Friday 19 July 2019

'The thoughts of them carrying me in a coffin would kill me! They'd probably drop me. They did alright with their da though'

The first family of Irish goalkeeping reflect on a lifetime of looking after number ones

Angela Henderson with her sons Dave and Stephen at the family home in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Angela Henderson with her sons Dave and Stephen at the family home in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
David Kelly

David Kelly

The Hendersons are one of Irish football's most famous families and they can trace their pedigree back for a century and more. Paddy, who passed away in 2017, played in goal for Shamrock Rovers in the 1960s, sons David (59) and Stephen (53) had extensive careers in the League of Ireland while Wayne won six caps for Ireland.

On Thursday, Paddy's grandson Stephen Jnr (31), was in England with Wayne (35), who is now an agent, hoping to find a new club. Back in Dublin, was Stephen, as Head of Youth Development, and David, Head of Recruitment, after their first day working side by side, at Shelbourne FC.

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We sat down to discuss nature and nurture, family, life and death - and a bit of football. Joining us was Angela (81); the mother of all goalkeepers.

David Kelly: Angela, how did you meet Paddy?

Angela Henderson: It was an end-of-year awards do in 1955. My father ran the St Bernard's team and someone said that Paddy liked me. It wasn't love at first sight. The second time it was. We got married in 1959 when we were both 21. We lived in a room in Dorset St and the butcher across the road was a mad Rovers man. If Paddy made a mistake on the Sunday I couldn't go across the road on a Monday. We'd nearly starve for the week!

Dave Henderson: Paddy's uncle, "Rosie" Henderson was a League of Ireland star, a striking 6'2" fella. Played for Ireland too. All their family were originally from Irishtown. They go right back to the early 1900s.

AH: I wouldn't have gone to many games, never did. I'd stay at home with the rosary beads. I'd be fierce nervous. Even when Wayne played big matches on Sky Sports, I'd be watching through the glass door, half afraid. Even when he won, I'd be afraid to watch them on video afterwards in case he might make a mistake. You're worried about what happens afterwards. Paddy would love it when Wayne rang to say he'd done well. We could have our fry then!

DH: Dad had a perfect temperament for a goalkeeper.

AH: You'd never know if he'd lost, he'd never mope around.

DK: Was the temperament passed down? You two guys have a reputation!

Stephen Henderson: I worked with him for 18 years so I would have watched closely how he interacted with people. He was incredibly empathetic. He took half the kids in Cabra off the streets and gave them a job. He'd only lose his temper when arrogant bosses made stupid demands. He hated people who were aloof. And I think we got those traits from him.

DH: His twin rules were "Don't tell lies" and "Always try to do the right thing."

Stephen, Dave, Wayne and their father Paddy Henderson pictured in 1998
Stephen, Dave, Wayne and their father Paddy Henderson pictured in 1998

SH: She won't like me telling this story but Mam fell in Spain when she was pregnant with Wayne, she was 45 at the time. He took a few days extra to look after her but when he returned they sacked him. That broke his heart. It was testament to the man that every one of those workers went on strike. He'd never missed a day. They had to bring him back. But they took his car off him and gave him an old dirty van that barely worked. The only reason he went back and suffered humiliation was for the workers. I always admired him but never more than during that time.

AH: I remember a woman coming up to me a year before he died. "It's thanks to Paddy that my son was saved because he gave him a job." He finished early because he had a bad back. In those days they'd cut you open like a curtain. These two have bad backs, Wayne had to retire early because of it. And we're hoping Stephen Jnr gets on okay with his medical. All goalkeepers get it. I suppose it's all the bending down.

DK: Did you expect to have a family of footballers, never mind a family of goalkeepers?

AH: No, well you don't think. You get married and have your first baby, and you don't think about football. But since they could walk, Paddy'd have them at the gates, keeping goal.

DH: I played up front at Stella Maris. When I was 11, our goalie was having a nightmare so they stuck me in. I never left. That's why I always played like the modern goalies, I always had the ball at my feet but I was deemed a lunatic. When they changed the back-pass rule in 1990, it benefited me. I could read the game and affect it. Making a save is the easiest thing for a goalkeeper. Niall Quinn can do it. Brian Kerr used to encourage me, it made the game quicker.

DK: You were with Dublin Fire Brigade?

DH: They told me I had to give up football and I said I would because I wanted to get in so badly. But I ended up playing 15 years. I had a few bad scrapes in the 30 years. In the last year, I had a breakdown when a junkie spat in my eyes. Really bad. I keeled over in the hospital, floods of tears. I was out for a few months, went through counselling. It still affects me. You can get a bad run. So many dead bodies . . .

DK: So many? Can you remember how many dead people you've seen? I mean soldiers in a war can remember how many dead people they've seen.

