Football: ‘Godfather’ of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells youth teams dies

Football: 'Godfather' of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells youth teams dies
TRUE GENTLEMAN: Mike Bender was passionate about grassroots football

Described as the ‘Godfather’ of Tonbridge Angels’ Youth Scheme, he was in charge of the Under-18s for many years from the late 1980s.

Paul Emblen and Jon Heath were among those who were coached by him at Tonbridge.

He led a youth tour to the prestigious Mudau Youth Tournament in Germany in the early 1990s, reaching the semi-finals.

He was also a popular and dedicated coach of the juniors at Langton Green FC.

The club said: “A real stalwart of youth football his entire life, Mike has given so much to our club and community over the last few decades.”

Tunbridge Wells Foresters FC said: “A true gentleman who did so much for youth football. Mike will be sadly missed by those who knew him as the time effort and energy devoted by this man was amazing.”

As the tributes poured on social media, his daughter Karen Cowley said: “Thank you all for your kind words about dad. He was a true gentleman, football mad and loved this club.

“He was passionate about grassroots football. We are truly touched as a family.”

As Mike was once heard to say: “Maybe we can’t make them all great footballers, but they will all be better young men for the experience.”

‘His legacy is immense’

Langton Green’s head of football Chris Allen paid tribute to Mike:

“Grass-roots football lost a local legend with the untimely death of Langton Green resident Mike Bender this weekend, at the age of 73.

“His devotion to youth football means he will be mourned by generations of children who took their first footballing steps in his care, and by the adults he persuaded to try their hand at coaching.

“As well as being pivotal in the growth and success of Langton Green Football Club, Mike also coached at Holmewood House School, and at one time managed Tonbridge Angels’ youth team.

“He was also a senior figure at the Crowborough League, where he had served as an officer since 1982. Known to all as kind, humorous, and generous with his time, his legacy is immense.”

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