SAFC Legends Series – Gary Bennett MBE

Born in Manchester on 4th Dcember 1961, Gary Bennett spent his Youth at his boyhood club, Manchester City with his brother Dave Bennett, but neither of them made an appearance for the first-team.

In 1981, he and his brother moved to Cardiff City where they helped them gain promotion from the Third Division in the 1982-83 season.

After 3 seasons at Cardiff, playing 87 times and scoring an impressive 11 goals for a centre-back, Bennett made the move to Sunderland for £85,000.

Bennett created a reputation for himself as a hard-hitting defender who was never shy of a tackle.

His Sunderland career got off to a flyer, scoring just 2 minutes into his debut with a header against Southampton’s Peter Shilton in a 3-1 victory at Roker Park.

In his first season, he also helped the Black Cats reach the League Cup final, where they narrowly lost 1-0 to Norwich City.

Unfortunately, his first season ended in relegation from the First Division with Sunderland.

In his second season, first in the Second Division for The Black Cats, it was a struggle again as Sunderland finished just two places above the relegation zone by 4 points.

Sunderland were hoping to improve on that finish the following season, but for the first time in their history they were relegated to the Third Division.

However, Sunderland earned immediate promotion back to the Second Division, captained by Gary Bennett and his performances proved vital.

Gary Bennett made 48 appearances, scoring 2 goals as Sunderland dominated the league, finishing 9 points above Brighton in 2nd place with a total of 93 points.

The following season, Sunderland had an impressive first season back in the Second division, finishing comfortably in 11th as they began to rebuild in an attempt to return to the top tier.

In just their second season back in the Second tier, Bennett helped Sunderland qualify for the play-offs.

Despite scoring an own goal in the final, losing the game against Swindon Town, Sunderland were awarded promotion and Swindon struggled with Financial Irregularities.

Unfortunately, this may have proved that Sunderland weren’t quite ready to compete at the top level, as they were relegated back to Division Two the following season.

Following the formation of The Premier League, Sunderland had established themselves comfortably in the second tier, eventually earning promotion to The Premier League in the 1995-96 season, Sunderland’s first season without the legendary Gary Bennett in their ranks.

One of Bennett’s most famous moments came in the 1990 League Cup Quarter-Final tie against Coventry City. When he had a tussle with David Speedie on the half-way line, when Speedie aimed a kick at Bennett’s strapped up knee.

Bennett reacted by grabbing him and pushing into the Sunderland fans, giving them an opportunity to throw some hits at the Coventry Striker, and Bennett eventually saw red for his reaction.

Bennett left Sunderland in 1995 after making 425 appearances, scoring 25 goals.

He had spells with Carlisle United, Scarborough and Darlington before retiring in 2002.

Following his retirement, he co-hosts on BBC Newcastle. Totalsport and commentate on every match for BBC Radio Newcastle alongside Nick Barnes.