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Lee Hendrie: A Villa farewell


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Out By Easter gives us an absolutely splendid summary of L'iL Lee's Villa career

With Lee about to leave us for pastures new, I think it's only fair we look back on thirteen years where he gave us all the entertainment we could ever have asked for, some of it on the pitch!

It’s September 1994 and Villa are beating Inter Milan at Villa Park, its night and Big Ron’s wearing sunglasses. The callow youth behind him on the bench in those photo’s and clips is none other than YTS player Lee Hendrie, his face lit with excitement. Allowed onto the bench by the larger than life character with the perma-tan and the pearly teeth, Lee was there to learn. I suspect he spent more time watching Ron than the game.

It’s hard to believe that that young boy turned thirty a week or so ago, it’s sadly easier to believe that his thirteen-year Villa history will be ending in the next few days.

So how do you get from there to here?

The rise...

Lee made his debut for us in December of 1995 away at QPR. He came off the bench, as a sub and it was clear the young man had a talent. He was sent off late on however, despite an impassioned plea to the referee from the venerable Ray Wilkins, I say impassioned, obviously I mean as impassioned as you can get in Rays dull monotone. Anyway, an impression had been made and Lee became a fan favourite.

He made a couple of other nice cameo appearances that season, including the first time I saw him at Villa Park against Middlesbrough, but didn’t start another league game until the 1997-98 season.

In 1997-98, Hendrie was our Young Player of the Year, and he’d become the Lee Hendrie we’ve all become familiar with: a creative footballer who could see a pass, a player who liked to get into the little spaces between defences and midfields and with an eye for goal (albeit not matched by his finishing prowess.) He was a popular sight, the will-o-the-wisp youngster, with the curtains haircut, swaying and bobbing around defences, and he was making a name for himself.

He’d caught the eye of the England U21 coaching set-up, scored 5 times in 13 appearances for them, and he’d carried his form through to the 1998-99 season, playing 31 times for Villa, the most he ever managed in a season.

England had been knocked out of the World Cup in the summer of 1998, and had embarked on a search for the young talent on which to build a team for the future. It seemed only natural when Lee was called up.

He played 18 minutes for England on the 18th November 1998, replacing Paul Merson and doing very well against the Czech Republic. He looked a very lively substitute, and even managed to hit the post.

What a future he had in front of him, “our Lee”: Villa and England’s future.

Alas it was not to be, Glenn Hoddle was sacked very shortly afterwards, and Lee’s England career was snuffed out in its infancy. Glenn’s ill-advised comments on the disabled had done for both of their international futures, and no other England manager seemed to believe that Lee’s could be resurrected. Lee Hendrie: England midfielder would not find reincarnation.

But worse was to come, Lee had been gathering bad Karma.

And fall….

We should have seen it coming. Right from that start against QPR, Lee had always had an unerring ability to find trouble, or to have it find him.

His England U21 career had been cut short following an incident where he’d missed a curfew and been out drinking.

Stories had started to emerge from around Birmingham of Lee out and about on the town. Nothing serious, just that he didn’t seem to know when to stop, when to back down, when to leave it, when to say no. He was becoming as well known for what was happening in the Fox and Goose or Rosie’s or Broad Street as he was for what he was up to on the pitch, and it was hardening attitudes towards him.

It seemed to me that during the 90’s Lee had a black eye at least once or twice a season. On the pitch too his mouth would get him into trouble, the talent was still there though, and he could still change a game with a shimmy or a prodded through ball.

1999-2000 brought fatherhood, but the season was marred by injuries that cost him a starting place. Paul Merson, the player he had replaced for England had arrived at Villa Park and replaced him as Villa’s playmaker and in the hearts of Villa fans. Paul had his own troubles, but they seemed somehow to make him more human, where Lee’s seemed to take him further away from the man on the street.

