An interview with: Joe Benn and George Gaskin
The 106 goal pairing for Littlehampton Town talk to me ahead of the FA Vase Final this Sunday at Wembley Stadium
TK: With everything the world and football has been through in the last two years, if you had been offered the next few weeks and what has happened so far for Littlehampton Town would it have been a case of ‘yes I’ll take that’ or ‘no, of course that’s never going to happen’?
JB: I think we’re going to have two very different answers here! If you had said nine months ago you will win the league I still would have said ‘wow, ok then’ whereas you (George) and Mitch will probably have said otherwise.
GG: I’m more surprised I’ve stayed at a club for three years! I think it’s unrealistic to think we could have been involved in so many competitions still and even with what has happened already to us the league was the number one priority.
People we’ve both spoken to have said they threw the cup competitions in order to make sure the league had the full focus along with the Vase but we felt we’ve got such a good squad that could handle the lot and I think that’s why we haven’t seen anyone leave.
We did set out to win everything and so far we’ve taken huge steps to achieve that and we’ll see where we are come the end of May.
TK: With both of you being strikers did you set yourself targets at the beginning of the season or just a case of see how it’s going at various points of the year?
JB: I think I set myself a target of 30 at the beginning of the season.
TK: Is that all?
JB: Haha! Yeah I would have been happy with that, but I think it got to the end of September/October and I was somewhere between 20-30 goals so I started to make mini targets of scoring 10 a month.
TK: He’s not greedy at all is he George?
GG: No, not at all haha!
JB: Bit gutted I missed so many games with the injury but it allowed this boy to nip in and score a few.
GG: To be fair I don’t set myself targets, only twice have I done that in the last 15 years and been injured both times! Where I don’t play up front any more because of this man, I’d be wasting my time!
TK: How many goals each for the season is it currently standing at? I remember someone the other week saying it was now over 100 combined for you both.
JB: 59 for me. George?
GG: 45 which isn’t bad for a part time striker!
TK: What’s like having George on the pitch when he plays given he’s one half of the management team, is it like having a buzzing in your ear all the time?
JB: Haha, George is unique in that way, even if he wasn’t the manager you’d still have a buzz in your ear! The dynamic he has with Mitch is something I haven’t experienced anywhere else before, it doesn’t make any difference they’re both player-manager’s and I think that reflects well on them.
TK: George, have you found it’s benefitted the team more with you on the pitch, although of course you have natural leaders and captain
GG: It helps to a certain extent because Mitch is there watching and I’m out there playing the game, at half time it’s gives us two different views to put across.
We both watched a little interview with the Wycombe boss (Gareth Ainsworth) and he has senior players who run the dressing room for him, we’re lucky we have that kind of experience in our players to help us along with that.
It’s such a good group we have where everyone get’s on with everyone, they play golf all together, hardly anyone has missed a night out etc, it’s very close and I think that’s helped us get to where we are.
Even bringing in players during the season, Aaron Capon in my opinion won us the Brockenhurst game, without him that day hand on heart I don’t think we would have gotten through it.
Finding players that weren’t Vase cup tied as well wasn’t easy, Scott Kirkwood who I’ve known for the while we finally got, took him four weeks to reply to my Facebook message mind you! His quality though has shone through and to bring him in given what he’s achieved across Sussex is just fantastic.
TK: Joe, earlier in the season when you were almost scoring for fun there was a lot of speculation going around of clubs watching you from all sorts of levels, did that detract you from your game at all?
JB: No I don’t think so, I think I’m my own worst critic at times but I will give myself credit for not getting distracted and I’ll be honest it wasn’t on my mind. I can’t dictate what happens off the pitch so I just play my game and that will be the same next season too.
TK: Taking you both back to that Athletic Newham Vase game, Joe we’ll get your thoughts on your injury and how you felt, George, what kind of reaction did you expect from the players given the season was going so well before that game?
GG: We watched a few videos of them but they were the only team in the Vase run that we didn’t watch live. Jimmy went to North Shields and Loughborough, Mitch and Ady (Baker) went to the Isle of Wight to watch Brockenhurst.
TK: Anything for a jolly those two!
GG: Spot on haha! But from the videos we thought we would be alright, they did come to watch us, matched us up exactly on the day and did a proper job on us.
When Joe got injured we were 3-0 down and I think it sapped the energy out of the team. I had found out they were playing a suspended player and I had to use that at half time to calm the lads down, it was something of luck maybe for us. We try not to get too up when we win and too down when we lose because the sheer amount of games hasn’t allowed us to be any different.
JB: It was a tough one to take, being frustrated already in the game and then that happens, thoughts then turn to we’re out of the Vase and I’m personally out for longer. What I was proud of is the way the boys reacted to me not being available, they went out and kept winning and a lot would have expected us to fold and that’s not me being big headed.
I made sure I went home and away as often as I could to support the lads and do a bit of what Hunty (Adam Hunt) and Dave Herbert have done recently and feeling involved still. The hardest part was then coming back and doing the shoulder which put me out again, I’ve never met anyone whose managed to do that!
TK: George, do you look at it like that kind of luck if you call it to be reinstated, your name is on the cup?
