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Published 07 May 2024 6 min read
England Men's Senior Team

Jordan Henderson: My grassroots story

Written by:

Jordan Henderson

The England midfielder takes us back to his days growing up and playing grassroots football in the north east


My dad always reminds me that the first time I ever played football I ran off the pitch crying after five minutes. I was five or six in this new team and I didn’t know what I was doing.

I came back on later and scored two or three goals. That was that then, I loved it.

I soon started playing for Fulwell Juniors, a really good boys' club in Sunderland who wore blue and black stripes like Inter Milan, and then my school team at Farringdon Community Academy.

But I’d been picked up for the School of Excellence at Sunderland aged six and around secondary school age they wanted me to just focus on that.

I kept playing for the school without Sunderland knowing until in Year ten or eleven when we got to a cup final at the Academy of Light, so I couldn’t play in it, even though I’d played all the games up until that point.

But playing professional football was all I ever wanted and I was willing to do anything to make it possible.

23 Mar 2023 7:48

My kit bag: Jordan Henderson

England's Jordan Henderson reveals the essentials in his kit bag for international trips

I can’t really explain where that drive comes from. It’s just the type of person I am – and my parents were a huge influence. My dad loved football and my mum was quite sporty as well.

Playing for the Sunderland academy also taught me so much. Kevin Ball was there as a coach and discipline was a massive thing for people like him. Around the age of 15, I came on a lot.

I always wanted to do things differently to try and give myself a bit of an advantage. It gave me confidence, knowing I was doing more than everyone else.

I was more prepared, I was physically better and that would give me an edge when competing in trials and matches. I would stay out training longer on my own. I would do more stuff in the gym. I would train on days off, which wasn’t normal back then.

When we had holidays in the summer or around Christmas, I would just get in the best shape possible for when I needed to go back.

When I was out playing football, it was all I ever thought about. Training and how to get better.
Jordan scores in the 2022 World Cup against Senegal
Jordan scores in the 2022 World Cup against Senegal

And then when I went home, it was still all I thought about. Making sure I was doing everything I could.

Drinking with my friends and going out at the weekend didn’t interest me. Other people couldn’t really believe I wasn’t into all that but it never felt like much of a sacrifice. It was normal.

I was just dedicated, focused and doing everything I could to reach the goal. I think those sacrifices might be harder for other people but the lucky thing for me was I was surrounded by such good family and friends.

I’m still the same now. It’s sort of an obsession because I’ve done it for that long. If someone from the outside looked at it they probably wouldn’t think it was normal.

I’m probably a lot more intense than other players but that is what works to keep myself in the best shape. It’s the way I am and it can be difficult for my wife and kids because it’s not really tailing off. I’m working more and more. That’s the only way to keep up with the young guys.

Not that it’s a chore. I’ve always loved it.

Henderson and Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate in conversation at St. George's Park
Henderson and Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate in conversation at St. George's Park

Growing up we spent every night in the park, playing headers and volleys out in the field.

And that was probably why I loved playing for the school team, that feeling of being in it with your mates.

I lived in the Silksworth area throughout my childhood until I had grown up a bit more and Sunderland sent me on loan to Coventry for six months.

Then I came back and played for a few years in the Sunderland first team before moving to Liverpool when I was just turning 21.

Everything I’ve achieved since – lifting the Premier League and Champions League trophies, captaining England and playing at major tournaments – is what you go through the graft for.

22 May 2015 1:01

Hendo's curling strike

A goal from the archive as Jordan Henderson scores a screamer against Azerbaijan in 2011

Those things are all I ever dreamed of as a kid but everybody else does as well and I’m very fortunate to have been able to achieve them. At the same time, I feel I did give everything I possibly could to the game to be in that position.

That would be my advice to kids wanting to make it. There are no guarantees you will become a professional footballer. Not everybody can achieve it.

But if you want it really badly then do everything in your power to make it happen. Make sure you have no regrets because then you can live with it however it turns out.

I meet people who believe they could have been a player if they’d just drunk a bit less or got themselves a bit fitter.

If you’re dedicated, you can’t do much more.