Whitehaven, Cumbria born full back (he could play both sides) Bob Benson began his football career playing for Dunston Villa in 1900, Shankhouse in 1901 and Swalwell in 1902 before joining First Division Newcastle United in December 1902, making his Football League debut at Liverpool in March 1903. It was his only game for Newcastle before he left for Southern League Southampton in September 1904 for a fee of £150.
Benson made his Southampton debut on 1st October 1904, in a 1-1 draw at home to Brighton & Hove Albion. Benson’s form was immediately impressive; described as “big and bold”, he was a terror to opposition forwards, “snuffing out their moves with his sense of anticipation”. Benson also developed an unorthodox method of taking penalties – by running the full length of the pitch from his full back position before kicking the ball. Unfortunately, his method of penalty taking was not a success, never actually converting any of the penalties he took in his year with The Saints. During his one season at The Dell, Benson missed several long periods through injury, when he was replaced by the veteran Samuel Meston, and made 19 Southern League appearances, plus three in the FA Cup before leaving for Sheffield United in May 1905 for a fee once again set at £150.
Benson had arrived at Bramall Lane relatively cheaply, with Southampton mistakenly believing that Newcastle had retained his registration and thus were due an additional fee from The Blades. He spent eight seasons at Bramall Lane, cementing himself in the defence where he developed into a strong tackler and was commanding in the air. He became the team’s regular penalty taker, perfecting a routine whereby he would jog slowly up from his normal defensive position before breaking into a run and shooting after a team mate had placed the ball on the spot, all but one of his 21 goals scored for United coming from the penalty spot. Benson took over the captaincy from Bernard Wilkinson but soon relinquished it to Jack English when he lost his place in the first team through injury, following which he requested a transfer.
During his time with Sheffield United, the club generally finished in mid-table, with their highest finish being fourth in 1906-07. He played 283 matches for Sheffield United in all competitions, scoring 21 goals, including 20 penalties. His form at Sheffield United brought him to the notice of the Football Association and in 1910 he was a member of the F.A. Tour to South Africa, as well as representing the Football League on one occasion. He received his solitary cap for England on 15th February 1913 when he played at left back against Ireland, when England lost 2-1, with both Irish goals coming from Benson’s Sheffield United team mate Billy Gillespie.
Benson joined Woolwich Arsenal on 18th November 1913, where he remained until his untimely death two and a half years later. He made his debut against Bristol City on 29th November 1913, and over two seasons he made 54 appearances for the Gunners, mostly at full back although he was later moved to centre forward, and scored seven goals for the club as they tried for promotion back into the First Division; Arsenal would eventually win re-election based on their position of fifth in 1914-15 after the end of the First World War. Due to the onset of the War, first class football was suspended after the 1914-15 season. Benson quit the game to work at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich munitions factory.
He kept in touch with his old club and on 19th February 1916 attended a London Combination match at Highbury against Reading. With his former team mate Joe Shaw unable to make the game, Benson volunteered to take his place, which ultimately had fatal consequences. Having not played a game for nearly a year, Benson was not match-fit. He collapsed on the pitch in the second half and had to be taken off; soon afterwards he died in the Highbury changing rooms, in the arms of team trainer George Hardy.It was later determined he had died of a burst blood vessel, from a long-standing medical condition. Benson was buried wearing his Arsenal shirt. Three months later, Arsenal held a testimonial match in his honour, against a Rest of London XI, with the proceeds going to his widow; over 5,000 attended to pay their respects.