GG: Just going off what Joe said I think it’s natural for other teams to get a boost of that, but instead of letting it bother us we kicked on as a group and hopefully made Joe feel he didn’t have to rush back too quickly.
I said to Mitch if we get through the Brockenhurst game then we’ll get to Wembley. I couldn’t watch the penalties though; I hid behind the dug outs! I’m bad enough at watching games let alone those.
TK: I watched you at Steyning back in late August when Joe didn’t play that night and you rattled in 6 goals, other games too where you knew someone would score.
GG: Funnily enough we referred back to that Steyning game quite often when Joe was first out, some had stepped off the gas a little because they felt we didn’t need to attack as much, Joe would get something for us, so it was good for us to relate to that to prove we’ll still work ok without him being there.
TK: The attendance figures have risen up over the course of the season and as a Littlehampton man George, did you ever expect to see the levels there have been at The Sportsfield this year?
GG: Honestly, no. I still watch videos from years ago of me playing and even recently when Joe joined we played a Friday night game where he scored a hat-trick and no one at all is behind the goal.
Just like a lot of other clubs when it’s going well support is there and when it isn’t so good it drops off. We said at the beginning of the season we wanted the youth involved which then means parents have to come which straight off increases numbers.
Then the 14-16 year olds were coming and I know I’ve spoken to a few but I don’t think the supporters realise how much they do for us on the pitch, the atmosphere they create when the chips are down, Pagham away being a prime example drove us to win the game late on.
Games like the Loughborough semi-final, I don’t think they expected what they saw at the Sportsfield and we can’t thank them enough for what they do, that’s why we talk to them, go over to them after the game to show our appreciation
JB: For me as someone whose come into the club from outside I am only used to playing in front of a few. The numbers have gradually risen all season and we took unbelievable support to Newham and then my first game back was the Brockenhurst game and to score the first goal and hear the crowd noise was just unreal, like nothing else ever.
And then when I was on the bench against Loughborough I was desperate to get on in front of over 3,000 people, I was making eye contact with Mitch, waving my hands, everything!
But no, like George said I genuinely don’t think the fans know what they do for us and how they’re making us feel for this short period of time, people coming up to us for photos, I even had one of my pupils at school wanting me to sign something, I thought it was a wind up but it really wasn’t, it’s just unbelievable.
TK: George, being Littlehampton born and bred, seeing the team getting to Wembley when 600 odd teams started out in September, the sort of thing you dream of as a kid with 99% unlikely to come true but that 1% has happened for you.
GG: Yeah, I was one of those with a chance but got released at 14/15, I always thought I would be a professional footballer playing in stadiums and my mum and dad spent all their money ferrying me about, when we beat Loughborough I said to my dad ‘this is to repay you for all you’ve done for me’, for him to get that chance to see me play at Wembley.
To have the committee who played in 1990-91 and got so close for them to be able to get there and watch their club is fantastic for me and to be the first club in Sussex to get to the Vase final, I hope selfishly it doesn’t happen again in my lifetime!
TK: For both of you this one, how do you treat Wembley Stadium and the day?
GG: Erm, like it’s Mile Oak haha!
TK: Or the Sportsfield?
JB: Yeah watch out for that bobble! Seriously, I think it’s just enjoy the day, every single minute whether we’re on the pitch or not. We need to enjoy it from the day before as well, travelling up, that’s going to be an experience in itself.
I’m genuinely looking forward to the warm up as mad as it sounds, just being able to kick a ball about without the game pressure.
TK: And your name going up on the scoreboard as well before the game, well that’s if George picks you!
JB: Haha, we’ll see! When you give it real thought there’s Premier League players with a 20 year career who won’t play at Wembley for whatever reason and us, non-league footballers will be there it’s mental. I don’t think it’s going to sink in until the warm up when we see people in their seats you know, it’s not the stadium tour, it’s real.
GG: For me it’s going to start to sink in on Saturday afternoon when we leave on the coach and the meal we have in the evening, we’ll all be looking at each other thinking ‘Christ, what are we doing tomorrow’. With it being an early kick off there isn’t time to think about it.
Mitch and I have spoken to Tommy Sampson who won it with Deal Town in 2000 and he’s told us what to expect, what to look for, whats coming our way. He’s coming to Wembley as well to watch us, the stories he’s told though are priceless to help, he’s been great to both of us.
TK: Ok last one, Sunday May 22nd 12.25pm, how surreal is it going to be walking out at Wembley Stadium knowing your friends and family are all there to watch you instead of at the Sportsfield?
JB: Hmm, it’s yeah, going to be pretty mental isn’t it! A mad feeling, seeing everyone, hearing the tannoy, special, but it’s all about dealing with the occasion, like George has said nothing changes for us we do what we always do.
GG: A lot people will say it but we’re not going there to just enjoy the day, to turn up and play, we’re going there to win simple as that. This is the message we’ll give to the players, we’re not there for a day out, we’re there to bring the trophy home.
I don’t think we’ll freeze; we know it’ll be a bigger crowd but we’re used to playing in front of some big ones and I know that those supporters will get us through the game if we need them to.
If you prefer to watch the full video here is the link: