ASK any retired footballer what they miss most about the game and most answers will invariably be along the lines of, ‘The banter in the dressing room’.
Ian Bennett, 40 years young earlier this month and in the form of his life for Huddersfield Town, has no idea at this stage whether his career will extend beyond the end of this season. He plans to make that call nearer the time.
But the Terriers’ goalkeeper is fully aware that when the end does come then it will, indeed, be the banter that he will miss the most. And, as it happens, the dressing room itself at Town’s new Canalside training complex.
“We now use a couple of changing rooms,” explains the veteran of eight clubs and almost 500 first-team appearances about the new set-up since the Town squad swapped the Galpharm Stadium for the club’s new Canalside training complex.
“One is for the young ones and another is for the rest. When we moved, everyone had to bring something in to decorate their own dressing room.
“So, in the one for the older lads we now have shower mats, a newspaper rack, photos and even a door bell. We have really gone to town, whereas the younger lads haven’t risen to the task and their one looks a bit sparse.
“Things have become so bad in there that we have even had a couple of the younger lads asking for a free transfer into our dressing room. So far, we have turned them away and I don’t think we’ll be changing our minds, either, as we like it as it is.”
Bennett, whose birthday on October 10 means today’s game with Preston North End and Graham Alexander will see League One host a rare contest between two teams with a 40-something in their ranks, boasts an enviable record in Town colours.
Since joining on a free transfer from Sheffield United in the summer of 2010 as back-up to Alex Smithies, he has made 49 appearances and been on the losing side just eight times. Twenty-three of those have also been won to underline Bennett’s value to a squad that goes into today’s meeting with North End sitting second in League One.
If that was not enough to have everyone at the Galpharm brimming with pride, Town will also be defending a 38-game unbeaten record in the league – a club record.
For Bennett, it adds up to a wonderful Indian summer for a career that began in the last season before the Premier League was formed by 22 clubs breaking away from the Football League.
He said: “At this age, I didn’t expect to be playing so many games. When I first joined Huddersfield, I did so with the intention of helping Alex. I had a lot of help when I was younger off the likes of Dave Seaman at QPR and John Burridge at Newcastle.
“They helped me a lot and I would like to do the same for Alex. He has been unfortunate with injuries but now I am in my only thought is making sure I don’t let anyone down.
“Coming towards the end of my career, I couldn’t have wished for it to be going any better than this.”
What Bennett also freely admits is how much he is enjoying the tremendous team spirit that Lee Clark has engendered among his troops – something that has, in part, been fostered by the manager’s introduction of singing and acting performances by his squad on long away trips.
Basically, the players voted to have been the worst trainers that week had to perform a song in front of their team-mates at whichever hotel they were staying in on the eve of a game.
Then, once the players became too good at singing, Clark switched to acting out famous movie scenes.
Bennett said: “The manager brought it in and it is a great way of breaking up the journey and having to spend Friday nights away. The lads take it really seriously, too.
“Some don’t want to do shooting on a Friday, just in case it goes badly and they have to perform at night. I can also remember a couple of lads deciding not to eat their meal at night because they had to sing 10 or so minutes later, that is how serious some of them take it.
“Some of the young lads think they are pop stars anyway, and then there are us older ones who if we sang something then the young ones wouldn’t know what we were on about.
“As goalkeepers, me and Nick (Colgan) keep out of it as much as we can.”
At Leeds United, Bennett was part of a squad who would regularly hold ‘Friday Court’ sessions – whereby players would be ‘tried’ by their team-mates for a whole host of offences, some imagined and some real.
Asked about the ‘Friday Court’, the Town goalkeeper said: “Yes, I remember those. Lads like Gary Kelly would go round planting things in people’s lockers and then revealing to the court what he had seen, which would then bring a fine for the poor unfortunate player.
“Others would claim to have seen people smoking. It was all meant in jest and became a big part of the week at Leeds. It helped build team spirit after what had been a big upheaval at Leeds with players coming in and others leaving.
“Here at Huddersfield, the singing and acting sessions have been great for the lads. It is that sort of banter that I will probably miss first when I eventually retire.”
Talk of retirement is, however, firmly off the agenda for now with Bennett’s only focus being on helping Town into the Championship.
He said: “I love every minute of being at Huddersfield and am fine with whatever the club wants to do. I just concentrate on playing. I don’t know what will happen at the end of the season.
“I think a player knows when it is time to call it a day but, first and foremost, right now all I want to do is play every game and do my job for the team.
“I get up and want to come into training and be round the lads. If I start letting the lads down or start struggling to get through games then I will know. I won’t wait around to be told.
“But until then, I just want to help Huddersfield Town do well. I still love keeping clean sheets and love being part of such a great dressing room, with all that great banter.”