Leeds United: My Whites playing days - John Hendrie INTERVIEW

John Hendrie.
John Hendrie.
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Winger John Hendrie was on Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United promotion bandwagon but a fallout with the boss ensured his stay was brief, as Leon Wobschall reports.

If Carlsberg did dream jobs, John Hendrie’s current vocation in life would take some beating, for sports lovers at least.

A spot of coaching, bit of media work, match-day hospitality duties at Elland Road, alongside his ‘day job’ as a sports consultant for well-established Leeds-based sports lawyers firm Blacks Solicitors organising golf days and the like...can’t be bad.

Best of all the former Leeds United winger, now 48, can find the time to watch his three lads pursue their own footballing dreams, despite his diary being full to overflowing during the soccer season.

And as for a return to the sharp end of management and the ‘goldfish bowl’ world of football? Not likely! Seen it, done it.

Hendrie, who had a brief spell as Barnsley boss after finishing playing in the late 1990s, said: “When I finished at Barnsley, I’d been 19 years in the game. I’ve been offered several jobs with academies and reserve teams since, but the football world is 24/7 and you are at a club’s beck and call for 10 months of the year.

“I enjoy what I’m doing because it gives me the freedom to watch my own boys play. If I was at a club, I wouldn’t get the chance to see them very often.

Fit

“My three boys all play and we have a laugh really. Luke, who is 17, just got a year (deal) at Manchester United, while Jordan starts a two-year scholarship in a few weeks at Bolton Wanderers. While my oldest, Joe, is at Otley Town and we say he’s at Real Otley Town!

“All the three boys play at different levels, but there’s no guarantee anyone will make a living out of it. But they all enjoy their football, that’s all that counts.”

He added: “My four roles just fit together and suit me down to the ground.

“When I was a player, (lawyer) Stephen Lownsbrough looked after my affairs and he just asked me to come on board and I serve as a sports consultant working with various clients, who I entertain. This week, for instance, there’s a charity golf day. But the role is varying.

“I also enjoy the match-day hospitality at Elland Road and my role in the East Stand involves interviewing the old boys and getting stories out of them, asking them about that match on that particular day. Rather than me being asked questions, I ask them questions and I’m learning new skills and you have a bit of banter with the old guys.

“I do all the Leeds home games, but when they’re not at home, I often do Bradford games on the radio and do a wee bit of coaching at Leeds Met University through a scheme called RIASA (Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy).

“Normally you get British kids going over to the US for scholarships, whereas this is a role reversal and American kids come over to Yorkshire for a four-year degree and also get some football coaching.

“It’s the ‘baby’ of an ex-colleague of mine at Bradford, Mark Ellis, and me and Mark give them pro-football coaching. The young striker doing well at Bradford, Nakhi Wells, started with us, and another two lads moved over Finland.”

Hendrie’s Glaswegian twang might be as distinctive as ever, despite spending the last 28 years in West Yorkshire, but he considers himself an adopted Yorkshireman after a playing career which took in spells with United, Bradford City, Barnsley and Middlesbrough.

And he reveals that during his six-and-a-half years with Boro he made the daily 130-mile commute to Teesside while his four children were all born at Leeds General Infirmary.

Indeed, the only time he lived away from the Broad Acres was when he spent a brief spell at Newcastle United in the late eighties.

Time was called on his career on Tyneside when then Leeds United boss Howard Wilkinson, armed with a considerable transfer war chest to try and end United’s exile from the top flight, snapped up the flying winger, after weeks of trying, for £600,000 in the summer of 1989.

Those heady days also saw the chequebook wafted to bring Vinnie Jones and Mel Sterland to Elland Road and despite a distinctly forgettable 5-2 debut defeat against the side he had just left at St James’ Park, Hendrie soon made an impression during the first month of United’s title-winning campaign in Division Two.

All that changed on September 23, 1990 when United recorded a comfortable 4-0 home victory over Swindon Town, a date Hendrie remembers for all the wrong reasons.

The fleet-footed wingman was the victim of a horrendous two-footed tackle from hardman Robins defender Jon Gittens, which resulted in him being stretchered off in tears after 63 minutes.

Somehow, Hendrie managed to make himself fit for the following weekend, but that proved a fateful move and had ramifications for the rest of his short United career.

Hendrie did return to action in the winter and played his part in the championship crusade in the second half of what turned out to be a truly memorable campaign, but his season was marred by the Gittens incident.

It’s fair to say that, increasingly, Hendrie and boss Wilkinson began not to see eye-to-eye as the season progressed but, while the midfielder is entitled to view the 1989-90 campaign as a bit of a bittersweet one, he is adamant his positive memories will always outweigh the bad ones at Leeds.

Hendrie said: “I played about 25 games in that championship season and played my part and I’m proud of it.

“I still look at my year at Leeds fondly. I would have stayed longer, but it was right club, wrong manager as far as I was concerned.

Proud

“It was frustrating and obviously I’ll always remember the Swindon game when I was crocked.

“I came back for the next game, which I shouldn’t have done, against Oxford, and I was compensating on one leg and ruptured my thigh, which kept me out for about three months.

“I managed to score a few goals when I came back but I still felt there was a lot more to come as when you are out for three months, you are still chasing your fitness. I never felt 100 per cent as I’d missed so long out.

“But don’t get me wrong, I was proud to be part of the promotion-winning side and it was a fantastic season – the one that got Leeds back on track. We also had some terrific characters and it was a good place to be at that time.

“I know I ended up leaving after a year but only because, it’s fair to say, I wasn’t Wilko’s favourite and he wasn’t mine.”

There’s a saying that everything happens for a reason and while Hendrie missed out on playing his part as United landed ‘the big one’ at the end of the 1991-92 season, some modicum of compensation was provided by helping Middlesbrough to promotion to the new Premier League after a dramatic final-day win at Molineux in May 1992 where, ironically, one of the Boro scorers that day was former foe Gittens, who became a team-mate.

It was a joyous moment for Hendrie – who joined Boro for £550,000 in July 1990 – especially after the Teessiders lost out in the play-off semi-finals in his first season at the club, to Neil Warnock’s Notts County, in 1990-91.

And early on in the maiden Premiership season, Hendrie was afforded an even sweeter memory, dining out at ex-boss Wilkinson’s expense on a famous afternoon at Ayresome Park on August 22, 1992 when champions United were thrashed 4-1 – in a season when their travel sickness became a contagion.

Hendrie and fellow ex-Whites winger Tommy Wright were among the scorers that late summer’s afternoon, which Hendrie still remembers as if it was yesterday.

Hendrie said: “I must admit that win over Leeds gave me pleasure, in terms of getting one back on Wilko. It was quite funny; I scored and my celebration was an attempted summersault, but it was the worst roly-poly backflip ever. Apparently, it was 3.4 on the Richter Scale and there’s still a crater there!

“It was only because Wilko never made it easy for myself that I did it.

“I loved my six-and-half years at Boro. Although it was quite ironic as on this overnight trip, they put Gittens with me! I remember having a pillow in my hand and thinking I might do what I had to do with the pillow!

“He did me big time and it was a shocker – an over-the-top tackle. People say you should look back and forgive and forget, but certainly I didn’t with that one.”

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