Stephen Henderson would love future Fratton return

Stephen Henderson played 27 games for Pompey before being forced to leave the financially-stricken club for West Ham in March 2012   Picture: Dave Haines

Stephen Henderson played 27 games for Pompey before being forced to leave the financially-stricken club for West Ham in March 2012 Picture: Dave Haines

Trust chairman Ashley Brown. Picture: Joe Pepler

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It was a 27-game stay beset by financial problems that ended with Stephen Henderson forced out of the Fratton Park exit door.

But for the 27-year-old goalkeeper, his short-lived Pompey experience remains the happiest of his career to date.

I still care about the club and 100 per cent I would entertain a move back in the future

Former Pompey goalkeeper Stephen Henderson

And the Irishman, who became an instant fans’ favourite on the south coast, has admitted he would love to one day return to the club with which he has unfinished business.

For now, though, Henderson is just happy to be back playing regular football, as he fights a Championship relegation battle with Charlton.

But nearly four years on from his unwanted and ill-fated departure to West Ham, the Blues remain in both heart and mind.

‘To this day now, the happiest I have ever been in my football career was at Portsmouth – for that short time,’ said Henderson.

‘Funnily enough, I was out in London the other night in a restaurant and I ended up talking to four Pompey fans.

‘We had a good conversation and I was just saying to them it was honestly the best time I have had in my career.

‘And it was mainly because of the fans – they are out of this planet!

‘Every home game I used to be so excited going out to play at Fratton Park.

‘I still care about the club and 100 per cent I would entertain a move back in the future.

‘I would love to get back there one day, definitely – just to experience those home games on a Saturday afternoon.

‘The atmosphere was electric. and I am sure it still is.

‘I would love the chance to one day relive it, so let’s see what the future holds.

‘The one thing I have learned now is that happiness in football is the most important thing.

‘Since I left Portsmouth, things have been very stop-start.

‘I have found my way at Charlton after I got out of West Ham but Portsmouth will always be in my heart.

‘Despite what went on during my time at the club, I am grateful for the experience more than anything else.

‘I just hope they are on their way back up now.’

Arriving from Bristol City on a free transfer in the summer of 2011, Henderson had one task on his mind – to begin a bright new Pompey era under owners Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI) as the Blues’ goalkeeper.

With long-time servant Jamie Ashdown ahead of him in the pecking order, the former Yeovil loanee knew he would have to bide his time.

But such was the confidence in his own ability, Henderson’s belief it would not be a long wait soon came to fruition.

He said: ‘I was speaking to the goalie coach at the time, John Keeley, who told me I might have to bide my time a bit.

‘Jamie Ashdown was there at the time but thankfully I got in the team after five or six weeks and never really looked back.

‘Jamie was a decent keeper but I had faith in my own ability.

‘I knew eventually I would get in ahead of him because I felt I was a better keeper.

‘It was just about being mentally strong and taking my chance.’

And given his opportunity, Henderson made the most of it.

A string of impressive displays ensured he kept hold of the shirt throughout a managerial change as Steve Cotterill was replaced in the hot seat by Michael Appleton.

While all games were enjoyed in his brief south-coast spell, one in particular proved memorable for the Irishman.

‘I loved playing in all of the games but to be honest the south-coast derby at Fratton Park was more scary than anything!

‘It was very intense building up to it.

‘And it was one of those games where you just want to come out of it performing well – and still alive really!

‘The atmosphere against Southampton was unbelievable in that 1-1 draw.’

Sadly, though, events off the field spiralled out of control as Pompey were issued with a winding-up petition by HMRC for more than £1.6m in unpaid taxes in January 2012 after CSI entered adminstration.

A month later the Blues themselves were placed in administration for the second time in three years, incurring a 10-point penalty that ultimately consigned them to relegation.

It was a mark of the team spirit built under Appleton that the Blues continued to fight gamely on the field of play despite failing to be paid their wages on time.

‘Steve Cotterill was the manager but he left a couple of months into the season,’ said Henderson.

‘Michael Appleton came in and he was excellent but unfortunately the club obviously went through that turmoil.

‘When the stuff happened he just said it was out of his hands and we have just got to do what we have got to do.

‘Obviously lads weren’t getting paid and stuff but we were still winning games, so that just shows the team spirit we had.

‘I cringe abouth the “Wolfpack” tag now, though!

‘Myself, Jason Pearce and Wardy (Joel Ward) all became close and got on really well.

‘I still speak to Marco Futacs from time to time as well.

‘It was a good bunch of lads and such a shame what happened to the club.’

With players needed to be sold to save the club from liquidation, Henderson was forced out of the door to West Ham in March 2012.

He said: ‘I came in one day and basically was told I was being 
sold.

‘I had no say in the matter. It was either a case of throwing my toys out of the pram and seeing the club suffer more financially, or taking it on the chin.

‘West Ham are a massive club, don’t get me wrong, and it was an absolute honour to sign for them at the time.

‘But for my development it was not great because I was probably playing the best I have ever played to this day really.

‘I look back at the time and think only ifs, buts and maybes.

‘The Euro 2012 Championships were coming up that summer and one regret was I didn’t hold strong and say: “No, I am staying until the end of the season”.

‘The club had to do it because they needed the money – I think they got £600,000 at the time.

‘Trevor Birch was the adminstrator and he basically said to me: “Look Stephen, you’ve got to go mate”.

‘I ended up finding myself not playing again after working hard to get in the Pompey team – it was really hard to take.’

While Henderson found his Blues exit difficult to accept, he bore no grudge to the club.

In fact, while others demanded to be paid the money they were entitled to, the fans’ favourite was grateful to just pull on the jersey.

‘As soppy as it sounds, the fact I was playing in the Championship was enough for me,’ said Henderson.

‘I was so happy, everything was perfect.

‘I say perfect, obviously it wasn’t ideal not getting paid!

‘But to play for Portsmouth and be in the Championship as a 23-year-old helped to ease the pain of the other side of it.

‘I didn’t really take it home with me, I just got on with it. I never once complained.

‘To this day I haven’t gone looking for any of my money back.

‘I know a few people went looking but I wasn’t one of them.

‘I was just grateful for the opportunity and to this day I wish the club all the very best.’

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