FC Halifax Town: "A really tenacious player with bags of talent" - How Jay Benn went from a skinny kid to Town's rising star

"When I go to see the youth teamers, the first thing I say when I walk in the dressing room is 'who's the next Jay Benn in here?'"

By Tom Scargill
Monday, 26th October 2020, 11:33 am
Updated Monday, 26th October 2020, 11:36 am
Jay Benn. Photo: Marcus Branston
Jay Benn. Photo: Marcus Branston

The pride and passion from Pete Wild about a youth team player progressing to the first-team is obvious when he discusses Jay Benn.

FC Halifax Town fans haven't got much use out of the "he's one of our own!" chant in recent years, but Benn could be about to change that.

The Shaymen have benefitted from a successful production line at different times in their history, and Benn, a defender who can play at right-back or centre-back, could be next.

Benn, with the orange boots, at Clifton Rangers

"When I first walked through the door there was this skinny kid who had been invited back for pre-season because he did well in the academy," Wild said.

"There was him and another lad and I said 'you're more than welcome to stay around it and see how you do'.

"The biggest bit of credit I can give him is that he's taken it upon himself, probably with Stevey Nichol's help, the physio's help and with Milly's help, to become stronger, fitter, never shies away from a tackle, never shies away from anything in training, if he makes a mistake, he picks himself up and goes again.

"He's done that all himself, that's all his own doing.

Benn, front row with JB on his hoodie, during his time with Clifton Rangers

"The biggest credit as a young player is to make yourself better, and he's stuck to the task.

"We sent him out on loan, got rave reviews, we moved him up a league, got rave reviews, to the point where we went 'this kid needs a contract', so he earned himself his own contract.

"He came back for the play-offs and the best compliment you can say is when the other players are liking you, and all the players were saying 'oh my god, how much has Jay Benn filled out and come on'.

"That's the biggest praise you can give the kid.

Benn, back row on the left, at Clifton Rangers

"We gave him a contract in the summer, we made it a better contract - a year and then another year's option - and he deserves that.

"The only reason he's not out on loan at the moment is because I don't think he needs to be.

"That might change and I don't want him to lose out on his football, but at the moment the kid's doing well.

"If somebody said would you throw Jay Benn on at Boreham Wood the other week? 100 per cent, wouldn't faze me in the slightest.

"I think that's a credit to himself and he deserves all the credit.

"The staff at the club have helped him, I've given him a chance, and he's proving me right so far."

The former Town youth team captain, from Brighouse, has previously been on loan at Brighouse Town and Silsden, but made his Halifax debut as a late substitute in the 2-0 opening day win over Dagenham and Redbridge earlier this month.

Benn, 19, attended Brighouse High School and was a Halifax fan as a child, going to Wembley for Town's 2016 FA Trophy final triumph over Grimsby Town.

"Jay played football for Clifton Rangers from a young age," says Ian Lawrie, club secretary at the club.

"I remember him as a player alongside my son Jack, I think he played as an under 7 and for several age groups beyond that.

"He has always been fast and was a skilful winger. He was always competitive and enjoyed winning.

"His dad was a regular spectator at matches and would push him to succeed.

"Jay was part of Lee Horsfield’s Clifton side that smashed the under 13's Division Four title in 2013/14, ending the season undefeated winning 18 out of 20 matches scoring 134 goals and conceding just 23 goals.

"Jay left and was signed by Chesterfield, but things didn’t work out for him there.

"He returned to play for Clifton Rangers in 2018/19 joining many of his old schoolmates.

"He often dominated matches, dancing through numerous tackles and scoring brilliant goals.

"By Christmas the team were top of the league and had only lost one match.

"Unfortunately, unavailability meant he missed some matches in the second half of the season.

"The team secured fourth place in Division Two of Huddersfield Junior Football League and Jay scored 17 goals, including three hat tricks, but created lots more for his team mates.

"He was awarded parents player of the year at the end of season awards. He's just a nice, polite lad who really enjoys his football.

"It was obvious from an early age to see he was talented and his enthusiasm for the game lifted the other players.

"Clifton Rangers and I are really proud of his achievement in signing for FC Halifax Town and making his debut.

"It’s even more so for me being a supporter of Halifax Town for nearly 40 years."

