A PROUD upbringing in West Cumbria, a geographically-isolated part of England constantly fighting to be heard, has left an indelible mark upon the soul of Dean Henderson.
A tough, uncompromising region long associated with iron, coal, seafaring and rugby league, its inhabitants are renowned for being industrious, persistent, grounded and independent of thought.
Listen to Sheffield United’s Whitehaven-born loan goalkeeper and it is clear that he certainly counts himself upon that number.
Those aforementioned characteristics have helped fellow famed West Cumbrian goalkeepers John Burridge, and Scott Carson – who hails from the ‘next town up’ from Henderson in Cleator Moor – prove their sporting worth.
Those same roots are nurturing Henderson’s own desire to reach the pinnacle of his profession one day, which for him means being the No 1 at parent club Manchester United. It is not idle, brazen talk either.
Henderson told The Yorkshire Post: “I always think about where I am from, where we had nothing and everything was just work. People are still ‘into’ shoes (fashions), which came out years ago everywhere else.
“I now am in Manchester and these shoes come out and they do not hit Whitehaven for another year and a half. I think, ‘I had those shoes last year’.
“I remember being a kid and had the same pair of shoes for a full year and just used them for everything. It is a place where there is not a lot going on and it helped me in the sense that I just practised all of the time.
“But because there is not a lot going on as well you want to go and achieve something and make a name for yourself and there is not many people who do that.”
Refreshingly conscious of the fact that reputations have to be earned and are plainly not given, Henderson has happily dived in and got his hands dirty on loan at Stockport County, Grimsby Town and Shrewsbury Town – just as the 21-year-old is now doing on a season-long loan at Bramall Lane.
All the under-23s football is a myth. People just ‘fancy-pants’ around the pitch and think they are this, that and the other, getting good money and do not know what hits them when they come out on loan.Dean Henderson
While other development players at Old Trafford may be happy to luxuriate in their position as United players and enjoy those trappings amid the safe confines of Under-23 football that is not for Henderson.
It is a subject upon which he has strident views.
“It frustrates the life out of me,” observed Henderson.
“I talk to some of the young lads at United and say, ‘What are you doing wasting your life? Get yourself out on loan. Prove yourself’. They think, ‘Oh no, I am going to play for Man United’.
“I say, ‘Well go and prove yourself, mate, because you are not’. I try to help the lads and say go out and see what it is all about. Start at the bottom and build yourself up.
“There is a lot of ability in those changing rooms, but also a lot of people happy to sit in their comfort zones and not go out and prove themselves and show what they are about.
“I stick to the fact that 80 per cent (in football) is mentality. If you are at Man United as a young lad you all have ability, it is there to see. Then it is about your mentality and how much you really want it. How much are you going to sit there and say you are good rather than going out there and proving it?
“I came back from Grimsby and sat on the first-team bench a few times and travelled with the first team all the time. It is good for so long, but then it is like, ‘what I am doing here?’
“It was like I was a ballboy for the first team and it was getting to the stage where I thought I was too good to be standing around collecting balls and watching them play. I want to be involved and showing them what I can do.
“Obviously it is my dream to play for that football club and I think you have just to back yourself and your ability and play as many games as you can.”
Henderson may have signed a new two-year deal in the summer, but it was done with a clear purpose and clarity – to aid further in his development in his quest to one day don the gloves in front of thousands of Stretford Enders.
The current stage of his evolution will be played out in Yorkshire and the Cumbrian could not be happier – with ‘men’s football’ and participating in ‘live’ occasions in front of crowds approaching 30,000 like today being poles apart from the comfort of development football.
Henderson, hoping to do his bit to help the Blades to a fourth successive league win today, said: “For me, I would not have signed my Man United contract if I did not agree to a two-year loan as I was not having anyone stopping my development.
“Ideally I would want to go back there and be No 1, but if that is not the case then I certainly want to be out on loan, if not permanent somewhere.
“All the Under-23s football is a myth. People just ‘fancy-pants’ around the pitch and think they are this, that and the other, getting good money and do not know what hits them when they come out on loan. Every time those people come out on loan, they never bloody play.”
Henderson’s refusal to rest easy is something that is likely to have chimed with Blades manager Chris Wilder this summer when he made his pitch to sign one of the leading young goalkeepers in the country.
A canny operator in the transfer market, Wilder will have been mindful of signing not just a top-quality recruit, but another highly-motivated character to add to an already mentally strong group in the shape of Henderson.
Early days, it may be, but it seems the perfect fit all around.
Henderson added: “Everyone is really humble here and the manager is outstanding. His passion is phenomenal. It just showed in his celebration in the last minute against Norwich the other day.
“We have a platform where you have got to stay grounded and work really hard, which is fantastic. We have no big-time fairies and are all pulling in the same direction and wanting to do well for each other.”