By Steve Gibbs
Paul Benson may already have more than one eye on his future, but as Bedford Town’s 39-year-old Head of Coaching looks forward to an FA Trophy tie with Aldershot Town, his passion for simply doing what he does best remains undiminished.
Already close to completing his UEFA A Licence qualification as he prepares for life after playing, the prolific former Dagenham & Redbridge, Charlton Athletic and Swindon Town striker hopes to use both his wealth of experience and goalscoring pedigree to upset Gary Waddock’s faltering National League team.
“I play every now and then, when the legs let me, and scoring a goal still means the same to me as it always has done,” he admits, having already notched 12 for the Evo-Stik League South Division One Central side this season.
“My most recent goal felt as good as any goal I scored in the Football League. Once I start losing that feeling I know it’s time to knock it on the head.”
Although he jokingly objects to being called ‘the grandad of the squad’ on the Eagles’ official website, Benson still appreciates: “I haven’t got much longer playing, and it’s important to offer advice to young players in any squad. That’s the role I see myself having.”
Bedford have already progressed through all five rounds of the competition – including three replays, two teams from higher up the pyramid and a couple of late equalisers – on their way to facing the Shots, and his message to team-mates on arrival at the EBB Stadium will be simple: “Anything is possible, and there’s nothing to fear. If you go into a game not expecting to win, then you’ll lose. You’ve got to believe that you have a chance of winning. The best 11 on the day will win, but you only get one shot so we’ve all got to be 100%.”
Combining his work alongside manager Jon Taylor at The New Eyrie with coaching Luton Town’s Under-13 side, Benson assesses his dual roles as “a good transition for me to move into. I’m learning loads and experiencing loads, trying to increase my skillset as a coach. But you must not forget that coaching and playing are two totally different things.”
Nonetheless, he recognises the value that, even as an instinctive goalscorer, his new-found analytical skills could have had on his playing career.
“It would have improved my all-round game, to contribute outside the box,” he added. “Coaching courses have strengthened my game, to be able to help other players around me, know their roles, and become a bit more of a leader. I wish I’d done it earlier.”
Benson, however, is looking long-term, and knows where this path will ultimately lead.
“I would eventually like to try management, to put into practice what I’ve learnt from the great managers I’ve played under and see whether I’ve got the formula to create a winning side.”
Citing, of course, John Still as a massive influence on his own burgeoning style, alongside previous gaffers including Paolo Di Canio, Chris Powell, Nathan Jones and Phil Parkinson, he enthuses: “I’ve got loads of different people mixed in with my own philosophies as well. It excites me, it’s something I look forward to, to see if it’s as difficult as it looks. But it will be when I’m ready.”
There are, though, undoubtedly signs of a good start being made at Bedford.
“We’ve managed to claw our way through round after round,” he modestly affirms, but even a seasoned veteran like Benson acknowledges the magnitude of what the Eagles have done.
“The effort that we’ve all had to put in, as a club, it’s good that we’ve been rewarded with a fantastic tie.
“As far as getting through rounds, this is probably the best I’ve ever done (in the FA Trophy). For Bedford, it’s as good as getting to the final. We should be proud of what we’ve managed already, but there’s more to achieve.”
FA Trophy first round draw – Southern Section:
Wingate &?Finchley v Dulwich Hamlet
Biggleswade Town v Wealdstone
Maidenhead United v Oxford City
Hereford v Billericay Town
Aldershot Town v Bedford Town
Hemel Hempstead v Eastleigh
Dover Athletic v Havant & W
Woking v Maidstone United
Ebbsfleet U v Dagenham
Barnet v Bath City
Bromley v Sutton United
Truro City v Weston-Super-Mare
Salisbury v Braintree Town
Boreham Wood v Torquay United
Leyton Orient v Beaconsfield
Brackley Town v Hayes & Yeading
Weymouth v Needham Market
Eastbourne v Dorchester Town
Southport v Solihull Moors
Lancaster v Blyth Spartans
AFC Fylde v Stratford Town
Salford City v Gateshead
Chesterfield v Basford
Wrexham v Boston United
Barrow v FC Halifax
Harrogate Town v York City
Leamington v Hartlepool United
Spennymoor Town v Barwell
Altrincham v Stockport County
AFC Telford v Farsley Celtic