Tonight we have the pleasure of watching Elliott Bennett in the blue and white of the Albion for the first time at Falmer. Back in our monochrome days in April 2010 - the fanzine’s second season - TSLR019 spoke to The Telford Tiger after he had just been awarded our coveted player of the season prize. That interview is replicated below for your general amusement. It should be noted that one of our favourite TSLRites - @fragglemiller had the pleasure of meeting Mr Bennett.
You’re TSLR’s Player of the Season. Is this the greatest moment of your life?
Yeah, one of them, it’s a good achievement. I didn’t even know. Thank you.
Do you know if you’ve won any other awards this season yet?
Not this season, but I won Young Player of the Year at Wolves two seasons ago and then I won Young Player of the Season at Bury when I was on loan last year.
Does it feel like a long way from the dark days at the start of the season when you first arrived?
Yeah definitely, everything’s changed a lot. The new gaffer’s come in and he’s really stamped a way of football he wants us to play. We’re starting to play that way now. The fans seem to be enjoying the style of football we’re playing, and hopefully we can get the three points we need against Carlisle now to be safe.
At the training ground at Poyet’s first session, several players said they could see the impact he had straight away. Was that true for you?
Definitely. He’d obviously watched a few games before he got the job and found out what we needed to do to get better. We weren’t defending well as a team at all.
How does that translate in terms of training sessions?
Training’s just training really, but I think he’s instilled more of a confidence in the boys to pass the ball to each other and not be afraid if someone’s marked to give it to them. It’s just knowing your players really - some players are technically better than others, so if you’re in certain situations you can give it to them.
After the game on Monday, Hartlepool’s Chris Turner said we play in a continental style. Are Poyet’s methods very different to the ones you’ve experienced in the English game?
Yeah, with a lot of the training sessions I’ve experienced it’s all in and you can take as many touches as you want - you know, it’s very rare that the gaffer asks you to play three-touch football. That encourages you to pass the ball and move to create an angle to get the ball back.
You were signed by Russell Slade, who presumably didn’t sell the club to you on a passing game and total football…
He just said that he wanted me to come and play. I’d been on loan for a year and a half with Crewe. I just needed to break away and become my own person. I’d been there all that time as a young lad and I needed to become a man I think. I was miles away from breaking into the first team there. In pre-season I knew I wasn’t going to play but I didn’t feel detached, I just focussed on staying professional, not causing trouble about the place and staying fit for a loan or permanent move, so I could take it when it came. I didn’t think I’d play as many games as I have done to be honest, but Russell said that I’d play some games and I’m obviously delighted to have played as many as I have. I’ve had to move away from what I’ve known - it’s a completely new place, I’ve had to grow up on and off the pitch so it’s helped me personally.
What do you remember about Poyet’s first game in charge at Southampton? That was the first game where we saw you really playing defensively and helping double mark men.
It was a bit different, but I’d played right-back before Gus came in with Russell Slade. I played half a game when we had someone sent off against Stockport. I don’t mind doing my fair share of defending. But the Southampton game was a weird one for me because it was one of those games where we were on the telly and I had my family and friends watching, so you want to show what you can do. It was weird really because we hadn’t had much time with Gus so that was a bit strange. He just told us to go and play, that’s what he’s done all season, to be confident. It’s really worked, because some players weren’t feeling confident before games.
Had it been quite a heavy time for you all before that, with the end of Russell Slade’s time here?
It was just disappointing. The last game he was here we battered Hartlepool but didn’t win. That’s the way it was happening. Gus has come in and that’s what he’s changed - if we score a goal and go 1-0 up, go two or 3-0, keep going.
Did you have a lack of confidence before Russell Slade left?
Personally I didn’t, I try to stay as confident as I can. When you lose that you’re struggling. I think it was more that as a team we were thinking ‘if a team scores, we’re not getting back in it’. Obviously that’s not a good way to think, but that was the sort of mentality really.
How do you find playing with Calderon? Did you know anything about him before he signed?
Very good - he’s a top player. I’d never seen him, never heard of him, I’d just seen his locks coming into the changing room. He’s had to learn the language while he’s been over here as well and his English is getting a lot better. He knows the game, he’s played at a good level in Spain. He’s a joy to watch for the fans and a joy to play with as well.
We’ve all noticed that you switch wings during games. Did you do that much before Gus came in?
Not really, but I like it. The gaffer says if you’re not beating your man on one side and you’re both not getting the ball just choose between yourselves. It gives us the responsibility to know when and when not to change.
You looked like you didn’t have a celebration for that goal at Oldham.
That’s ‘cos I don’t score very often, so when it went in I didn’t know what to do. I tried to run around in circles.
What do you remember about the Charlton game?
It was great - maybe not our best performance, because I think the Southampton game here was very good, but there we played well, passed them off the park at their place, won the game, scored goals and they only scored in the 90th minute I think. That was a great day, the fans were brilliant as well.
If you had to pick a Player of the Season for yourself…
…who would I pick? Since Gus has come in I’d say Calde, but for the whole season, just for consistency and what he brings to the team I’d say Crofty. People might say Gary Dicker takes people on and looks glamorous in the centre of the field, but I think what Crofty does is brilliant for the team. He keeps the ball, tackles, scores goals and allows others to play as well.
All the players were very confident about this season…
Are you cautious about being confident for next season? When you came here we were still talking about making the play-offs…
I’m not cautious, no, because I think you should always be confident when you start the season, otherwise there’s no point in playing. I think if we believe in the brand of football the gaffer wants us to play and we play the way we know we can, the play-offs and automatic promotion are not unrealistic at all, especially given the performance against Southampton [at Withdean]. It was top drawer.
It’s fair to say that we’ve been outclassed by a few of the top teams like Leeds. What do you think we have to do to get up to their standard, or do you think we’re really approaching that now?
I think it’s all about confidence. I know I keep saying that, but when they came here Leeds had been on a good run, they were at the top of the league, flying. Things change – people would say they’re not that good now.
Have you felt a kind of momentum building since January?
Definitely, I think our results have shown that as well. We haven’t been losing many games and there’s a steady confidence growing within the team for next season.