"I coached Jay from under 11’s through to under 14’s when he moved on to Chesterfield," says coach Lee Horsfield.

"Jay is such a hard working lad on a football field. A really tenacious player with bags of talent. Such a great kid to coach.

"The team won Division Four and the following season Jay played part in the team finished second place in Division Two to earn back to back promotions to Division One.

"It fills me with a sense of pride to see Jay succeeding in an area I had no doubt he’d go on and be successful."

Benn joined Chesterfield when he was 14, a Football League club at the time, but after leaving The Spireites, came into Halifax's youth set-up.

"It was late in the pre-season of 2017," says Steve Nichol, Town's Director of Youth, Junior and Community Football Development.

"We had a strong youth team squad and Jay made his first appearance in a friendly fixture against Bradford Park Avenue.

"Jay fitted in well, our style of play suited him and as an attacking full back he had a real threat going forwards.

"On the back of the fixture and further training we offered Jay a place on our programme and alongside Carl Rushworth, who also joined the same year, he held his place as an under 17 in a squad of under 18 players.

"The squad went on to reach the final of the National League Youth Alliance Cup that season.

"Our programme offers an excellent pathway to players like Jay and Carl, players with real potential but have just fallen short of achieving a contract with a professional club.

"We are able to offer a coaching programme comparative with many professional clubs providing a platform where players can continue to develop with a pathway into the professional/senior game.

"Jay initially came to us as a right back but can also play centre back.

"Playing as a centre back has helped Jay develop towards the senior game where he has had to compete with robust forwards and the aerial threat of the senior game.

"He has a good technical base, he understands the game well and communicates effectively, he also has the self-confidence to impose his game.

"We always knew he had a chance to progress; it was just making sure the pathway existed in front of him.

"With Pete and Chris coming into the club we have worked hard to develop the pathway.

"Jay was close to leaving before they arrived but both are really supportive and eager to see young players progress.

"In many ways Jay has been the first player to follow the process we have worked towards implementing.

"In his first year as a young professional and as a 18 year old, he is a late birthday, Jay played approaching 30 games in senior football for Silsden and Brighouse. This would have been more if not for the season being cut short by Covid.

"We received excellent feedback from the respective managers of Silsden and Brighouse.

"The process of loaning our younger players is important to aid the transition from youth team to senior football.

"At youth team level it is clear we have good players and a successful programme, however the jump from youth team to first team is big.

"The process of integrating those players showing promise is key to ensure they continue to progress towards the first team, this is something Pete and Chris are keen to facilitate.

"There is no healthier way of strengthening a squad than an academy player making it through to the first team.

"Let’s be clear also, whilst we are proud of the progress Jay has made, he and we also know there is a long way to go.

"It is important Jay remains humble, remains committed to his development and shows a relentless work ethic to continue to progress.

"The overall message to other players at this club is that if you’re persistent, dedicated and talented the opportunity will come at this club."

Wild has no doubts that Benn can become a first-team regular at The Shay.

"100 per cent, if he keeps developing," he says,

"We need to look after his development and make sure it keeps rising and doesn't plateau.

"But we're well on with that.

"He has people here who understand young players and youth football.

"He's confident, he was always confident.

"We had to chisel a couple of edges off his chirpiness at the start, but he believes in his ability.

"He's not afraid to say what he thinks in training or dig people out, which I love, and on the flip side he's very humble that he's got respect for the senior players, he wants to learn from them and he's desperate to get better.

"What a rounded young man, and credit to his family and everyone who has worked with him over the years."

For Wild, developing young players is a passion, and he is hoping Benn will be the first of more to come.

"If you're good enough here, I'll give you a chance," he says.

"One thing I wanted to do when I walked through the door was produce our own, make our academy better.

"The link between us and the academy is great. Stevey Nichol works with our first-team, we were all there at the FA Youth Cup game recently.

"That's how it should be, that's how we want it to be.

"I've been on the other side as an academy manager so I know how frustrating it is when the manager doesn't give you a chance.

"You've seen over pre-season the amount of young players that have been around us, and played. How are they going to get better if I don't play them?

"I've made a massive point of doing that and long may that continue.

"There's some top players in our youth team and I'm desperate to produce another Jay Benn."