Interviews

Once upon a time in Europe: Daniel Bennett, the Singaporean whom the English fans paid to sign

The most capped player in Singapore history, Daniel Bennett’s career could have turned out very differently had he not decided to quit English football for a return to our sunny island. The 39-year-old speaks to FourFourTwo’s Deepanraj Ganesan on his time abroad.

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Any Singaporean football fan worth their salt knows who Daniel Bennett is.

The 39-year-old continues to be one of the Lions' standout performers

Rock solid, dependable and a leader at the back - the 39-year-old continues to be one of the Lions' standout performers, 15 years on from his international debut.

Close to two decades ago, these same qualities would have caught the eye of suitors from England, earning him a trial with League One outfit Bradford City.

Amidst rumours of interest from Premier League clubs like Southampton and others such as Swindon Town, Bennett would go on to sign for Wrexham, a Welsh-based club then in the third tier of English football.

The defender became the first local player to play professional football in England when he signed in Feburary 2002.

Bennett was Singapore's first professional footballer in England Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

While it is not known how much Wrexham had paid to secure the deal, the club's fans paid money to ensure the club could secure Bennett's signature.

He said: “The clubs in the lower divisions are obviously not as wealthy as those in the Premier League and since I joined in mid-season, you could say that they did not quite have enough in the coffers to sign me on their own.”

It is true that the fans forked out money to sign me and I was really determined to repay that faith through my performances

- Daniel Bennett

“The club had a scheme together with the fans to bring in new players and so yes, it is true that the fans forked out money to sign me and I was really determined to repay that faith through my performances for the club.”

Bennett, who amassed over 20 appearances for the club, would unfortunately be relegated with Wrexham that season. But, the club offered him a new contract for 2003, and he went on to win the FAW Premier Cup and secure promotion back to League One.

But with a contract extension on the table at the end of that successful season, Bennett would turn it down to return to Singapore.

“It’s (time at Wrexham) something I will always look back on,” said Bennett, speaking to FourFourTwo at Tampines Rovers’ brand new home stadium at the Tampines Hub.  

At 39, Bennett is still going strong. Photo: S.League

“I truly enjoyed every minute there but after some thinking, I made the decision to come back.

“Had I stayed, my career would have been very different for sure but it’s not that I regret my decision. I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me here.”

[NEXT: Home is where the heart is]