Scottish goalkeeper Reuben Bennett joined City in January 1936 to provide backup for veteran keeper George Maddison. Bennett played in three games, the first of which resulted in a 1-6 thrashing at Doncaster as David Menzies’ Tigers hurtled towards relegation to Division Three North. A knee injury meant City did not retain Bennett at the end of the 1935/36 season and he returned to Scotland.
Bennett was born and raised in Aberdeen and had played for Aberdeen East End and Aberdeen in his early 20s while serving his apprenticeship as a butcher. He was touring Yorkshire with an Aberdeenshire Select XI when he was spotted by Hull City and promptly signed.
Reuben returned to Scotland in the 1936 close season to recuperate after his knee injury sustained while at Hull City. He joined Queen of the South on a trial basis and made his debut for the Doonhammers in November 1936. However within three weeks and after three appearances Bennett had fractured his collar bone and his trial was terminated. Once recovered, Bennett played works football in London until the outbreak of war in 1939. Bennett served in the Gordon Highlanders during the war as a Staff Sargeant Instructor, drilling fitness into military folk, aiding their recovery from injury and also aiding his own recovery from his footballing injuries. He represented the Army Physical Training Corps in 1944 then later that year signed for Dundee.
Bennett played for Dundee for five years, while also owning a massage parlour – an establishment with more innocent conortations in the 1940s. He made 94 starts for Dundee but injuries continued to dog his playing career. His attention to maintaining good fitness perhaps extended his career more than some players could sustain, but his professional playing days came to and end in 1949. After a spell in the Highland League with Elgin City his second and more famous second career in football coaching began.
Bennett returned to Dundee in 1950 to join the coaching staff, and his physical training experience in the War undoubtedly stood him in good stead. Under the management of George Anderson, Dundee were a successful side in the 1950s, losing the Scottish Cup Final in 1952 and twice winning the Scottish League Cup. In May 1953 Bennett was appointed manager of Ayr United and he remained in charge of The Honest Men for two seasons. He resigned in April 1955 after conflict with the board of directors at Ayr, who required him to perform administrative duties as well as coach the team. Bennett never took a managerial role again.
Reuben joined the coaching staff at Motherwell in the 1955 close season then in December 1956 he took up a similar role with Glasgow side Third Lanark, then a Scottish Second Division side. By the end of 1956/57 Bennett was in temporary charge of the first team and piloted them to promotion to the top flight. With Reuben engaged in building a squad fit to compete in the higher divison, the managerial reins were handed to Bob Shankly, brother of future Liverpool legend Bill Shankly. This was the catalyst for a remarkable third act of Bennett’s career.
In December 1958 Bennett was invited to join the coaching staff at Liverpool, who at the time were managed by former Reds and England wing half Phil Taylor. Taylor had assembled a backroom staff comprising Bennett, former Manchester City defender Joe Fagan and taciturn County Durham-born left half Bob Paisley. In November 1959 Taylor resigned his post and the managerial reins were handed to Ayrshire born Bill Shankly, who resigned the manager’s post at Huddersfield Town to join the Reds. Thus the first incarnation of the legendary Anfield Boot Room was convened, and this group of four propelled Liverpool during twenty five years from Second Division also-rans to league champions, European champions and one of the best club sides in the world. Shankly managed the club for fifteen years and lifted three League titles, two FA cup wins and a UEFA Cup win. Paisley took over the manager’s role in 1974 and over the next nine years won six more League titles, three European Cups and a UEFA Cup. Between 1983 and 1985 Fagan took over as manager, winning the League/League Cup/European Cup treble in 1984. Only Bennett from that original bootroom foursome, perhaps still scarred by his experience at Ayr United in the 1950s, didn’t manage the Reds.
Bennett’s main role initially was Chief Coach, reprising his wartime experience to focus on player’s fitness while honing their skills. He was chief disciplinarian, quelling any unrest amongst the players regarding training or matchday tactics. He was chief story teller, imparting fantastical tales about his playing days before the War and his time in the Army, mainly focused around the various ways he received and ignored pain. He was also Shankly’s closest confidante. Shankly and his team revolutionised day to day training by introducing more practising of skills and fitness work with the ball, rather than the constant slog of road running. By 1964 Liverpool had won the league title and were regarded as the fittest squad in the land – and Bennett played a crucial role in maintaining those fitness levels. Bennett also used his football contacts and knowledge to help assemble a winning squad – Ian St John had been at Motherwell with Reuben, who also knew Ronnie Yeats through Aberdonian family ties – both players signed for Liverpool and combined with Roger Hunt to form a fearsome 1960s strike force. In the 1970s Bennett was reassigned to a Special Projects role -travelling the land and producing dossiers about up and coming opponents, allowing Shankly and then Paisley to prepare tactics to outwit their foes. This role included extended trips to various European countries, which helped Liverpool to achieve regular European glory.
Bennett retired from football in May 1986 when he was in his early-70s. He died in December 1989, not long after the Hillsborough tragedy, and was buried in Anfield Cemetery. His demise led to an outpouring of tributes for a man that was central to the achivements of Liverpool FC over a thirty year period.
Date/Place of Birth: 21 December 1913, Aberdeen
Hull City First Game: 22 February 1936, Doncaster Rovers A (Division Two), 22 years, 63 days old
Hull City Final Game: 30 April 1936, Sheffield United H (Division Two), 22 years, 131 days old
Shoemakers, Aberdeen East End, Aberdeen, Hull City (1936), Queen of the South (1936-1937), Aberdeen East End (1937), Dundee (1944-1949), Elgin City (1949)
Hull City Record
Career: 3 apps, 0 goalsReuben Bennett