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Henderson has makings of local hero
Published : 07 Nov 2009 10:21:56
While Newcastle and Middlesbrough have had their local legends in recent seasons, Sunderland supporters have been deprived of a hometown hero to call their own. Perhaps the wait is at an end. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson met midfielder Jordan Henderson and discovered a Wearside wonder in waiting. NEWCASTLE had Alan Shearer, Geordie icon and all-time greatest number nine. Middlesbrough had Stewart Downing, born and raised in Pallister Park before going on to win 23 caps for England. But when it comes to the North- East's love of a local hero, in the last couple of decades, Sunderland have been the exception that proves the rule. Fencehouses-born Grant Leadbitter threatened to establish himself in the first team before departing for Ipswich in the summer, while Sunderlandborn Michael Gray skippered the Black Cats before leaving under a cloud to join Blackburn in 2004. But you really have to go back to Seaham-born Gary Rowell in the 1970s and 80s to find a born-and-bred Wearsider who captured the hearts of minds of the Sunderland fans and catapulted himself into the pantheon of club greats. It is a void that is crying out to be filled, and in 19-year-old Jordan Henderson, the Black Cats might just have found a player capable of allying his Wearside roots to a protracted and successful spell in Sunderland's first team. Born and raised in Farringdon, Henderson made his first Premier League start in August's 3-1 defeat to Chelsea, yet three months later he will kick off today's game at Tottenham as the linchpin of the Black Cats' midfield. His career is at an embryonic stage, but you do not have to spend too long in Sunderland and its surrounding areas to appreciate the depth of yearning that accompanies the monitoring of his progress. After years of casting envious glances towards the local legends on the banks of the Tyne and Tees, Sunderland supporters are desperate to see one of their own succeed. There is nothing better than seeing a local lad coming through and doing great, said Black Cats boss Steve Bruce, who knows all about the importance of a strong local core after winning the league title with a Manchester United side that included the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers. It gives your team a heartbeat and it gives your supporters something to latch on to and really get excited about. I don't think there is anything better than a local lad doing well for himself with his local team. So could Henderson be that lad Bruce is understandably reluctant to make too many grand predictions about such an inexperienced youngster. But having worked with the likes of Scholes, Giggs and David Beckham at the age of 19, the Sunderland boss is clearly enthused about the talent that was presented to him when he made his maiden visit to the club's training ground. Pick any midfield player, and Jordan is level with them at 19, and that's some going, said Bruce. I was with Beckham, and no-one would have predicted he was going to be a superstar at 17 or 18. No-one would have predicted it about Scholes, although he had problems when he was young. The only one who jumped out was Giggsy. Now I'm clearly not saying that Jordan is going to be anything like that, but he's had a fantastic start. That start has already taken the former Farringdon Community Sports College pupil to the top of the English club game, and the brink of a call-up to the England Under-21 squad, a development Bruce describes as inevitable. Henderson first joined Sunderland's Academy as a sevenyear- old, and while he was thrilled to be approached after being scouted at a Fulwell Juniors game, his early involvement with the club forced him to become a master of the art of deception. Because I was in Sunderland's Academy, I wasn't really meant to play for my school, he explained. The club didn't really want me playing for Farringdon, but I used to stay as quiet as I could about it all and play the odd game during the week. When you're younger, you want to be playing a match every day and, even though I wasn't supposed to, that's pretty much what I did. I think the club probably had an idea about what was happening, but they turned a bit of a blind eye. Everything was fine for a while, but then I helped my school team reach a cup final. Unfortunately, the game got switched to the Stadium of Light. I thought it was probably a good idea to sit that one out! I watched from the stands, mind I just didn't say anything about the earlier rounds! Playing at the Stadium of Light would have to wait, but by the time he progressed to Sunderland's Under-16s side, Henderson was already a regular attendee at the club's home venue. His first footballing experiences came at Roker Park, but as he had not yet turned seven when the Wearsiders left their former stadium, his childhood memories revolve around the stadium he now calls home. I was a fan from the start and I used to go to the matches with my dad, he said. I've always been a Sunderland fan. I went to a couple of games at Roker Park, but I can't really remember them because I was so young. It's always really been the Stadium of Light for me. I remember watching Bally, and I also remember really liking Alex Rae. Even at that stage it was midfielders I was watching, and I know he wasn't a Sunderland player. But I suppose the person I liked watching most of all was Ryan Giggs. He was the player me and all my friends wanted to be. I was the most popular kid in school because I'd met him when I was on holiday abroad with my mam and dad. I can only have been two or three, but I met Ryan Giggs and luckily there were some pictures taken to prove it. I've still got a photo of me sitting on his shoulders somewhere in the house. That's why it feels good when you've got little kids coming up and asking for your autograph today, because I know what they feel like. I was one of those kids not so long ago, desperately chasing about after a footballer. But will becoming one of those footballers change someone who is universally described among Sunderland's coaching staff as friendly, grounded and hard-working In an era of Baby Bentleys and £2,000 magnums of champagne, can any young professional really stay in touch with their roots Kids look up to people who play for Sunderland, and you have to be aware of that, said Henderson. I know footballers sometimes get bad publicity and bad things said about them, but I think there's lots of footballers who keep their feet on the ground and set a good example to younger people. Hopefully, I can be like that. I think I will be because my mates would soon knock me down if I was getting a bit too big for myself. I'm lucky that I have a best friend that I've known since I was born, and he would certainly tell me if I was changing and getting too big for my boots. He's certainly quick enough to tell me when I've had a bad game. With Lorik Cana suspended and Lee Cattermole injured, Bruce will be desperately hoping that Henderson does not have a bad game' when Sunderland visit White Hart Lane this afternoon. The teenager is practically the only man standing in the Black Cats midfield, but from the first time he clapped eyes on Sunderland's latest local hero in the summer, Bruce was adamant he would be given a chance. I knew I needed to make room for Jordan because he grabbed me straightaway, he said. I remember the first time I worked with him in pre-season, and what really caught me was the way he was running past all the older players really easily, but then encouraging them to get going and catch him up. He grabbed me from the day I walked through the door, and from the first or second time I saw him in pre-season, I thought we have an outstanding talent here.