Robert (Bob) Benson was born in Whitehaven on 9th February 1883. He worked as a coalminer and played local football for Dunston Villa, Shankhouse and Swalwell before joining Newcastle United in December 1902. However, he only played one game for the first-team before being sold to Southampton in the Southern League for £150.
Benson played for two seasons at Southampton but in September 1904 he was transferred to Sheffield United of the Football League. Over the next eight years Benson scored 20 goals in 273 games. At 14 stone he was described by one historian as "a terror to opposing forwards".
Benson also took penalty kicks. As Paul Joannou points out in The Black 'n' White Alphabet: "Benson... adopted a curious strategy with penalty kicks in which it is recorded he ran almost the full length of the pitch before walloping the ball as hard as he could."
Benson won his first and only international cap for England against Ireland on 15th February 1909. The England team that day also included Charlie Buchan, Bob Crompton, Jackie Mordue, Joe Smith and George Wall. England lost the game 2-1.
Benson joined Woolwich Arsenal in November 1913. He immediately went into the first-team and played in all the club's last 25 league fixtures of that season. He was the team's regular left-back in the 1914-15 season. However, he was asked to play at centre-forward in the last game of the season and scored two goals in a 7-0 victory over Nottingham Forest.
In November 1914 Woolwich Arsenal played West Ham in a charity match. The Stratford Express reported that: "The game was of the tamest description, easily the most thrilling incident between the referee and Benson early in the second-half. The Arsenal back, in clearing, sent the ball fairly and squarely on to the officials face with such force as to cause him to stagger. After a minute, however, he pluckily resumed his duties."
During the First World War Benson worked in a munitions factory in London. On 19th February 1916, Benson went to watch Arsenal play Reading. Arsenal's right-back, Joe Shaw, could not get away from his job and so Benson, who had not played for a year, agreed to take his place in the team. Clearly unfit, Benson was forced to retire from the field feeling unwell. He tragically died in the dressing-room in the arms of the Arsenal trainer, George Hardy. It was later discovered that he had died of a burst blood vessel. Benson was buried in his Arsenal shirt.
At Highbury on Monday, West Ham United and Woolwich Arsenal met in a London Professional Charity Fund match, and the Arsenal succeeded in winning the medals, which were at stake, by 1-0. The game was of the tamest description, easily the most thrilling incident between the referee and Benson early in the second-half. The Arsenal back, in clearing, sent the ball fairly and squarely on to the officials face with such force as to cause him to stagger. After a minute, however, he pluckily resumed his duties. The only goal of the match was scored by Rutherford for the Arsenal about ten minutes after the start.