Football: Stalwart Hendrie the loyal follower

Simon Turnbull says Danny Wilson's successor is keen to build on past success
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a Saturday evening encounter in the back-streets of Barnsley. Oakwell had long-since emptied, three points happily in the bag. Danny Wilson was driving out of the car park as David Richards happened to walk in. Greetings were openly exchanged. It was a chance meeting, though one passer-by could not help remarking: "It's bye bye Danny Boy, then."

Ten weeks on, Danny Boy has duly departed - 16 miles up the A61 to Sheffield Wednesday, to work under the wing of Richards, chairman of the Owls. Late on Thursday afternoon a different car pulled out of the space reserved for the manager at Oakwell. John Hendrie, one of Danny's boys, is the new man in the driving seat at Barnsley - the new, adjustable, seat that is.

This Saturday, when the Tykes begin their quest to regain Premiership status with a First Division fixture against West Bromwich Albion at Oakwell, Hendrie could be on the pitch or on the bench. It is entirely his decision. One month into his new job, the Scot is getting to grips with the double life of the player-manager. "I'm enjoying it," he said. "The biggest difference is the hours. For the past 18 years I've been finishing at one o'clock and getting home in the early afternoon. Now you're talking about early evening. And, even then, you have to go out and watch matches. As one of my mates said the other day, `You've got a proper job at last, then.'

"It has its obvious difficulties. As a player, rest is just as important as training. That's what makes the job hard, because there are so many things to do and you can't always get your rest. And that's where delegation comes into it. I've got Peter Shirtliff as my assistant and I've got Eric Winstanley, who was Danny's right-hand man. So it's really a three-pronged team."

And the team leader has a hard act to follow. In his four years in charge at Oakwell, initially as player-manager, the Lancastrian Wilson won a place deep in the hearts of even the most xenophobic Tykes. He left Barnsley back among the second-class citizens of English football but he put them up among the elite for the only time in the club's 111-year history, and made them a much-loved team, too.

"Of course Danny's a hard act to follow," Hendrie said. But I'm not looking at the job in that way. It's an opportunity for me. In football you do not look back. You've always got to look ahead. For me, it's a challenge and it's one I had to go for."

And in the 34 years behind him, Hendrie has made a habit of rising to challenges. Released by Coventry on a free-transfer at 20, he made his name in seven years as an industrious, direct outside right with Bradford before following a hard act as one of the men bought to fill the void left by Paul Gascoigne's departure from Newcastle. In a brief spell with Leeds, he won the old Second Division championship, then experienced four promotions and two relegations in six giddy years at Middlesbrough.

He made such an impact on Teesside, in a more central attacking support role, it took a hard act to force him out of the first-team picture - Juninho, no less. It was Wilson who took him to Barnsley, for pounds 30,000 two years ago, and the one-time Coventry cast-off has continued to show why he is regarded on both sides of Hadrian's defensive Wall as one of the best footballers never to have played for Scotland.

At least as a manager Hendrie has his playing self at his disposal. He has, in fact, the bulk of the Barnsley squad that very nearly completed a great escape from the Premiership drop zone in the second half of last season. The most notable loss is Neil Redfearn, signed by Charlton for pounds 1m, though Hendrie has found midfield replacements for the former Oakwell captain and for the departed Jovo Bosancic in Kevin Richardson and Robbie Van Der Laan.

"There's more money to spend if need be," Hendrie said, "but I don't see the point in going out and spending for the sake of it. I've brought in Kevin and Robbie and I want to see how things develop. I want time to assess the situation, with money saved to use for when I need it."

If the bookmakers are right, Hendrie needs to dip back into the Oakwell coffers before Saturday. Ladbrokes quote Barnsley at 14-1 for the First Division title, joint sixth favourites with Sheffield United and Wolves - behind Sunderland (3-1), Bolton (6-1), Crystal Palace (8-1), Ipswich (9-1) and Birmingham (10-1).

"Is that right ?" Hendrie said. "That suits me down to the ground. There's no doom and gloom here. I can assure you of that. There's still a great spirit about the place." Just as there was in Danny's days, the new man behind the Oakwell wheel might have added, as he drove through the back- streets of Barnsley.