Saturday 17 February 2018

Pompey move helps Henderson keep up family tradition

Portsmouth's No 1 is glad he got a second shot at Championship level, says Seán Ryan

STEPHEN HENDERSON witnessed at close quarters the good and the bad, the rewards and the dangers, of the goalkeeping art last season. The good: for the first time in his career he played over 30 league games; the bad: his uncle Wayne, the former Republic of Ireland international, was forced to retire with a spinal injury.

As things turned out, Wayne's misfortune was to Stephen's advantage when, on retirement, he became an agent and enlisted Stephen as his first client. In the summer transfer window, he negotiated a move to Championship side Portsmouth for his 23-year-old nephew.

Where the Hendersons are concerned, they seemed fated to be goalkeepers. They are part of a line, which began with Shamrock Rovers' Paddy Henderson back in the 1960s. Paddy's sons Dave, Stephen and Wayne followed him between the posts, and now Stephen, son of Stephen, is the keeper of the flame.

"I don't think I even had a choice," he recalled last week. "I was put in goal from an early age. It's a great tradition, I wouldn't think there are a lot of families who have that many goalkeepers, but it's great to be part of that tradition, and I have benefited from good coaching from a young age. They are also honest with me and tell me if I'm doing good or bad, which is what I want."

This is his second time to sign for a Championship club, but he hasn't too many happy memories of his previous club, Bristol City.

"At one stage there I was number three goalkeeper and thought the game was maybe slipping away from me for a bit because I wasn't playing, just training Monday to Friday. People think football is a great job, but when you're not playing it's difficult to keep your mindset and it becomes a lonely place.

"My family, girlfriend and hard work got me through that spell, which lasted about a year when I was 20, 21. I was happy for the lads, but you don't feel part of it, you just want to be playing. However, in football you never look back, and hopefully I'm getting the benefits of that experience now."

Last season proved the turning point of his career. "I owe Yeovil Town so much. The fans and the manager showed great faith in me and the club had its highest finish ever. It's a small town and that's a problem on the financial side, but I hope they do well.

"We were playing in front of three to four thousand, whereas now it's 25 to 30,000, and every game is a big game."

Henderson is modest in glossing over his Yeovil experience, but it was his arrival in January last, which coincided with a surge up the table, which lifted the club out of the relegation zone. In 24 games to the end of the season, he helped the club rise from 22nd in League One to a highly respectable 14th.

This form didn't go unnoticed, and there were a number of enquiries for his services, with Portsmouth winning the race. "They pushed the most and that's why I wanted to go there," he said. "John Keeley, the goalkeeper coach, was a massive influence on my move, as Wayne had played under him at Brighton.

"Steve Cotterill, who signed me, is a nice guy and very passionate. He gave me my chance and I owe him a lot. When he left for Nottingham Forest I was disappointed, but I just have to work hard and impress the new manager, Michael Appleton, who was assistant to Roy Hodgson at West Brom."

The Premier League is Henderson's goal but, he conceded: "If we don't sort out our away form we haven't a chance and instead could find ourselves in the relegation zone." From playing in League One with a team near the bottom where he was always "in the thick of the action", his move to Portsmouth has been an eye-opener.

"It's a very strong division, much more organised, so that you can go two games being very busy and then two games not having a save to make," he explained. "It's all about concentration. You could get nothing to do for 89 minutes and then you could be the match-winner at the end.

"I had that situation against Nottingham Forest. We were 1-0 up and I made a reasonably good save and we won 3-0, but if I hadn't made that save it could have been a different result. The feeling after the game when you have contributed like that I can't describe, but it's what you train for from Monday to Friday."

He'll be hoping for more of that feeling in the coming week, when Portsmouth face difficult games away to Birmingham (Tuesday) and Coventry (Saturday), hoping to break their duck on their travels.

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