. Roy was fantastic at getting above the ball and heading it down.
‘Just as he was coming to Chelsea, managers started to change their formation. It had been known as the W-M formation before but now they went to two centre-halves to counter the fact that teams were pushing an inside-forward up along the centre-forward, so the centre-half had two people to mark.
‘Roy fitted that brilliantly because he could play as a sort of second striker or as a main striker. When he first came he was an out-and-out no.9, but then when Les Stubbs came into the team, although Stubbs wore no.10 he was the central focus of the attack and Roy played off him.
‘So he could do it all but the revelation was when he went to Fulham and he turned into probably the best centre-half in England, which was a big mistake by Chelsea because we were lacking centre-halves and there was talk of Roy returning to play for England there.
‘Roy had a terrific shot and although he was not lightning, he was quick and he could go by people, and he also went wide a lot.’
‘When he came to Chelsea he was an unfashionable centre-forward and everybody thought he was going to be the new Tommy Lawton, and the crowd didn’t take to him to first, but he soon became their main hero.’
David Kostis was born and brought up in Chelsea and as a boy sat on the white wall at the bottom of the terraces during big matches featuring Roy. He is now a stadium tour guide and an East Stand season ticket holder at Stamford Bridge…
‘Roy wasn’t a really big player like Didier Drogba, he was a pocket battleship. He was very good in the air, had two good feet and was very busy as well. He had good pace and crosses used to come in, especially from Frankie Blunestone and Peter Brabrook because they were out and out wingers, and Roy could get up between defenders and supply really, really powerful headers.
‘That is why the crowd liked him and for eight years in a row he was Chelsea’s leading goalscorer and when you are a kid, the strikers are the ones who become your heroes, especially as he played for England as well and was Chelsea’s captain.
‘He did impress me a lot and I waited by the players’ entrance in the stand to collect his autograph, and in those days, you could read the name! I kept a big scrapbook as well. There were hundreds of programmes thrown away after a game and I would collect them and cut pictures out and stick them in.
‘Sometimes you were lucky after the game and you would meet Roy and other players at the bus stop or at the Underground.
‘There was sadness when he left Chelsea but I started going down to Fulham when Chelsea weren’t at home to watch Roy play, and he was a good centre-half there because of his leap.
‘I still bump into him at home games. Because he knows I tell the story of him nutting someone in a cup game against Hartlepool once, when he shakes my hand he does a little pretend headbutt at the same time.’