Black History Month

Darren Bent on the men and women who've inspired him

16 Oct 2023

From Ian Wright and Serena Williams to his strong family ties, the ex-Premier League forward reveals his heroes

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For most football fans, the club you support are bigger than any one player. But that was not true for Darren Bent.

“I grew up in Thornton Heath, which is Crystal Palace area," Bent says. "My dad used to take me to watch Palace every now and then, and I went there and watched Ian Wright.

“I just was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what a player.’ I wanted to be a centre-forward. I wanted to wear No 8 like him.

"So then when he made the move to Arsenal, I went over to watch Arsenal, and I just fell in love with the club, fell in love with watching him play, wearing that kit.

"I was a Palace fan while he was there, and then when he went to Arsenal I became an Arsenal fan.

“He was someone I really looked up to. I used to watch all his videos. I liked his persona, the way he way carried himself.

“He had that attitude that he didn't really mind what anyone was going to say to him, he was going to continue to do what he did. People used to give him a little bit, give him a few digs, and he'd stand up to it. He wouldn't take it. He was my big inspiration."

Ian Wright 1

Bent is speaking as part of a series for Black History Month of interviews with Premier League footballers about the people who inspired them. Wright's impact on Bent remains true to this day.

“Now I get the pleasure of working with him," Bent says. "Even though I've worked with him hundreds of times, I still get that same feeling that I did as a kid.

“I’m not saying this to him but I'm thinking it, ‘I don't know if you know this, but you're the reason why I wanted to become a footballer, why I support Arsenal, why I wore No 8 for my Sunday League side, why I love scoring goals.’ It was all about him.

“Even when I'm working with him now [in the media] and he's talking, I’m just watching him like, ‘How's he delivering that [line]? What's he saying?’ I almost feel like I’ve gone back to being a kid, trying to learn from him.”

Bent, Wright broadcast

While Wright was his inspiration as a young player, Bent says his dad Mervyn helped him develop a greater understanding of the struggles and discrimination faced by those who blazed a path before.

"My dad used to always talk to me about sportsmen from his era," he says. "I know racism is still quite rife and it's quite difficult, but back then my dad talked about the likes of Cyrille Regis, these guys at West Brom who had to do what they had to do.

"It was Muhammad Ali, it was this kind of era. My dad was like, ‘Read this book about him. Study him. Listen to Bob Marley. Listen to the lyrics. Look what he had to put up with.’ There were so many.

"So it wasn't just about football. I was probably brought up with a wider concept of, ‘This is what you’re going to have to deal with.’

"There's been a number of black influences I have to say that have been responsible for me getting to where I've got to.”

Tribute to Williams sisters

The theme of this year's Black History Month is "Celebrating our Sisters", acknowledging the outstanding achievements of black women in shaping history, inspiring change and building communities.  

"Serena Williams is in my top five greatest sportspeople of all-time - the greatest tennis player to ever live," says Bent.

"What she's done, what she had to deal with...when you look at what she had to do with the way she dressed on the tennis court, the way she has her hair. She was one who said, ‘I don't really care about any of that. I'm going to go and do what I want to do, the way I want to do it.’

"Her and her sister [Venus] pushing each other as well. Even if she’s the greatest, it would be hard for me to say Serena without mentioning Venus."

Serena and Venus Williams
'Strong, powerful black women'

Closer to home, Bent is indebted to his mum, Shirley, and her three sisters, for helping to provide an environment in which he could thrive both as a footballer and as a young man.

"Strong, powerful black women," adds Bent proudly. "My mum was someone who had my back from day one, wouldn't let anyone talk crap to me, taught me how to be the person I am. She’s still probably fighting some of my battles now! She’s an inspiration - tough, strong.

"My parents split up. My dad was still always heavily involved, he was always doing his responsibilities, but I lived with my mum full-time so she had to take the brunt of everything that came with me growing up. She is definitely the rock behind my success and what I’ve managed to do.

"She had three sisters all backing her up as well. Being in their environment was always somewhere I liked being because they kept it the way it should be, doing [things] how it was supposed to be.”

Also in this series

Part 1: How the Premier League is fighting racism
Part 2: How Sarr's family prepared him for success
Part 3: West Ham achieve Premier League equality standard
Part 4: How clubs and players supported No Room For Racism campaign
Part 5: Ogbene: It's important to teach younger generation about diversity
Part 6: Danjuma: My greatness comes from going through hardship
Part 7: How Wolves are educating young people about inclusion
Part 8: 'It's everyone's responsibility to do something about discrimination'
Part 9: Caicedo: Learning through diversity helped me reach the top
Part 11: Benjamin Zephaniah on the Premier League and the legacy of Windrush
Part 12: Desailly: I looked far for my black sporting heroes
Part 13: Jimenez: Family support helped me become great
Part 14: Pittman: Sharing my knowledge will help the next generation
Part 15: Szoboszlai: My father helped me achieve the impossible
Part 16: Amadou Onana on the people who've inspired him
Part 17: Why family support is so important for Mbeumo and Wissa
Part 18: Gomez: Positive black role models are so important

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