Football’s Cautionary Tale: The Lee Hendrie Story

Tom Dunstan

Walking out at Wembley representing your country is a dream that we all shared growing up on the playground.

But, for some, that dream can quickly spiral into a nightmare. In the case of Lee Hendrie, his introduction on the international stage was a flittering moment in a career that was plagued with bankruptcy, suicide attempts and depression.

Despite his final Premier League appearance coming over a decade ago, Hendrie’s well publicised financial and mental decline has all but tarnished what was once expected to be one of England’s most exciting young lions.

In an era where nine figure price tags are being slapped on teenagers, Hendrie’s story can be used as a worrying reality on the trappings of having too much, too young.

“He was a fantastic athlete as well as a good footballer. And then there was the other side of him as well. He could play, he could create, he could score goals.”

John Gregory on Lee Hendrie

The Birmingham born midfielder’s playing days are most fondly remembered as the baby faced Aston Villa winger. After joining Villa’s youth ranks in 1993, Hendrie’s pace and trickery didn’t go unnoticed for long and the cocksure teenager had a growing list of admirers, including first team manager Brian Little and coach John Gregory. His performances earned him his first England U21’s call up at the age of 18, the stage looked set for England’s next star.

But, as became the norm throughout his career, a drama was never too far away. Making his Premier League arrival in 1995, Hendrie made an appearance as a substitute during a match against Queens Park Rangers, only to be sent off. The rollercoaster was underway.

Despite his rocky start to life among England’s elite, Hendrie quickly established himself as one of Villa’s key performer’s in a time that is widely considered to be the club’s golden era.

Topped off with an FA Cup final in 2000, Hendrie signed a new deal at Villa Park worth £24,000 per week and the glamorous lifestyle simply became too hard to resist. The self-confessed party man splurged £1.2million on 20 luxury cars and also invested in a £1.7million mansion in the Midlands. 

With the winger seemingly hitting the peak of his career, Hendrie was living every boy’s dream. He was playing for his boyhood club in front of 40,000 fans, he had 12 caps for England Under-21s and had been selected to play for the first team under Glenn Hoddle in 1998.

While Ferdinand and CO made the leap to international superstardom, Hendrie’s career continued to replicate an episode of ‘footballers wives’. In 2003, Hendrie was arrested for driving under the influence and he was handed a 12-month driving ban.

Topped off with the divorce of his wife HOURS after the wedding and picking up a string of injuries, his time with Villa was drawing to an end. A storm was coming.

His darkest days

“I couldn’t get a contract with a club. I had no money left, all the houses were going and everything just came tumbling down. I felt I had failed my family and I wanted out… to end it all.”

Following Hendrie’s permanent departure from Villa Park in 2007, His career tumbled into a state of decline. Hendrie’s off field reputation had now fully eclipsed the brief glimpses that he had showed during his 13-year spell at Villa. Following unsuccessful spells at Sheffield United, Blackpool and Derby, depression started to take its toll.

Unable to cope with being away from the limelight, Hendrie tragically turned to suicide in August 2010. After an attempted overdose on prescription medication, the former Premier League ace was found unconscious in a local car park, moments from death. Sadly, this would only be the first attempt on his life, he was only 32.

With a career in ruins and bills mounting up, Hendrie almost immediately tried to jump straight back into the one thing he knew, football. Following unsuccessful trials with Reading and Aberdeen, Hendrie and his 251 Premier League caps dropped down to League Two, where he signed for Bradford City and joined his former England U21’s manager, Peter Taylor. Despite seeking stability both on field and off the field, Lee was released by the Bantams after only making a handful of appearances.

Only a matter of months after his failed suicide attempt and following a season with Bandung in Indonesia, tragedy struck again. The former Premier League star who once boasted a property portfolio of 25 houses and apartments had lost his £10million fortune due to falling prices and negative equity.

In a matter of days, Hendrie had not only lost his millions but was actually £1million in debt. Lee’s own mansion in Rowington, Warks, bought for £1.7million in 2006, was repossessed. When his mum and other family members faced losing the homes he had so proudly bought for them, he attempted suicide for the second time in under a year.

Getting back on track

It’s about teaching them better life skills, how to interact with others, building their social skills, while all the time improving their confidence and self-esteem.

Lee Hendrie

Following a brief spell as a non-league journey man, signing for seven teams in a two season period. The winger announced his official retirement in 2013.

Only five years on from his second suicide attempt, Hendrie thankfully looks to be on the slow road to recovery. Now running his own football academy, the now 40-year-old is trying to use his own mistakes in order to help the next generation of stars.

The father of four has even begun his transition into punditry and was most recently seen this month playing alongside former international team-mates Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey, at this summers star sixes tournament in London.

As he will admit, his struggles may be far from over. But, despite a career that will always be remembered as a what could have been?

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