Last Saturday saw Dartford host Farnborough at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park. Dartford FC Women’s Lily Bennett featured in our matchday programme that day. For those who missed that feature, here is the full article:

Lily Bennett arrived at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park in September last year, and has proved to be a confident backup for Dartford FC Women number one Jade Charlton.

The nineteen-year-old goalkeeper was in good spirits when we talked via WhatsApp, and was a pleasure to chat to despite her rather busy days… “I work at a Primary School in London. I do a variety of jobs, from sports coaching, running breakfast and after-school clubs for the children, half-term clubs, as well as general childcare jobs!”

In addition to her job as a Sports Coach, she also has weekly training and midweek games for the Bromley Academy and Dartford FC Women to deal with! But, she did find the time to sit down and share her story for this issue of the matchday programme.

Her busy schedule sees her days usually begin around 7am… “I have to leave for work at 7.45am, which is annoying because I don’t actually start work until 10am! It takes me a few hours to get to work, as I sadly don’t drive.”

Lily then works at her school from 10-6, before she then tackles that long journey back home. Except for every Wednesday, “…I go to Bromley on Wednesday mornings, play a game and sometimes having to travel to places such as Bournemouth, Portsmouth, and Norwich. Then I’m off to Dartford for weekly training as well!”

It’s obvious that Lily loves her role within the beautiful game, as well as her job. Yet, they’re not the only passions in her life… “My main interest outside of football is music. I have been in love with music since a very young age and can confirm that my music and lyric knowledge is very stacked up! I also love spending time with my girlfriend, friends, and family… just being social and making memories.”

Yet, this socially active, sports loving youngster also has the possible makings of becoming a chef! “When I was 10, I won Kent Cooks! It was a cooking competition in which I had to cook a meal with just £1.50 and using only British ingredients. I made my ‘famous’ dish, ‘Lily’s Kentish Vegetable Pot Pie with Fondant Potatoes & Kale’. I had to send pictures of my food in, as did hundreds of kids. I was then picked with five others to come to the University of Kent and cook my meal in a proper kitchen with the other five. At the end, we got judged and I won! I won a trophy that was taller than me (at the time), and I then had to cook the meal for my entire primary school! They put a picture of my face with the trophy on the front sign. I think they were prouder of me than I was… HaHaHaHa!”

With thoughts of pie circulating my mind, we change the subject to matters closer to home and where it all began for Lily.

This nineteen-year-old was a little late to the beautiful game, and has only been active within its confines for nine years, having only started playing from the age of 10-11. “I started playing for my local team, Gravesham Girls, between the ages of 10-11 and I remained there until I was 16.”

She then moved into the Educational Academy at Gillingham. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 forced the closure of the entire women’s side of the club. So, at the age of 17, Lily moved to the Bromley Academy whilst also playing for Aylesford. She remained there for two seasons, before joining Queens Park Rangers for the 2020/21 campaign, while also remaining with Bromley. This was then followed by a trip to the USA in January 2021, where Lily went to Louisiana on a scholarship to play “soccer” and study… “And now I’m here at Dartford!”

She continues, “I have always had an interest in football. My cousin, who is a year older than me, played at Dartford from a young boy until he was nineteen. So, I think I was destined to join Dartford… HaHaHaHa! My younger sister also plays football. She’s currently in West Ham’s U16s team, so I think it’s just in our genes! I started playing at the same time as my little sister, just as it was very local and we both loved it.”

Fully exposed to the sport, Lily came to the realisation that a career within it was possible when she was at the academy at Gillingham… “I started to learn all the pathways that football could bring, aside from the obvious. It really interested me, as I wondered what my future had to offer and what I still have left to go.”

So, what are her plans for the future? “My plans for the future…? God, I have absolutely no idea!” I’m only young, but I feel like now is the time that I should be dreaming about my future. However, I’m very laid back! I just like to see where things take me and I’m sure what I would like to do will come to me… well, I hope so.” We hope so too Lily.

Meanwhile, her current plan as far as football is concerned is also to see where it takes her and to enjoy the ride. “I just want to be doing what I love and to have fun doing it. This season I’d love to play more games for the Darts and to prove myself to be an integral part of the team. I also want us collectively to hopefully win a cup and to get as high up the league as we can.”

As we continue to discuss her career and the sport, Lily confesses to having a pre-game superstition… “When I walk up to my goal, I put my water bottle on the left side, and then I’ll touch the left post with one hand, the right post with one hand, before standing in the middle and jumping up to touch the crossbar with both hands!”

She also says that her favourite moment from this season is her debut against Sutton United at Bericote Powerhouse Princes Park… “Just being out in the sun with the girls and knowing I had found a home made me feel so excited for what was to come.”

And like many of her peers, Lily also has her inspirational people. However, unlike some, hers is unique… “My squad number changed early in the season thanks to Connor and Macca. It changed to my current number, which is 34. I wear this number in memory of my friend, Everette Jackson, who passed away tragically last summer. He wore the number 34 in his final year of college basketball, which is where we met. His family and my close friends, who have all been through this with me, are my inspirations both on and off the pitch. They are the strongest set of people I know, and they tell me every time I wear this number that he’s celebrating with me from above. So, Everette and his family are my biggest inspiration and the reason why I keep pushing.”

As the time of our conversation begins to run out, I’d like to thank Lily for sharing such a tragic, yet heart-warming testimony. I’d also like to remind her that she now also has many Dartford supporters backing her and the team, as well as celebrating with them. So, with that being said, I’ll let her say some words to you, the Dartford faithful…

Darts Fans!! Keep supporting us this season. It’s honestly been a motivation for all of us to see the crowds turn up each week to support the team! Thank you all for everything, you’re stars.”

By Chris Palmer