250 up for Aidan our versatile one-club man
CIRENCESTER TOWN'S Aidan Bennett is the classic one-club man.
The vast majority of players in non-league football don't have a contract and consequently drift from club to club, so loyalty is a precious commodity.
Bennett has played for Cirencester Town for 19 years – and he is only 24 now.
He first put on a red and black shirt when he was five years old, travelling to training sessions on the handlebars of his brother Ashley's bike – and has played in every year group at the club from that point, through to the Academy, Development side and then the firsts.
At Hitchin Town earlier this month, Aidan made his 250th appearance for the first XI, a remarkable achievement for one so young. Loyalty apart, Bennett is unique in other ways at Southern League level being genuinely two-footed, and able to play in a number of positions.
His goal tally of 28 reflects the fact that his strength and tackling ability is often used in defence rather than his preferred option going forward.
"In a recent game against Dunstable I started at left back, moved up front alongside Alan Griffin and finished the game at right back," he said.
Being so versatile, even the amiable Bennett is unsure of his best position.
"I'm happy to play in the back four if required but I think I'm best facing the goal in attack – not playing up top with my back to goal, although I have played as the sole striker – but coming in from the wing. I'm not an out-and-out winger but my strength and pace gives me an advantage in that position." As for being two-footed, he credits Dave Pyzer, his mentor from U6s to U16s for nurturing that ability.
"It is down to Dave that I am a two-footed player because he made me train and practice, so I owe him a lot."
Who better than Pyzer – the man who knows Bennett's game best – to pay tribute.
"Aidan is a powerful all-rounder able to play in defence, midfield and attack," said Pyzer.
"He is strong on both flanks with a terrific strike in either foot. He also has a good leap to compete against taller opponents, is strong in the tackle, quick over the ground, determined and tough. Through his junior years he played alongside Ellis Dunton (temporarily back from Australia to play for Cirencester) and Ollie Pitt (now top scorer for Brimscombe & Thrupp in the Hellenic).
"They were a formidable trio – scoring loads of goals in mini football and tournaments. I was always keen to promote players who have come through our juniors and that was the reason for creating the Development Team – to give them a route from junior football to the first team. We had a particularly good group of youngsters including Aidan and Ellis, and 12 of those players pulled on a first team shirt during the period 2009/10 to 2011/12."
One of Bennett's career highlights came in junior football.
"We played in a tournament at Reading's Madejski Stadium and although we didn't win it we came close," he said. I got scouted by Swindon Town as a youngster but I didn't go for the trial because I wanted to carry on playing with my mates. Of course, the other major highlight was in senior football when we won the Southern League Div One South & West title. That was a great bunch of lads."
Bennett made his first team debut as an 18-year-old, coming off the bench late on against Leatherhead in the FA Trophy on October 22, 2011, a game they won 3-1.
His first start for the senior XI was just before his 19th birthday on January 14, 2012 when he played right back against Frome Town in the Southern League Premier Division, losing 1-0.
Appearance number 252 came in Saturday's vital 2-1 victory over St Neots Town, in which Bennett's all-action display – playing in an attacking role this time – laid the foundations for the win.
"I can't explain this season," he said, reflecting on Ciren's struggles towards the bottom of the league. "We have the players and morale is a lot better compared to the start of the season. But the luck has definitely not been with us."
Loyal and local – he lives in town and works on the maintenance crew of the Bromford housing group – Aidan Bennett ticks two important boxes as far as fans of any football club are concerned. He also happens to be a damn fine player too.