Football: Hendrie senses new Cup glory with Tamworth

The Scottish father of an English midfield talent is preparing to relive his finest moment. By Phil Shaw
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The Independent Online
THE LAMB Ground in the Staffordshire town of Tamworth, with its smart but small stand sponsored by a local garage, compares with Wembley stadium like the nearby newsagent's with Harrod's. Yet both venues hold rich promise for the footballing Hendries.

Lee Hendrie, the 21-year-old Aston Villa midfielder, could make his England debut beneath the twin towers next week if, as the Villa hierarchy anticipate, he is named in the squad to face the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, his father Paul - who is so Scottish that his first club was Kirkintilloch Rob Roy - has a double date with FA Cup glory.

On Friday night, Hendrie Snr will be Halifax Town's guest of honour as they launch the first round at Manchester City. In 1980, it was his goal that secured a famous win for a humdrum Fourth Division outfit over Malcolm Allison's expensive City side from the top section.

The next day, while Lee strives to help the Premiership leaders to success at Southampton, Paul will be back in his role as Tamworth manager. His task: to guide the Lambs, 12th in the Dr Martens League Premier Division, to a home victory against Exeter City.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Hendrie Jnr is the first in the family to mix in the highest company. Paul, now 44, started out with Kenny Dalglish at Celtic under Jock Stein. He also played in the old First Division, supplying crosses for Trevor Francis and Bob Latchford as a teenaged winger for Birmingham City.

After taking the "massive gamble" of joining Portland Timbers in the North American Soccer League at the same age his son is now, he came up against Pele, Best, Beckenbauer and Eusebio. Hendrie cherishes the experience but concedes that he missed out on an important part of his development as a player.

"It was a fantastic time for me," he recalls. "In half an hour you could be in the mountains or on the beach. But I probably didn't make the most of my ability because the standards weren't as good in the States."

The temptation to move might not have been so strong if Birmingham had won the FA Cup in 1975. Hendrie appeared in their semi-final replay against Fulham - at Maine Road, coincidentally - and takes up the story with a barren contest entering the last seconds of extra time.

"They'd just said on the Tannoy that the second replay would be at Highbury when Fulham launched the ball up field," he says, wincing at the memory. "Our keeper, Dave Latchford, dashed out but his clearance hit John Mitchell, their No 9, in the chest. The ball just bobbled in."

Five years passed before the Cup fates favoured Hendrie on "a right mudbath" at Halifax. City included players like Steve Daley (pounds 1.5m) and Michael Robinson (pounds 750,000), but the only scorer was a diminutive midfielder signed on a free transfer.

Hendrie can still picture every detail of the build-up, culminating in his left-footed shot past Joe Corrigan. "There were 15 minutes to go and City battered us. It was a case of holding on as they threw everything forward. Afterwards they complained a lot about the pitch."

After playing professionally until he was 35, Hendrie helped to nurture Lee's precocious talent while taking his first, modest steps into management in the Midlands. Having cut his teeth with Chelmsley, where the dug-out was "basically a box", and Redditch, he came to Tamworth three and a half years ago.

They soon won the Midland Division by a 26-point margin and now have their sights on the Conference. Despite the weekly exodus to watch the likes of Villa and Wolves, Hendrie points to a hard core of 800 fans as proof of the club's potential.

"I'm very pleased with the progress here, and not just the first team. They didn't run any other sides before I arrived but now we've got Under- 14s, a youth team and a reserve side who are top of their league."

His office is spartan, the walls adorned only by the odd pennant and the desk bare save for a couple of good-luck cards. Some might see it as a come-down for one who has tackled Pele, but not Hendrie. "I love what I'm doing. Some great players I played with, internationals like Kenny Burns, aren't involved in the game at all."

Exeter, who have taken just one point from seven away fixtures in the Third Division, would represent Tamworth's first full-time scalp since another Devon outfit, Torquay, in 1969. Were Lee to have been called up by Glenn Hoddle on Friday, it would complete an incredible 24 hours for father and son.

Hendrie watches Villa whenever Tamworth are not playing and is honest enough not to claim Lee as a chip off the old block. "He's far more skilful than I ever was. I was a bit of a ball-winner whereas he's got tricks. I had a bad disciplinary record and though Lee got sent off on his debut, it was a shocking decision. He's got a much better temperament than me.

"The big difference over the past nine months is that John Gregory has given Lee the opportunity everyone felt he deserved. If Brian Little was still there, he probably wouldn't have progressed."

Lee was eligible to play for Scotland, and Craig Brown would love to have given him the chance. "It was my decision," confesses Paul with an unmistakable Glaswegian twang. "Villa asked me which country's under-18s I wanted him to go with and I reckoned a wee English boy was going to get whacked in the air up there. He was playing in England and he's a Brummie really."

Given the Cup's knack of fulfilling fantasies, it is not too far-fetched to imagine Tamworth running out before a bulging Villa Park in the third round. Paul Hendrie beams at the thought and says: "I might just come out of retirement for that one."

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