He was back from injury and on the bench for the 2000 FA Cup Semi Final, being brought on by John Gregory late on to take a penalty in the shoot out. He was now no longer a youngster, this sort of responsibility meant that Lee was now amongst the senior players. He didn’t make the starting eleven for the final, but he if he could go into the summer and work hard, he had a chance to push on and develop.

In July of 2000, on his way to report for an Intertoto away trip, Lee crashed his Porsche into the central reservation of the M6. He was lucky to walk away with very minor injuries; he was probably lucky to be alive.

He still managed 6 goals in the 2000-2001 season, his best return in a Claret & Blue shirt.

From 2000-2002, Lee played reasonably well and reasonably often for Villa, without ever looking like a player who could dominate a game, he was worth his place in the squad, but he didn’t seem able to make the step up into being a star. He could drift out of games, or allow himself to be marginalised, the touch was still there, the quick feet remained, but he seemed to have lost a little direction, and when Graham Taylor arrived in 2002, it looked like Lee’s Villa adventure was coming to an end as Graham began the search for suitors for his errant midfielder.

If John Gregory was a manager who was the leader of the gang, Graham Taylor’s more avuncular style didn’t seem to bring the best out of him; Lee needed a more modern man to motivate him. As luck would have it, one was just about to arrive.

A Renaissance and the depths

Enter David O’Leary, and Lee; seeming to sense that he might be separated from his only club worked hard to gain his new managers confidence, producing his best season for a few years as Villa finished 6th.

In the first half of 2004-2005 Lee produced one the best spells of his Villa career, he’d scored his best goal in a Villa shirt with a 25 yard lob against Bolton at the end of the previous season, but nothing prepared us for his one man assault on the goal of the month competition in late 2004, he won it eventually with a cracker against Everton, but he could have had any of three or four contenders.

For a couple of months we had a flash of the player he could have been, he was “Thierry Hendrie” but he couldn’t keep it up, and that period couldn’t cover up the rift that had developed between Lee and the fans during the previous summer.

I had a seat on the half way line for the pre-season friendly at Bescot in August 2003, and I’ll give you my point of view.

Lee was having an okay game, nothing special. He seemed to be the butt of a couple of jokes coming from a section of the Villa support, nothing nasty, just banter.

He misplaced a pass, and it became a little louder and a few more joined in. The first cry of “blue nose” went up.

Next up a 40-60 challenge that Lee ducked out of. Lee’s ducked 50-50’s his entire career, not because he’s a coward but because it’s not what his games about, he’s not a great tackler, so he doesn’t try the things he can’t do. Especially not in a meaningless pre-season friendly at Walsall.

For the next 10 minutes, he suffered the worst kind of abuse; his own fans called him just about every name under the sun and some besides. In an effort to prove his bottle, he went in late on a Walsall player, and they gave him more stick for it.

Once again the Lee Hendrie trait of never knowing when enough is enough, knowing when to walk away overcame him, and he launched the ball into the fans, before grabbing his genitals and gesturing at them.

It briefly looked like it might escalate, but he was pulled away and substituted, he was visibly shaken up as he left the field.

I remember a Walsall fan shouting across to me “How come they hate him so much?”

The break had been made though, and from then on Lee’s days at Villa were always numbered, you sensed that the joy had gone out of it for him, and for us too.

His personal life continued to cause problems; he was no longer just living life at 90 miles an hour he was driving that way too, a driving ban followed. Banned from the roads, he did manage to allegedly steer a golf cart into a lake during a quiet day off.

The following summer brought even more grief, his marriage came to a painful end, and he was rumoured to have been involved with Amy Bruce, who I can only assume is significantly better looking than her father.

He barely played the next season, then, at the beginning of the season just gone, the manager Lee had been waiting his whole career for arrived, but too late to save him.

Fade out…

I thought Lee and Martin O’Neill would be a match made in heaven, but it didn’t take Martin long to identify the source of trouble in his squad, after a final appearance at the Emirates on the opening day, Lee was pushed out on loan to Stoke.

