Class of 51 - Les Bennett
30 March 2016|Tottenham Hotspur
Manager Arthur Rowe used just 19 players when we won the Division One title for the first time in season 1950-51. Now, 65 years on, we pay tribute to each one. Here, John Fennelly spotlights the contribution of inside-forward LES BENNETT.
Games: 25. Goals: 7.
Who knows what Les Bennett might have achieved but for the Second World War taking away his best footballing years. But sadly there were many others throughout the country that suffered in the same way.
Bennett followed the traditional route to White Hart Lane. Born locally in Wood Green, he impressed in schools representative football and joined our junior ranks before being honed at our Northfleet nursery.
He came from a family of 12 and his brother Ken was also on our books before enjoying a solid career with Southend, Bournemouth, Brighton and Crystal Palace. Meanwhile Les, who initially worked in the family plastering business, had enjoyed his first taste of high level football as a ball boy at the 1932 FA Cup Final when Newcastle United beat Arsenal at Wembley.
By May, 1939, he was back at White Hart Lane to sign as a professional but war broke out in the September and he enlisted, seeing service in Egypt, India and Burma with the Devon Regiment.
However, before joining the army he managed to step up for his Spurs debut and made quite an impression by scoring a hat-trick against Watford at White Hart Lane when we won 8-2 in the localised war time Football League South. Our Division Two programme had got underway that season but ended after three games - in which we were unbeaten!
Les managed to make 11 appearances for us in the FLS and then guested briefly for Torquay United when he was billeted in that area. He also played for Millwall and then Distillery while on duty in Northern Ireland, even playing in a representative game for the province against the League of Ireland.
He was demobbed in 1946 and made his senior Spurs debut at the age of 28 on the opening day of the 1946-47 campaign when new manager Joe Hulme introduced five more players for their first senior game in a 2-1 home defeat by Birmingham City. The others were Ted Ditchburn, Les Medley, George Skinner, Arthur Willis and George Foreman who scored our goal.
An elegant player who always looked in control of any situation, Bennett’s calmness added to a complete armoury that made him the perfect inside-right as he immediately established a regular place in the side. He was a key figure in our Division Two-winning team of 1950 followed by our first Championship win the following season.
Below: Les adorns the cover of 'Lilywhite' magazine in April, 1951
Bennett had it all; pace, skill and intricate dribbling skills to which he added unpredictability to make him a nightmare to mark. Quick-thinking and energetic, he could be explosive or controlling depending on what that moment demanded. In other words, he personified our ‘Push and Run’ ethic.
For all that ability, he never forgot the importance of hard work and read the game so well that he popped up all over the field, creating and scoring goals as he ran purposely from the first whistle to the last. He was our top scorer in three separate seasons, scoring 14 in 1950 and seven on our way to the title the following year.
He made it to one England squad without gaining a deserved cap but time eventually caught up with him and, although he started the 1954-55 season as a first team regular, he was 36 by then and no longer the force he once was.
Les left us for West Ham United in December, 1954, but although he was made captain there he stayed just the one season at the Boleyn. He joined non-league side Clacton Town as player-coach in 1956 and then managed Romford Town from 1959.
He came out of retirement in 1964 to play in the ‘Push and Run XI’ for the John White memorial fund.
Sadly Les died in Hackney in April, 1999, at the age of 81.