Football: Hendrie accent on local loyalties

England's latest prodigy was never going to follow family traditions.
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The Independent Online
TO DESCRIBE Lee Hendrie as wide-eyed on his first day with the full England squad yesterday would be something of an understatement, but at least he has the pedigree to suggest that, once the novelty has worn off, one of Glenn Hoddle's newest recruits will be as much at home at Bisham Abbey as he is in midfield at Villa Park.

Father Paul, a Scotsman who began his career with Celtic, once wore the blue and white of Villa's arch rivals, Birmingham City, in the days when Trevor Francis used to destroy Villa almost single-handedly. Now he manages non-League Tamworth, who took Exeter City to the wire in the FA Cup first round at the weekend, while uncle John, another Scot, is manager of Barnsley.

There was a time when the representative future of Hendrie Jnr was in some doubt, but with the kind of accent that has given Brummies a bad name ever since Crossroads plagued the television schedules, England were always favourites to benefit from the talents of the youngest member of this particular footballing dynasty.

"There was some talk that they [Scotland] were going to take me for a trial but I didn't take much notice of that," Hendrie said. "I always wanted to play for England."

Now, at 21 and barely a third of the way through his first full season in the Premiership, Hendrie has become the fourth player from the League leaders to infiltrate Hoddle's elite group, thanks in no small part to half a dozen excellent performances with the Under-21s and Villa's own success this season which has put him and his team-mates in the spotlight.

"The last 12 months have been a big turn-around for me," he admitted. Prior to John Gregory's arrival as Villa manager, Hendrie had been a peripheral figure as far as the first team was concerned.

"At that stage I was frustrated and didn't know where I stood," he said. "One week I was getting in the team but then the next I wasn't even on the substitutes' bench. It was a hard time for me.

"Brian Little didn't want to put me in with Villa down the bottom of the Premiership. He felt there would be a lot of pressure on me and that was fair enough. But I wanted to play and I thought I might have to move elsewhere. I thought I might have to go into a lower division."

Apart from his decision to throw Hendrie in at the deep end when he took over from Little, Gregory's inclination to choose English players has probably helped Hendrie's cause too, although the player himself insists that is more coincidence than policy. "It's nice to have an all-English team, but it's not really been a big issue in the dressing-room," he said.

The next logical step for Gregory, of course, would be a team full of Brummies with Hendrie, regarded as the best home-grown prospect since Gary Shaw, leading the way. But one battle he has yet to win is with the rest of his family, who remain staunchly blue and white despite Hendrie's exploits in the north of the city. "I used to support Birmingham as a youngster and I was with them as a schoolboy," he revealed.

"It came down to a choice between signing for them or Villa. I went to Villa at 15 and changed my allegiance, but all my family still support the Blues.

"I do get a bit of stick for it, but it's only friendly banter. At least I've got my nan to change her colours now - I bought her a season ticket so she goes to the Blues one week and the Villa the next."

And if anyone can bridge the divide between the city's two warring factions, then the likeable Hendrie might just be the man.