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Published 02 June 2024 4 min read
England Men's Senior Team

Dean Henderson: My grassroots story

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Dean Henderson

The Crystal Palace stopper explains how he first became a goalkeeper

Read Kobbie Mainoo's Grassroots Story

If I go back to the very start, I had two older brothers who were constantly playing football at home.

One is six years older than me and the other is a year older and even though I always wanted to be involved, I was often kept away because I was too small so I couldn’t really play as much as I’d like at the start. From about the age of two or three, I was desperate to get involved and go down to the park and play with them so I think that’s where it comes from.

By the time I was allowed to play with them, I was the youngest player so I got forced into going in goal and there was bigger lads nailing the ball at me every day. To be fair though, I loved it, so I owe a lot to my brothers for allowing me to get involved back then really.

That must have helped me develop quickly too, getting those harder shots at you from a young age, and a lot of them went in, but over the years I started getting better and better at dealing with it.

The strange thing is, I’ve always played with players above my age since then, even when I first went to Carlisle United’s centre of excellence, I was playing two years above my age most weeks.

Dean Henderson celebrates winning a trophy for Whitehaven Miners
Dean Henderson celebrates winning a trophy for Whitehaven Miners

I grew up in Whitehaven, in Cumbria, and you could say that, luckily, there wasn’t much going on outside of hobbies for the youngsters. And because I had football, I just got obsessed with it and getting better at it and seeing improvements. I still remember trying to improve on crosses and getting my mum and dad to throw balls for me on the cul-de-sac at home and I think I was obsessed with it in a way. I started playing for a club called Whitehaven Miners where I was actually an outfield player. At the time, I didn’t want to be a goalkeeper as I thought I was a striker scoring the goals!

I was even an outfield player when I went to Carlisle right up until I was about 11, but despite that, when I came home I’d still go in nets when playing with my brothers because I was the youngest lad so I had to do it. So I’d class myself as a decent outfield player and I can remember we had a game down at Blackpool when the goalie had to pull out sick so I said I’d go in goal and I actually did well, I think I saved two penalties. And then at training, I’d go with the goalies on a Tuesday and the outfield players on a Thursday and they actually offered me a contract as either an outfield player or in goal.

Dean Henderson comes on for his England debut against Republic of Ireland in November 2020
Dean Henderson comes on for his England debut against Republic of Ireland in November 2020

But it got to the stage where I just loved diving in the mud and doing it, so I took a leap of faith and went with being a goalkeeper. I still remember making mistake after mistake some weeks, but the way I looked at it was that the only way you learn from it is to keep putting yourself in those scenarios. A lot of kids get upset when they make mistakes, but I’d always concentrate on the saves that I’d made, so if I’d made three mistakes and made four saves, I’d look at those positives rather than the negatives and I think that’s what made me enjoy it. I always used to say to myself, if I’ve made that mistake, I won’t let it happen again. And if you’ve made them all, you can cut them out and the best time to do it is when you’re young.

At that time, the only club I wanted to play for was Carlisle because that was the only club around me and I thought it was impossible to get picked up by any other clubs and I had this dream of playing in goal for Carlisle. So when they offered me a six-year contract, I thought that was a no-brainer and at that time it was still all fun. I knew things were starting to get more serious when I was invited down to train on the pitch before a first-team game with Dave Timmins when I was about eleven and a half.

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Inside training with the goalkeepers

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I was always had a confidence about me from a young age, I would get to train with the first-team goalies when I was 12, so I’d get the train from Whitehaven up to Carlisle on my own and go on the pitch and take it in my stride. I still remember that stood me in good stead for when I went out with my own age group on a Sunday morning.

That resilience has been a big part of my development to where I am today.