Is there any manager anywhere in the professional game with a more understanding chairman than Jim Bentley? A brief glance at his record below raises the question of how he has kept his job for seven seasons with an average return of just 53 points and a win percentage of just 29%. Perhaps he should be grateful that neither Massimo Cellino nor Francesco Becchetti has ever fancied a stay on the Lancashire coast. But success at one of the Football League’s smallest clubs is probably measured using a very different yardstick to the majority.
Central defender Bentley has been associated with Morecambe for more than fifteen years of course, and that is one very significant reason why such a degree of loyalty has been reciprocated by the club. Those years have produced a period of unprecedented success for Morecambe, and Bentley has been an integral part of that. Released by Manchester City at the age of twenty without making an appearance, Bentley dropped into the Conference and signed for now-defunct Telford United in October 1997. The connection with the club came from his father Jack Bentley, who scored 431 goals for Telford in 14 years and has a stand named after him at AFC Telford United’s New Bucks Head ground. Ron Atkinson called Bentley senior the best header of a ball he ever saw, and he also had the experience of playing up front alongside World Cup hero Geoff Hurst when Hurst was player-manager at Telford.
Unfortunately Bentley junior could not replicate such feats, making 181 appearances in five nondescript seasons at Bucks Head, although some reward for his time at Telford came in October 2011 when he was named a Telford United club legend alongside his father. Jim moved north to sign for Conference rivals Morecambe in May 2002, and the start of a special relationship was underway. With the addition of Bentley, Morecambe set off on a journey that would culminate in a place in the Football League. In his first season at Christie Park, they finished second behind runaway champions Yeovil and lost their play-off semi-final on penalties to Dagenham & Redbridge. They also enjoyed an excellent run to the third round of the FA Cup, knocking out Second Division Chesterfield along the way; the run ended in a 4-0 defeat to Ipswich at Portman Road with Bentley receiving a straight red card, one of the very few dismissals in his career.
Morecambe finished seventh in each of the next two seasons, just falling short of the Conference playoffs, and long-serving manager Jim Harvey was relieved of his duties after suffering a heart attack in November 2005. The semi-finals were reached again in 2005-06 under new manager Sammy McIlroy, but ended in defeat to eventual winners Hereford. A third-place finish in 2006-07 saw them reach the playoffs once more, and this time it was a successful campaign with a 2-1 win over Exeter seeing Morecambe into the Football League for the first time in their history. With their place in the League confirmed, Morecambe announced plans to build a new stadium to cater for their enhanced support.
Morecambe finished their first two seasons in League Two in eleventh place, a creditable result for a small club. Their first season also saw a run to the third round of the League Cup, beating Preston and Wolves before losing 5-0 to Sheffield United. Bentley’s first coaching role came in 2009-10 with Morecambe’s reserve team, and that season also saw them finish fourth in League Two, their highest ever league placing; unfortunately it ended in defeat once more, Bentley’s third play-off semi-final defeat as a Morecambe player. In June 2010 he was promoted to first team player-coach, but Morecambe’s first season in their new Globe Arena stadium was a huge disappointment, finishing just four points clear of the relegation zone. Sammy McIlroy parted company with the club, and on 13 May 2011, Bentley was appointed player-manager on a two-year contract. Although remaining registered as a player, Bentley chose to focus on management and has not played a game since. At the age of 42, he is very unlikely to do so now. In total, he made 329 appearances for the club, scoring 34 goals.