MIKE Benson has stepped down as county secretary of the Wiltshire Football Association, it was announced this morning, with the county governing body still refusing to disclose the reasons for his departure. 

Benson's future has been at the centre of speculation since October of last year when it was revealed the 78-year-old had been on leave from his position for several weeks.

Benson himself insisted he was on “self-imposed suspended leave” citing the pressures of the job and adding: “I spoke to my chairman (Richard Gardiner) and he advised me to take some time off so that is what I did.

“It is a pressurised job and it takes it out of you. I am hoping to be back soon.”

Today, Benson would only insist that he had retired from his role when contacted following the release of the FA statement

Despite repeated calls, messages and emails sent by the Gazette & Herald and Wiltshire Times to county officials, including Gardiner, in the past three months, the Wiltshire FA has repeatedly refused to comment or respond to requests for clarification on Benson's position.

In November, sources told the Gazette & Herald and Wiltshire Times that Benson had not returned to work and may have been the subject of an inquiry conducted by the national FA.

Officials at Wembley were unable to confirm if that was the case, having previously insisted that the situation was a “county matter.''

Representatives from the county's football leagues have also revealed they were in the dark over his role - and who was now in charge of day-to-day affairs at the county FA.

Benson had served in the post since 1999, having been involved with the county's governing body since the mid-1980s

Today's Wiltshire FA statement said: "From the end of January 2013, Michael “Mike” Benson will “hang up his boots” and leave his position as County Secretary with the Wiltshire County Football Association (WCFA).

"Mike has served football for over fifty years the majority of that time within his adopted county of Wiltshire.

"He left Bristol in his early twenties to work at Pressed Steel in Swindon and has lived in the town since then working for the major part in the car industry.

"Mike was a referee for many years refereeing up to Contributory League level. During that part of his football career he officiated with some of the top referees of his era.

"He also took on the role of Referee Appointments Secretary with the Wiltshire Football League. Throughout his career in refereeing and since he retired as an active referee he has been a keen member of the Swindon Referees Society helping to recruit and train many new referees.

"In 1984 he was elected to the WCFA and became a very active member of the WCFA Council serving in many of its Committees.

"In 1986 he became Assistant County Secretary taking on the responsibility for the administration of the County Cup Competitions.

"Following the sudden death of the County Secretary, the late Mick Parry, in April 1999, Mike stepped into the breach.

"At the WCFA AGM in June later that year he was formally appointed to the position of County Secretary and also became the WCFA's representative on the Council of The Football Association.

"He has held the position of County Secretary since that time and only retired from The FA Council in 2010 having reached its formal retiring age.

"The FA recognised his service by making him a honorary member of The FA an honour enjoyed by only a very few including such distinguished persons as Sir Tom Finney CBE and Sir Bobby Charlton CBE.

"During his time as County Secretary he has presided over the County Association's change from being an organisation with honorary officers operating from their own homes to its present status IE an incorporated Association with its own headquarters and full and part-time Officers & members of staff.

The WCFA and the whole of football therefore owe Mike a huge debt of gratitude for his tenacity, commitment and tireless efforts over so many years.

"Clearly Mike will be a very hard act to follow.

"If anyone would like to be considered for the position of County/Company Secretary to the WCFA.

"Details of how to apply will be available on the WCFA website wiltshirefa.com within the next few days.''