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Lee Hendrie Interview


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There was also a Hendrie interview in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago:

Lee Hendrie back on the right road after careering along skid row

Midfielder has twice tried to take his own life, has since been declared bankrupt but is now happily turning out for Tamworth in the Conference Premier League

It is Wednesday afternoon, the day after Lee Hendrie was applauded off the pitch by the 61 Tamworth supporters who travelled to Forest Green Rovers to watch him start his first match for the Conference Premier club. Tamworth won 2-1 and it was a little surprising at the final whistle to see how much the three points meant to someone who made 251 appearances for Aston Villa and represented England. "That's just me and my love for the game," Hendrie says, smiling.

In front of 1,022 spectators, on a dank evening in Gloucestershire, there was the odd glimpse of class that provided a reminder of the days when Hendrie was one of English football's brightest talents. His mind often drifts back to that time, when he was living the dream: playing for the club he joined as a schoolboy, earning £35,000 a week and mulling over whether to drive the Ferrari or the Porsche into training. The reason he thinks about it so much now is because everything has gone.

In January, a little more than 12 months after he played his last game in professional football, for Bradford against Cheltenham, Hendrie was declared bankrupt. Finwood Lawn, his £1.6m home in Warwickshire, was repossessed as well as the property he bought for his mum. Hendrie felt humiliated. By that point, though, he had already reached rock bottom. In August 2010, he tried to take his own life. The following July he overdosed for a second time and ended up on a life-support machine.

Hendrie, now 35, shakes his head. "That was the money, the football ... it ended up getting too much, where I thought to myself: 'I can't carry on here.' It was horrible," he says. "I didn't think of the kids. I didn't think of anyone. It was my easy way out of getting away from it all, letting everyone get on with their life and not dragging them down. But I would have hurt a lot of people by doing that. My kids alone would have been mortified, especially having two young boys.

"My girls are still young as well. But when you get to that point, you don't think of anything like that. All you're thinking is: 'It's time to get out. It feels like I've had that many demons for that long and they've done their job.' It wasn't even like it was a cry for help. It was full-on. But I'm not someone who wants sorrow or pity."

Hendrie repeats those words time and again. As someone who enjoyed the high life off the pitch and was a pantomime villain on it, he knows there will be people who feel little sympathy for him anyway, especially in relation to his financial plight, yet the truth is that it is hard not to warm to Hendrie after spending an afternoon in his company. Refreshingly for a footballer, he answers every question head on. He is polite and cannot apologise enough for moving the interview back because he was tired after spending the early hours at his sick granddad's bedside. The morning after we meet, he asks if it would be possible to mention Harold Bennett, who passed away that night.

Hendrie, it seems, is going through one of those periods where there is no light at the end of the tunnel. His financial situation has hit him particularly hard because of the impact it has had on his family. The natural response is to wonder how someone who earned so much can lose it all in such a short space of time, although there are plenty of footballers that have ended up on the same slippery slope as Hendrie.

During his heyday at Villa, Hendrie was flash with his cash and spent a fortune on cars, including £160,000 on a Ferrari 360 Spider that "was not even nice to drive", but he also invested a large chunk of his money into building up a property portfolio that should have secured his future. That was the theory but Hendrie, as he discovered when the economy collapsed, "everything fell on its arse".

"I put trust into people," Hendrie says. "I'm not going to say I know the ins and outs of stocks, shares and property — that's not me — but I paid someone to do that. I had a rundown every six months with where I was at and thought I was safe. One day someone rang about the property company going bankrupt. We had a meeting and I was told it was fine. About three months after, we were trying to sort the divorce settlement and the solicitor said: 'You know you're in a bad mess with money?' I said: 'I can't be'. He said: 'I suggest you go and look for other advice.' The alarm bells were ringing."

Hendrie has been called many things in his time but the bankrupt tag hurts him most. "That headline was worse than anything. Even to this day, I will go places and be embarrassed that someone will say something about that. I played in an [Aston Villa] Old Stars game at Stourbridge and someone whacked me. It was a charity game and there was loads of people there. It went silent and someone shouted: 'Do you wanna borrow £20? You're skint.' Gordon Cowans turned around and said: 'Shut up or we'll all walk off.' All those people, the Old Stars, they helped me so much. It was unbelievable. But I don't ever want people to feel sorry for me. The only people I feel sorry for is my family."

In terms of his financial position now, Hendrie says that he is starting to get back on his feet. The Audi Q7 he drives is a sign that he is not exactly on the breadline, although it is clear he needs a long-term plan. Coaching is a possibility and other avenues are opening up. "I've had people approach me, saying will I work for them, going into clubs, giving advice to youngsters. Footballers get sidetracked and the guy said, coming from myself, who has been through it all, it might have an impact."

Although football has been a struggle for the last five years, Hendrie points out, with some justification, that people often forget he was with Villa until he was 30. He won an England cap in 1998, at the age of 21, when he was picked ahead of Frank Lampard. Glenn Hoddle, England's manager at the time, described Hendrie's debut as "absolutely magnificent" and Robbie Fowler scribbled "the first of many" across the shirt he wore against the Czech Republic. Hoddle was sacked before the next England game and Hendrie "never got a sniff again". As for the England shirt, it was stolen when his house was broken into last year.

He feels a little frustrated that he is still thought of as a "bad boy" by some people and believes his reputation was blown out of proportion. There is, though, not a moment's hesitation when it is put to him that he hardly helped himself at times. "Totally," says Hendrie. "Fame and fortune — those things come too easy. I would do a hell of a lot of things completely different now. I probably wouldn't have gone out as much, I probably wouldn't have bought flash cars. I was a young kid, nice house, women flocking around you, so it was hard not to do all that."

It will all feel a world away when Hendrie runs out at Hyde on Saturday . He puffs out his cheeks as he thinks about the future. "There are still days when I hit rock bottom and think: 'Is it going to change?' It's about taking little steps at the moment, where I've got something to get my teeth into."

Tamworth has been brilliant in that sense. But I don't think the dark days are behind me because there are times where I will sit at home and think about everything — the football, the money. But I'm determined to get back on the right road. It might take two or three years, but I'll get there."


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