The first Englishman to play for Ballymena, veteran forward Reg Bentley was unfortunate with injuries during his only season at the Showgrounds.
Born in the town of Prestwich, outside Greater Manchester, he was the youngest of four children when their father (a factory manager) moved the family to Belfast early in the 20th century in pre-partitioned Ireland, Reg subsequently found his way further north to eventually settle in Coleraine.
Bentley’s career on the football field began in earnest after the First World War, with the 21-year-old joining local side Coleraine Olympic for the 1919/2020 season and it would be the start of a fruitful eight year association with between the player and the Junior club.
His first success came during the 1921/1922 season as Olympic were the winners of the McFarland Cup. In the same season the forward would get the opportunity to try his luck in senior football for the first time, as he was invited to contest a trial match with Cliftonville in the City Cup match against Linfield in February 1922, but an inauspicious outing at centre forward was lambasted by the local press that put paid to a senior breakthrough in his only appearance for the Solitude side.
Undeterred, Bentley was an integral part of the Coleraine Olympic side that won back-to-back North West Junior Cups in 1923 and 1924. The team progressed into the North West Junior League in 1924 and had been appointed as vice-captain of the club by this stage. Early in the 1924/1925 he was selected in a team of North West players to face the South African international side currently on tour of the United Kingdom, the visitors enjoyed a one-sided 9-1 victory against Reg and his team-mates and in the same season Coleraine Olympic triumphed in the 1924/1925 North West Junior League.
With the Irish League expanding into the provincial towns of the new Northern Ireland, it was decided in June 1927 that great junior rivals Coleraine Olympic and Coleraine Alexandra would amalgamate to form Coleraine FC to take their place in the expanded 1927/1928 Irish League season, alongside Bangor. Bentley was part of Coleraine’s first ever line-up in senior football and even scored in their 4-1 debut win over Cliftonville in August 1927.
The Bannsiders would enjoy a relatively successful first season in the Irish League finishing sixth (from 14 teams) in the standings and earning plaudits with Bentley playing his part in the club’s landmark campaign with a contribution of 13 appearances and 2 goals.
In August 1928, he left football in Coleraine for a new challenge with another club making their first steps into the Irish League with the new Ballymena club who had replaced Barn United for the 1928/1929 season. Now almost 30-year-old, Reg ironically made his bow for the Braidmen against his old club, Coleraine, at the Ballymena Showgrounds in September 1928 in a 3-3 draw.
The Sky Blues’ early season nerves quickly disappeared as they picked up their first win the following week against Ards with Bentley at inside-forward, but in only his fifth game a few weeks later against Glentoran at The Oval – he picked up an injury that kept him out of the team until January with initially veteran Davy Cunning and then Walter Clarke occupying his starting slot.
A spate of injuries allowed Bentley to return to the team in January 1929 but the disappointing results against Glenavon (draw) and Newry Town (loss) meant the latter would be his unceremonious final appearance for the club, as a serious long term injury cost the forward the opportunity to contest a place in team for the historic 1929 Irish Cup Final victory against Belfast Celtic. He made just seven appearances for Ballymena that season, without scoring.
Injury would keep Bentley out of football for almost 18 months, missing the entire 1929/1930 season whilst still having his registration retained by Ballymena. Now 32, he re-appeared with a short comeback bid at his old club Coleraine in October 1930, but it would be the last notable outing of his football career.
Reg passed away in February 1971 in his adopted hometown of Coleraine, aged 73.
(1919) Coleraine Olympic; (Feb 1922) Cliftonville - Trial; (Jul 1927) Coleraine; (Aug 1928) Ballymena; (Oct 1930) Coleraine
(with Coleraine Olympic)
North West Junior Cup: (winner) 1922/1923, 1923/1924
North West McFarland Cup: (winner) 1921/1922
Packenham & Connon Cup: (winner) 1922/1923
North West League: (runner-up) 1924/1925
Last updated: 19 September 2021