How derby abuse at Elland Road and Hillsborough hurt Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson

Dean Henderson has claimed that had some of the abuse he endured at Elland Road and Hillsborough last year been of a racial rather than a personal nature, those responsible would have been banned from football.

Friday, 13th December 2019, 6:00 am
Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson (right) and John Egan celebrate the win over Leeds United at Elland Road last season.

As he has shown since being called out by his Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder for a mistake in September’s 1-0 defeat to Liverpool, Henderson is a strong character in what he calls a “soft” game. But he says the abuse he took at the club’s two biggest away derbies last season affected him for “two or three months”.

The England Under-21 goalkeeper, on loan from Manchester United, enjoys interacting with opposition fans, providing it does not overstep the mark.

“Last season at Hillsborough and Elland Road it wasn’t a pleasant time for me and family,” he said.

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Leeds's Pablo Hernandez celebrates his winning goal as Sheffield keeper Dean Henderson looks on.

“A lot of the accusations were horrendous for me coming from a good family and if it was racism people would be getting banned from stadiums.

“At Elland Road 36,000 people were giving me pure abuse for 95 minutes. I just took it on my shoulders and gave them some back at full-time. I’m very strong mentally and hopefully that will stand me in good stead but it had a massive impact on me for two to three months.

“At certain times I was really low and I used to go back to my apartment wondering, ‘How has this happened to me?’ Only my girlfriend really knows how much it affected me.

“To go to Elland Road and beat them (in March) after what they were saying meant the world to me.

Dean Henderson celebrates the win at Elland Road. Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

“I don’t think I got the support I deserved, really, but I dealt with it on my own and came out a much stronger person. I take it on the chin and keep moving forward.”

When the rivalry with opposition fans is more reasonable, Henderson enjoys it.

“I love the banter, that’s what you play the game for,” he commented. “When Norwich were giving me loads of stick and we beat them (on Sunday), I was buzzing. They were singing ‘1-0 down, and it’s all your fault,’ and we beat them 2-1. It’s great.

“I think the fans enjoy it too, getting the relationship with the players, even though it’s a rival team. It gives them something to watch and a bit of fun.”

Likewise, Henderson took Wilder’s criticism in the right way after letting a Georginio Wijnaldum shot through his hands against Liverpool.

“After the game I was very down but I came roaring back,” he said. “I’m going to make mistakes on this journey but I’m big enough and daft enough to get on with it. The manager’s the biggest fan of his players behind closed doors, he’s always putting his arms around people’s shoulders and making sure he can get the best out of them.”

Henderson is typical of a squad which uses disappointment as fuel. Many had to restart careers down the leagues after being released by big clubs, and the Blades have not lost consecutive league games since last season’s opening week.

“Football’s gone soft now hasn’t it?” said Henderson. “The boys here are really tough and really want to win, and I think a lot of them have got a big point to prove. They haven’t all played in the Premier League.

“We were disappointed against Newcastle (losing 2-0 last week) but we went again against Norwich. We got disappointed against Villa last year (losing a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3) and went seven games unbeaten.

“We don’t get starstruck. Two legs, two arms, everyone’s got the same. I wouldn’t want to play at Bramall Lane with the atmosphere, the lads kicking lumps out of you. We’ll have a go at anyone”

Meanwhile, Jack Rodwell is training with the Blades. The former England and Manchester City player, who can play in midfield or central defence, is a free agent.