Stevenage record breaker Ronnie Henry: Captain, leader, legend

PUBLISHED: 15:21 16 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:17 17 January 2018

Ronnie Henry: Captain, leader, legend. Picture: Danny Loo

Ronnie Henry: Captain, leader, legend. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2017

It was cold on the Fylde Coast on Saturday as the unforgiving wind whipped in off Morecambe Bay.

Fraser Franks and Ronnie Henry after the match at Morecambe. Credit @laythy29Fraser Franks and Ronnie Henry after the match at Morecambe. Credit @laythy29

Despite the warm pre-match welcome off the pitch Stevenage were struggling against the Shrimps at the Globe Arena with injury time approaching.

One goal down on a rutted, bobbling pitch against a physical side with neither side yielding an inch during the competitive League Two match high on endeavour, if lacking somewhat on quality.

One player you would want for such a battle is Ronnie Henry.

A 34-year-old descendant of footballing royalty.

Ronnie Henry hooks the ball back across the box. Picture: Danny LooRonnie Henry hooks the ball back across the box. Picture: Danny Loo

A player with Tottenham Hotspur in his genes, for Henry is the grandson of 1960-61 Double-winning full-back Ron Henry who made 287 appearances for Spurs, also wining the 1962 FA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later.

But just like his famous forbear this third generation Henry is no prima-donna or big-time Charlie who may believe his sporting DNA allows him a smug self-entitlement on the pitch.

For he is made of sterner stuff. Especially in games such as Morecambe away on a bitterly cold midwinter’s afternoon where character as much as talent is tested.

His boss Darren Sarll makes one last throw of the dice and puts his big defender Fraser Franks up front. The team which contains quality in Northern Ireland U20 starlet Ben Kennedy – who has drawn scouts from Rangers and Celtic - and impressive non-league bargains Matty Godden and Danny Newton, abandon their attempts to play the ball on the ground in a desperate attempt to equalise.

Ronnie Henry. Picture: Danny LooRonnie Henry. Picture: Danny Loo

With seconds remaining the ball is played up to Franks, a former AFC Wimbledon defender. Belying his large frame the 27-year-old takes the ball on his chest and in one movement fires the ball on the volley past the experienced Shrimps keeper Barry Roche and into the net to make it 1-1.

Of course Henry is in the fray celebrating with joyous team-mates as the 70 loyal away fans leap around like demented salmon in the corner of the Globe where travelling supporter are stationed.

It is a moment which players and fans alike live for.

The delight and satisfaction of snatching a late equaliser makes the 469 mile round trip worth it.

Ronnie Henry leads the team out. Picture: Danny LooRonnie Henry leads the team out. Picture: Danny Loo

Despite being an experienced head, soon to be classed as a veteran, the utter elation Henry shows puts some of his younger team-mates in the shade.

For this is a man who lives for playing football.

Who lives for playing for Stevenage FC.

Amid the delirious maelstrom created by the late leveller someone pipes up, ‘not a bad way to mark Ronnie’s record either.’

Ronnie Henry away at Cambridge United. Picture: Danny LooRonnie Henry away at Cambridge United. Picture: Danny Loo

Ronnie’s record.

The defender marked 469 games for the unprepossessing North Herts club at Morecambe.

Yet to judge by his joy at his colleague’s thunderbolt, his 469 mark – the same number as the distance of miles he and his brothers in arms have travelled to put their bodies on the line in the cold Shrimpers mud – was the last thing on his mind.

Speaking to this correspondent afterwards he was more interested in hailing Franks goal.

Ronnie Henry. Picture: Danny LooRonnie Henry. Picture: Danny Loo

And engaging in a spot of gentle public ribbing, before no doubt enjoying a more earthy humour back in the private confines of the team bus on the long journey home.

When this modest ‘pro’s pro’ is coaxed to talk about himself rather than the team he is halting and tries to deflect attention with his characteristic modesty from the landmark he took from another Boro stalwart Mark Smith, before eventually admitting the day was emotional.

Yet he still wanted to thank others, saying, “It’s not just down to me. It’s down to all the managers I’ve had. There was a great little touch before the game when the lads presented me with a Stevenage shirt with [469] on the back. It was a great day.’

Of course he added in the same breath he was pleased to get the draw before, unprompted, going on to analyse the match as he is gently coaxed back into talking about his record.

“My debut was a long time ago now,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d get to this stage. I’m grateful.”

The good sport that he is, Henry concedes his grand total of four goals is not much to write home about, laughing about the club’s official Twitter feed posting one of his goals in black and white to indicate just how long ago it was.

But goals aren’t what Henry is about.

Loyalty. Commitment. A never-say-die attitude. Consistency, leadership and courage are what this credit to professional football is all about.

“It is a laugh I haven’t scored too many goals but I haven’t been up the other end of the pitch much. I’m more about hoping to keep clean sheets as a defender”, he explains.

“I feel like I’ve done my fair share over the years but I still feel I’ve got more to offer.

“I’ve had some fantastic games over the years. Lifting the FA Trophy at Wembley was a good achievement in such a great stadium.

“With having such a Spurs background the FA Cup games were great. The promotions we’ve had too.

“It’s been a tough road but an enjoyable one. I’ve had to be mentally strong to get through it. Not many people can say they’ve played that many games at one football club.”

Would his grandfather have been proud?

“I think so. He used to come and watch me and he used to enjoy it. He would be immensely proud of what I’ve done. But like I said I want a few more games.

“As long as my legs take me and I stay clear of injuries and stay fit I want to stay fit. There’s nothing better than being at the training ground playing football with the lads and enjoying myself.

“I’ve done my ‘B’ licence and I want to go into coaching but I want to play for as long as I can.

“It’s not worth thinking about the day I have to pack up.”

His boss Sarrl certainly wasn’t thinking about Henry giving up playing on Saturday.

Not when his team gained a point after a gruelling game with the prospect of an FA Cup replay to come against Jaap Stam’s Reading side in their third round replay at the Madjeski on Tuesday evening.

A proud Sarll said simply: “Ronnie Henry is a true Stevenage legend.”

With Henry looking to coach youngsters at the club when the sad day does come and he has to hang up his boots he is hoping the powers-that-be at Stevenage will look after him and give him the coaching role he craves.

The fact he will be able to share such an extensive knowledge of football is one reason to offer him the role in a second.

But there are many other reasons this inspiring man has to be offered a job when he does retire after serving Stevenage so well – 469 reasons to be precise.

Because one player you want on your side in the heat of battle is Henry.

Especially on cold midwinter days on the Flyde coast where character as much as talent is tested.

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