Port Vale’s Mal Benning was full of pride for the Asian football community, after bagging a goal in the Sky Bet League Two Play-Off Final to achieve promotion.
The midfielder is one of a handful of British Asians in the game and was delighted to make his mark at Wembley Stadium, hoping to inspire others that follow in his footsteps.
“Earlier in the week I was talking about Asians in football – that is a massive step,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s me, it could’ve been anyone from Asian football, and for the Sikh community as well, that is a massive step for Asian football and hopefully we can build on that.
“It’s not about me, there’s many players coming through, but that’s the message for Asian football – ‘it’s a massive step.’”
The 28-year-old, who spent six years at the One Call Stadium between 2015 and 2021 before making the switch to Vale Park in the summer, found the back of the net against his ex-employers.
“The third goal was massive,” he stated. “I didn’t know what to do. It’s Mansfield so I didn’t want to go overboard, but I scored at Wembley and we’re going up.”
“I’ve got nothing but love for Mansfield. They helped me build my career for six years and I loved it there, but I’m a Port Vale player now and the focus was on Port Vale.”
Benning’s timely arrival at the back post all but sealed promotion for the Valiants, putting them 3-0 up against the Stags on the day.
“Woz [David Worrall] stood up the cross and I didn’t think I was going to get there, but I ran as hard as I could,” he recalled. “I knew I had to get it first time, so I stuck a leg out and caught it on the volley sweetly. Thankfully, it went in.”
Benning has chalked up 29 League appearances this season for Vale, and although it wasn’t the start he wanted to life in Staffordshire, he didn’t think twice about seizing his opportunity with both hands – as he did under the arch.
“There were times when I was out of the squad and finding it a bit difficult, to be honest, because I was so used to playing at Mansfield,” he continued. “I had to work hard, and a couple of lads kept me going throughout the season. When I finally got that chance, I had to take it, didn’t I?
“I had to put my focus somewhere else. I had to focus on myself and be ready if any chance ever did come, and it did.”
And it’s all paid off for the Valiants goal-scorer, who has firmly embedded himself in the Club’s history.
He said: “It’s my first promotion and to do it at Wembley and score a goal – it’s what dreams are made of.”