The Maradona of the Potteries wowed Stoke fans, without ever threatening to make a Villa return, but his love for the club could still be seen in his appearance in the crowd at the league cup game against Leicester. Typically, the police had to step in and tell him to calm down on that occasion.

In truth, he wasn’t missed in the Villa squad, and with the hoped for additions this summer, his time had passed. The golden boy had grown up and we’d discovered he was just orange after all.

I’ll miss his neat skills, but not his annual “I’ve grown up” speeches, and I’ll miss his enthusiasm, but not his big mouth. Writing this has made me realise just how much of what’s gone on at Villa over the last thirteen years has centred on Lee and the things that happen in his life. Our future will not be that way.

The last time I ever saw Lee Hendrie in a Villa shirt, he was taking a last second penalty for the reserves. It was saved, and he missed the rebound too, and that’s Lee, always in the centre of the action, but never quite taking his chance.

He’s become a story that Gordon Cowans tells Villa’s young kids; a cautionary tale, the bogeyman. Yet he’s played thirteen years at the top level (or at least with us!) and he’s never been anything but entertaining.

From curtains to the tanning salon, from boy to man, from fan favourite to gobby misfit, Lee Hendrie will light up the Championship for someone next year, I have no doubt about it. He’ll also be in trouble, there’ll be no-one to blame but himself, and it won’t bother him a jot.

Goodbye Lee and good luck.

I hope you had the time of your life.

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A nice enough article there OBE, I enjoyed that.

Personally I think Hendrie is an annoying little rat who should have left us years ago, but your article is a much nicer, more level-headed summary than mine :D

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Lee Hendrie- had he been playing 15 years earlier in the era when football players were always out on the lash, the bloke would be a legend.

yes his done some stupid things, and when his career ends he will look back at them and wished they hadnt happened.

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one of the best articles i have read on villatalk. The kid was as good as lampard and gerrard at 21. He never utilised his talent. When he is 50 he will look back and think what could have been. still tho, legend.

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one of the best articles i have read on villatalk. The kid was as good as lampard and gerrard at 21. He never utilised his talent. When he is 50 he will look back and think what could have been. still tho, legend.

No he wasn't

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one of the best articles i have read on villatalk. The kid was as good as lampard and gerrard at 21. He never utilised his talent. When he is 50 he will look back and think what could have been. still tho, legend.

No he wasn't

I'd say he was better than Lampard, not as good as Gerrard, at 21. Lampard at 21 couldn't do what Lee good. Its sad that he's leaving, but not sad that he has to go. I dunno if that reads very well but I know what I mean in my head. Goodbye Lee, my deep love of Villa is built on a foundation of memories and you are a big part of those.

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I remember around about 1997, everyone was talking about the 4 English midfielders who would go on to be the next generation of stars. Two were Scholes and Lampard. The other two were Jody Morris and Lee Hendrie. If YTS lads need to learn anything from Sid and Co, its that talent alone only gets you half way in modern football. 10, maybe 20 years ago he would have got away with it. Not anymore.

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good article but the fact remains he blew it, he knows itt and the fact he will end up at Coventry or Leicester because he can not go outside the midlands just sums him up

he should have been one of the best

in the end he was a total waster

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Brilliant article, sums it up precisely. I too will fondly remember his enthuiasm and wonder goals. Sadly not consistent enough with rumoured poor off field behaviour. Shame. I'll wish him luck but yes, he had it but blew it really

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Great article.

I've always liked Lee, he's always had a bit of the tragic hero about him. Threatened to be so good so often, but ended up being consistently reasonable.

Better for Villa that he's nowhere near the club, but a Villa fan no doubt, and I wish him the best of luck.

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Always a case of what could have been, was a better prospect than Lampard at under 21 level IMO. Good luck to him for the rest of his career. One last comment I know he definitely is a Villa fan and not a nose.

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Always a favourite of mine, it's somewhat sad to see Lee move on - but not as sad as what could have been.

An excellent article - the best I've seen on the Orange one. Thanks.

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