DPhil Candidate, Birmingham City and Solihull Moors supporter, Joel Butler (History, 2016) reports on an evening spent with Matthew at the latest Warden Welcomes event.
Matthew Benham made his money as a professional gambler, finding success using mathematical modelling techniques drawing on skills learned in his time as a Physics undergraduate at Wadham. He shared with us the story of his journey from City trading to professional betting syndicates, and how he found his current role as owner of Brentford FC in the Football League Championship, and FC Midtjylland in the Danish SuperLiga.
After leaving Wadham, he had a career in finance in the City of London, took some time out travelling and volunteering with the woman who would later become his wife, and eventually found his way into the world of sports betting. His financial interest in Brentford came in 2006, when he stepped in to back a takeover of the club by its supporters’ association, during a moment of extreme difficulty. His sporting interest in the club goes back to when he was a boy, first taking interest in his local club at the age of 11 in 1979.
Given the thoroughly interesting and varied life Matthew has led, the conversation was wide-ranging. He spoke with great warmth, wit, and attention to detail on topics relating to his entire career. This spanned the idiosyncrasies of Oxford exams to statistical modelling and analysis, and – of course – twice League Cup winners, twice European Fairs Cup runners-up, and wartime Football League South champions, Birmingham City FC. Questioners were particularly interested in his experiences of City trading, the impact of statistical analysis and modelling in football, and – naturally – the experience of overseeing not just one, but two professional football clubs.
Matthew spoke openly and honestly throughout. He has an unassuming but engaging personality – almost as if ‘greatness’ (to Brentford supporters, at least) has been thrust upon him accidentally. He wears it well. The conversation, particularly informally over drinks once the event drew to a close, was reminiscent of the loose and jovial atmosphere of a post-match debrief in the pub amongst friends. Sadly, the Warden’s Lodgings does not have a jukebox that plays Sweet Caroline, so the effect remained tantalisingly incomplete.
It’s clear that Benham is somewhat of a rarity at the elite end of English football: a true fan in it purely for the love of his club. Sharing a couple of hours with him was more like bumping into a non-league club owner in the clubhouse; he is disarmingly normal, as far as football people go. The only reason he would be out of place in the Wagon & Horses in Digbeth come 5pm on a Saturday is purely because away fans aren’t allowed. Perhaps there’ll be an invite to his new Brentford Community Stadium in the offing instead.
The ‘Warden Welcomes’ series of events allows current students to engage in conversations with successful alumni across a diversity of fields and professions.