DH: Absolutely, I know. It's generally the ambulance cases [when] you see them. Christmas morning, a dead baby in a fire. Then you're finished at 10 and going home to open your kids' presents from Santa. I'd have a reputation for being a bit mad, but I'd be a sensitive soul. It comes from my parents but experience gives you perspective. Two of my best friends my age in the fire brigade died in the last week. In my role now, recruitment, I can see kids who are damaged. I can relate to them. Kids now have it very difficult, you have to be on the same wavelength as them. You need to be watching Love Island. Frank Lampard only got the Chelsea gig to be friends with the players.

SH: Dave always had a great sense of humour but you had to understand it. He'd joke about death but it was a defence mechanism. If you got down, you were done.

DH: I saw a mate today who was also in the service and he had all the cycling gear and I shouted over at him. 'How'd you recognise me?' You're still breathing, I says. But there's life too. I delivered my only baby on the morning of a match in Kilkenny, Dad drove me down. All through the match I never saw a ball, only a baby's head. 'Eight centimetres, keep pushing.' It was an amazing thing. And I didn't drop it!

AH: The thoughts of them carrying me in a coffin would kill me! They'd probably drop me. They did alright with their da though.

DK: You've all had different careers, Wayne capped for Ireland, Dave a League of Ireland stalwart. Stephen, you were more noted in management.

SH: I got on the coaching ladder when it wasn't a big thing. I did the FAS course with Billy Young and you saw how you were as a player. And then you learn from managers. When I went into management, I took treating people the same way they treat you a bit too literally. If they treated me like a p****, I'd respond in the same way. But my Dad's standards and ethics flowed through it all. Treating people with respect.

DK: Were you a good manager?

SH: I think so. I've never really had funds but we always punched above our weight, whether it was the two spells at Cobh or Waterford. Cobh have only won two trophies and I was there for both and their first Cup final. It's tough at times. I had a player texting me on a Tuesday saying he wouldn't train because his ankle is gone. Then I see a picture on social media on a Thursday with his mate on his shoulders, drinking at a music festival. I don't blame him, he's thinking it's not worth it which is sad. My wife Leslie was the treasurer and we did what we could. The last thing that happened was that we finished with dirty jerseys being handed to us before a match.

DK: Both of you have been in a game, an industry, that has existed despite, rather than because of, help from those in charge?

DH: League of Ireland has thrived because of people like us and so many others. We're in it now at Shelbourne to give kids the opportunity to play and there's loads of it. Others are in the game for self-promotion. There are great people in the FAI but they have been let down.

SH: There is no football industry here. Why have about 10 teams gone out of existence, and so many others flirted with it, since the FAI took over the League? I get so annoyed with it. At Cobh, we trained on cow fields. How can you tell a kid that is part of a pyramid? Back to what my dad said, you can't tell people lies. Others might. We've lost 15 or 20 years. The underage leagues were just a box-ticking exercise, the clubs are struggling as it is and the FAI needed them to justify the large salaries being paid to certain people or to get funding from UEFA. There was no thought process. On a side note, I've gone to Noel Mooney in the FAI with a Managers' Association I'm trying to set up. I met 16 managers last weekend and we've started the ball rolling. We've no representation which is crazy. The new FAI is supposed to be open so I'll keep at it.

DH: The All-Ireland League will work. Parochialism works. That's why the GAA is strong. The football might be poor but people want to see their team win. And there are very few grounds here where you can have a family experience. It's more like a horror movie.

DK: And now you started work this week for Shelbourne?

DH: We have different opinions but we have a good consensus of what we want to do. We want to progress things carefully, developing our underage teams, possibly getting promotion. But it has to be sustainable. Our job is to try to produce around half the first-team squad which we can supplement with outsiders. That's the goal.

AH: Your dad would be proud. You're still alive after the first week.

DK: Angela, you have a daughter but there is another boy, Robert.

AH: I think Robert was the only one Paddy lost the rag with! He had the makings of a great footballer. He's a gentle soul. But when he went on the pitch he always got sent off! He never gave the impression he was worried about it. He's happy with his life.

DH: He wouldn't play in goal. If there were no referees, he would have played for Barcelona! Coming from a football family brings pressure. I used to think being good enough is good enough. People expect because of the name. My son Sam played, I never pushed him. He was doing well but he just stopped. I asked him afterwards. He said Wayne had played for Ireland, Stephen Junior was doing well. He told me a few years later that he had to fulfil that expectation. I never knew he felt that.

SH: I've two boys who play, Colin and Aaron. But you'd be worried about the comments they might get.

DH: I remember going to Hibs to work with Pat Fenlon. I was 52, had left the fire brigade. And suddenly I was scared. And I'd sent so many for trials who must have felt the same.

AH: Wayne went at 13. Stephen went at 12 to Arsenal. He was gone one minute and came back! It can be tough. But I'm proud of them all.

DH: I remember when Wayne made his debut. The next day Eamonn Darcy rang to say how well he'd done. Paddy wouldn't have been an emotional man. But he cried that day.

AH: Ah, I'm very proud of them all. They didn't turn out that badly in the end!

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