This will probably be the hardest blog post to write that I've yet done. This morning we heard that our dear Frank Benn, legend of the Dover Gooners, has passed away. Some of you reading this will know Frank personally, others will have read about him before in these pages, and some will recognise his face from away games both here and in Europe over the last 20 years. For me personally I have had the pleasure of being in Frank's company on so many occasions, whether at Arsenal or elsewhere. He came to my wedding, knew my children, and is a genuine friend of our family. More than that he was a friend to so many others, a local legend known to hundreds. In terms of our travelling as a group of Dover people to watch Arsenal he is one of our originals.
Way back in the mid-90's Frank lost his wife. He was a regular in one of the local pubs, The Boars Head, where my brother and his mates used to drink. I think there was genuine worry for what might happen to Frank once he was on his own. At this point my brother Mick stepped in and got him to come along to Arsenal. Frank was a lifelong fan, but match going had been a thing of his younger years. It's said by some that Mick saved Frank by getting him back in to going to Arsenal. So it began that Benny started to follow The Arsenal over land and sea (and Leicester) until his health began to falter a few years ago. The fact that he was getting on in years didn't slow Frankie down in the drinking stakes and he would hold his own with most of us over the years, although he did become famous for falling over a lot once he was out of his tree. He followed Arsenal from Moscow to La Coruna and all points in between. In doing so he became well known and a popular friend to Gooners from all over the continent. The pre-season tours of Austria, where he'd go with my Dad and Mick, were where some of the most lasting friendships we have at Arsenal were made. Everyone there knew Frank, and everyone there liked Frank.
Frank and his European friends from Austria, Germany, Italy and beyond
There was always fun to be had when Benny was about, often at his expense. He had his own song on the FA Cup Final trips down to Cardiff to the tune of the Sol Campbell song, something about being a "stupid old ****, who falls over drunk" and the stories are legend. There was the night he couldn't operate a turnstile in a petrol station shop to the point where Bill, one of our other Dover men, had to plead with him to stop because he was about to wet himself with the laughing. There was the night he was drunk as Mick and Tony played football on some forecourt somewhere and decided he was David Seaman, taking off at full length to save a ball that was about 15 yards away - Frank was in to his 70's at that stage! He informed everyone he had the address of their hotel should a taxi be required in Germany one night, not realising that the hotel he had the address of was from Belgium the night before. And then there was the day my Dad always loves to talk about when Frankie brought the travelling Gooner army to their feet in a German (at Schalke was it?) beer kellar; someone pointed out that a stein had gone untouched as they were leaving for something to eat, so Frankie lifted the 2 pint jug and downed it in one. I'm reliably informed that everyone in that pub cheered the old boy to the rafters. Frank was indeed a legend.
Being of the generation he was Frank was not politically correct. He would use words and phrases in the presence of certain people that would not be necessarily acceptable in this day and age, but Frank being Frank meant that nobody ever took offence. He was just Frank and everyone loved the old boy. He was with us in Copenhagen when we lost to Galatassaray, and in Paris when we lost to Barcelona. He went to the finals at Cardiff and Wembley and rarely missed a game that any of the others were going to. It didn't matter whether it was Selhurst Park or Ewood Park, just pick Frank up from his house and he was happy watching The Arsenal. He couldn't say "Keown" even when he was sober, but he loved Dennis Bergkamp. Who didn't? Looking back it's great that this old Arsenal man (who used to tell me about playing at Highbury in his youth) got to see the very best of the Wenger years and the success that we had.
The last time I got to speak to Frank was at the Dover Gooners dinner last year when we persuaded him to come along. He looked well at the time, especially considering how sick he had been in recent years. The dinner this year will now have a certain sadness attached as Frank was there when we had the first one in the upstairs room of another local pub back in 2003. Maybe going to football hasn't been quite the same since he stopped going, certainly him and Bill are missed by us all. The Christmas Eve lunchtime session has certainly missed his presence these past few years. Frank will always have a place in the hearts of the Dover Gooners -my Dad has known Frank all his life - and will always be a legend to his many friends, whether here in Dover, all over England, Norway, Austria, Germany or Italy. There will never be another Frank Benn. RIP old'un, I'll miss you.
All together in Paris