"Geoffrey Bent was my personal friend and was always recognised within the club as probably the best player who could not get into the first team. He could not nudge out Roger Bryne, the best left back in the country, but would have walked into any other First Division team"
- Ian Greaves
He was not supposed to go!
He can easily be considered the unluckiest of the Babes. At 25 he was one of the elders on the team, yet he only made 12 first team appearances in his 7 years at United. He was supposed to take over from the great John Aston, but it was not to be. Roger Byrne made the switch to left-back, Geoff Bent was pushed aside. He went to Belgrade because the Roger got a calf strain in THAT GAME against the Gunners. The Old Man needed Geoff as cover. In any event he did not feature, Roger was well enough to play.
Geoff Bent was a local lad, a true Busby Babe, and one of the first ones. Born in Salford on September 27th 1932. He was brought up in Jacksons Buildings in Irlams o' th' Height. Jeff was an only child, and a promising footballer. He captained the Salford Schoolboys when they had won the English Schools Trophy in 1947. A year later he was picked up by United. Before he was able to sign as a professional Geoff was a trainee joiner.
A tall composed defender, Geoff was well built and a good tackler. He was unfortunate to play in a position of the undroppable club Captain. So Geoff languished in the United reserves, often playing along with 7 or 8 internationals. Geoff made his first team debut in the 1954-55 season at Turf Moor, against Burnley on December 11th, United won 4-1. He went on to make only one more appearance that season. Four in the following campaign, and six on the way of the Babes' second League Championship. In the 1957-58 he did not feature at all. He was getting frustrated, he knew, as did everyone else, that he was good enough to start for almost any other team. The problem was, as with Bobby and many of the reserves, this was Manchester United Football Club, Matt Buby's team. How does one break into a line up full of great players. How can anyone drop an Edwards, or a Taylor, or Byrne? Even after a few sub-par performances everyone knew they would be back and in style. So he waited, there were rumours of him asking for a transfer. Matt (reportedly) refused, he told him he too valuable to the squad, just in case. A lot has been written about Matt Busby, but it is generally acknowledged that the man could be as ruthless and head strong as another great Scottish United manager decades later. If it was good for United, he went with it, if not, tough. Individuals did not matter, the club mattered. So it is quite conceivable that Geoff did ask for a transfer and it was rejected.
In any case the possible move away from Manchester was off the agenda for Geoff. He was one of the few married Babes, and became a father in late 1957. The club offered the Bent family a house on King's Road, Geoff settled in. At Highbury Roger got hurt, Geoff was told he will fly with the squad to Belgrade. Geoff did not want to go. He was terrified of flying, as were some of the lads were. He also suffered from nose bleeds even at modest altitudes. Again he did not play, and in Munich was lost forever. He left a young wife and a baby daughter behind. And is largely forgotten by all.
Usually the last to be mentioned when people are recounting the Babes; even his grave went unattended for a while a few years back. Geoff was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. John's CE at Irlans o' th' Height. In 2004 a fan took her two young grandsons to visit the grave and was shocked to discover that weeds were growing on the grave. She contacted the club and they were supposed to sort it.
So if you are passing nearby, please visit Geoff and pay your respects, make sure the grave is being taken care of, and lay a rose for one of England's finest. He deserves it, he was one of Busby's Babes.
1951-1958 Manchester United 12 (0)
Condor, Jeff. The Lost Babes. Harper. 2007
Dunphy, Eamon. A Strange Kind of Glory. Aurum, 2007
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