Henderson’s footballing resurrection continues at pace

Pompey keeper Stephen Henderson
Pompey keeper Stephen Henderson

Just four-and-a-half years ago, Stephen Henderson feared he didn’t have a future in football.

Today, he is Pompey’s impressive first-choice goalkeeper.

What’s more, suggestions of Newcastle United interest shows others are beginning to take notice of the 23-year-old’s rapid development at Fratton Park.

It was in May 2007 when the Irishman was informed of his release by Aston Villa.

At the age of 18 and left without a club, they were bleak days for the ambitious Henderson.

A fortnight later, he was rescued by Bristol City – a club he would remain with until his departure for Pompey last summer.

For the Dubliner, his clamber back involved being loaned out to Conference premier division sides and training on park pitches in Weymouth.

Now he has established himself as a regular performer in the Championship.

Such has been his impact after a mere 19 matches at Fratton, Henderson could well be one of the first cashed in should Pompey opt to go down that route to pay their outstanding £1.6m HMRC bill.

Henderson, though, has already stressed his happiness with life on the south coast.

After all, his footballing resurrection is continuing at pace.

He said: ‘The best thing that ever happened to me was getting released by Villa.

‘I was 18 and had been there three years – then a new management came in and released me.

‘I actually felt it was the end of the world.

‘You see the amount of players who get released, it is just unbelievable. So many don’t get back into football.

‘Fortunately, Bristol City signed me two weeks later. I was one of the lucky ones.

‘I wasn’t asked to trial. They had scouted me already and signed me straight up.

‘I went from the best training ground in England and the best facilities to seeing the not-so-best.

‘I was in the youth set-up along with Gaby Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner, Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan, players who have done well for themselves.

‘Then I went to Bristol and was loaned out to Conference clubs and trained in public parks.

‘That was just brilliant for my experience, I realised what was out there. It was the best thing that happened to me.

‘I went to York City on loan. Then there was Weymouth, who were struggling financially and didn’t have very good places to train.

‘We washed our own kit and all that. It’s part of the learning curve.

‘That’s what I would say to anybody. Just go out on loan – there is no point sitting about.

‘I know what’s out there. It’s just something that I never want to drop down back there.

‘That is why I try to set my goals so high.

‘I have started low to come back up and gone up, up, up.

‘I have waited too long, if you ask me – and I want to keep on progressing.’

Henderson has been Pompey’s first-choice keeper since dislodging Jamie Ashdown at Leeds in October.

That proved to be Steve Cotterill’s last act as Blues boss before walking out for Nottingham Forest.

But Henderson has remained in the starting line-up ever since, making 19 successive appearances.

His eye-catching displays have merely strengthened his position as Pompey’s number one.

Yet the 23-year-old is not ready to accept such a tag.

He added: ‘I still don’t think I am the established number one at Portsmouth.

‘I have a long time to go before I can be that.

‘A full season and maybe even halfway into next season, that is what I consider to be an established goalkeeper.

‘I have only played 19 games now so perhaps by the end of the season I can start talking like that – but not now.

‘I think I have been pretty consistent, although there is a lot more to come from me regarding match-winning saves more often – and that is what I am working on to achieve soon.

‘The most important thing is consistency.

‘There is no point being good one week and poor the next.

‘I just try to keep a balance and, hopefully, I can put in really good performances and keep doing that until the end of the season.’