Albion’s right back when I first started watching them in the late 1960s was someone who would go on to make much more of a mark as a coach.
Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Adam Lallana were among the players developed by Stewart Henderson. Wayne Bridge and Chris Baird, too.
That was all to come for Stewart when I first saw him wearing the number 2 shirt in Freddie Goodwin’s Division 3 side.
Henderson, who shares the same June birthday as me, albeit he was born 11 years earlier, was diminutive, to coin a well worn phrase for not very tall. Hailing from Bridge of Allan in Scotland, his stature didn’t stop him earning Scottish schoolboy international honours and in 1964 he came to England at the age of 17 to join Chelsea.
Tommy Docherty was their manager at that time and he obviously wasn’t convinced Henderson was good enough for the First Division, so he dropped down to the Third with Brighton where, for a couple of seasons, he had the unenviable task of trying to oust captain and Northern Irish international Jimmy Magill from the right back slot.
It wasn’t until March 1968, though, that he eventually cemented his place in the side. But when he did, he became a near-permanent fixture for the next four years.
In the 1969-70 campaign, he missed only one game and the supporters chose him as player of the season. He played 36 league games in Pat Saward’s first season in charge and in the 1971-72 promotion campaign was a regular in the line-up right through until the famous televised Aston Villa home game in March 1972 when Saward made two shock changes and left out both Henderson and captain John Napier for the top of the table clash.
It was the beginning of the end for Henderson and he cuts a rather-forlorn looking figure in a picture of the newly-promoted team captured in the Goldstone dressing room after gaining the necessary point against Rochdale, standing fully-clothed alongside his team mates in their kit, taking a sip of champagne.
Saward made him available for transfer at the end of the season and although he stayed with the club, he played only two more league games, and a league cup game, in the following season before being transferred to Reading in June 1973.
Henderson had chalked up 198 league games and 14 cup games during his time with Brighton but the move to Berkshire was by no means a petering out of his career.
I am grateful to the website of the Reading FC Former Players Association (readingformerplayers.co.uk) to discover how, although manager Charlie Hurley signed Stewart initially as a full-back, in 1975 he pushed him into a midfield role with immediate success: Stewart scored twice in the first 17 minutes at Bradford City.
He went on to be an influential member of Reading’s 1976 Fourth Division promotion winning side. In May 1977, he was made club coach and worked closely with manager Maurice Evans helping the club win the 1978/79 Fourth Division Championship.
Amazingly Stewart was recalled to the playing squad at the beginning of the 1979/80 season, at the age of 32, and continued playing intermittently until May 1983 when he played the last of his 186 games for the Royals and became Reading’s first Centre of Excellence director.
Coaching became his new direction and he was at manager Ian Branfoot’s side when Reading beat Luton at Wembley to win the Simod Cup in 1988 (a game incidentally in which former Albion winger Neil Smillie was one of the goalscorers for the Royals and Steve Foster and Danny Wilson were playing for Luton).
Henderson left Elm Park in 1989 to take up the role of youth development officer at Southampton, where his work began helping to produce some of the finest footballing talent in the country.
He was to spend over 20 years at Southampton in various roles working with the youth and academy teams, the reserve side and even had a short spell as first team manager.
It’s worth quoting an article from the Mirror in October 2012, when Matt Law reckoned Southampton owed a £55million debt of gratitude to Malcolm Elias, Steve Wigley, Huw Jennings and Stewart Henderson who spotted and coached the incredible Southampton Fame Academy, which through transfer fees effectively saved the club from extinction.
Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wayne Bridge, Kenwyne Jones, Adam Lallana, James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw were all named as coming under the influence of the quartet who, after being released by Southampton moved on together to Fulham.