Former Tottenham Hotspur player David Bentley says the week he spent with Crossmaglen Rangers last month reminded him of what Premier League football has lost.
The ex-England international, who at the age of 29 retired two years ago after becoming disenchanted with the game, features in a documentary to be screened on TV3 tonight where he lines out for Armagh champions against Silverbridge in a challenge game.
Bentley, once a £15 million (€21m) player, admits he found the experience nostalgic as he entered a dressing room for the first time since his last ever match, playing on loan for Blackburn Rovers in April 2013.
Crossmaglen, he feels, provided him a taste of what football used to be like before it became ultra-professional.
“I’ve got great respect for what they do and the commitment they show,” he said of the Orchard County club. “It was nice for me obviously because I had problems with the way football, soccer has gone. I say soccer now! I love playing soccer/football, it’s what I love to do. It’s my life. But I had a problem with the direction it went as a job. There have been quite a few things why I have fallen out of love with football.
“To come here and do that, it was great for me to see the togetherness. What they have here is what I fell in love with so to be a part of that for just a week was really good for me. I loved it.”
Bentley hated the social media and intrusion associated with playing top level football but also grew frustrated with how individualism was eradicated from the top level in his sport.
“Personalities are not being seen and not being shown. There’s a distance... obviously the money’s there but there’s a problem in the relationship between players and the public. It’s something I didn’t enjoy being part of.”
Describing playing for England as “like an office job”, he added: “My whole goal in life was to play for the England team and when I got there, it wasn’t really as good as what I thought it was.”
According to Crossmaglen co-managers Oisín McConville and John McEntee, Bentley would only need two months of training to become a competent Gaelic footballer.
He admitted his foot was sore after going through a one-on-one training session to get used to the heavier football.
As regards which sport is physically tougher, he couldn’t separate them. “Obviously, what they (Gaelic players) deal with — their home life and keeping their wives happy and their jobs and the whole balance of their travelling and still performing at a high level, it’s tough. People like to think that soccer players can be soft but it’s a very physical sport. It’s really physical.”
As an Englishman, Bentley felt no hostility towards him during his time in the town, which had more than its fair share of strife during the Troubles. “I think times move on. It was a difficult past but from what I’ve seen of the area and the people, it was great. It was good, I was welcomed everywhere I went.”
Now living in Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol, Bentley hasn’t ruled out lining out for the local GAA club, the Costa Gaels. “Now I know what it is about because I went in blind and didn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t mind giving it another crack.”
nThe Toughest Trade is an AIB initiative, and the latest film from the #TheToughest campaign in support of the AIB GAA Club Championships. The hour long documentary is being produced by the IFTA award-winning Motive Television and will air on TV3 at 10pm.