In between winning promotion to the Premier League and representing England at this summer’s European Under-21 Championship, Dean Henderson quietly returned to his roots. The goalkeeper went back to Whitehaven, where his increasingly rapid football journey started, in order to reconnect.

“It was my mum and dad’s 25th wedding anniversary, and I also went training with the goalkeeping coach, Ben Benson, who had me at Carlisle,” Henderson says. “He’s one of my closest mates now. We went down to [Whitehaven] Miners, got the nets out and did a session.

“It brought back loads of memories. My old man was watching and it was like back in the day, when I was 12 or 13. It was a good reality check, a way of staying grounded.”

The workout at the west Cumbrian amateur club whom Henderson represented was a short interlude in a story being played out on much bigger stages. The 22-year-old, on loan from Manchester United, starred for Sheffield United as they finished second in the Championship last season, and is in England’s squad for this month’s U21 tournament in Italy and San Marino which, for Aidy Boothroyd’s team, begins next Tuesday against France.

Before making the U21 grade, Henderson played for younger England age groups, while domestically he impressed in Leagues Two and One. Having now conquered the Championship, Gareth Southgate has publicly earmarked him for the senior international squad. “That’s what I’ve been working for my whole life,” Henderson says. “It’s no secret I want to play for Man United and England. I’ve just got to keep working hard, stay grounded, keep setting my goals, and there’s no reason it can’t happen.”

Henderson talks a lot about being grounded and so it was significant that, when he received the Championship’s Golden Glove award for most clean sheets in 2018/19, he wanted to share the moment. “It sort of came off the cuff, but when I saw my mum and dad in the crowd, and my dad was emotional, I pointed them out and made sure the stewards brought them down.”

Dougie and Yvonne Henderson descended the stand at Bramall Lane to join their son for a photograph on the pitch. “It was to say thank-you. They’ve been rocks for me, driving me up and down the country. I couldn’t do anything without them. They’ll be out in Italy supporting; my whole family’s coming over. It will be nice for them.”

Henderson is a confident individual but says there are still times when he has to remind himself how far he has come. These thoughts come to mind when he further revisits his youth: growing up in Whitehaven’s Hillcrest area, going to school at St Benedict’s, playing football anywhere there was grass.

“I remember never wanting to go to school – I just wanted to play footy with my brothers down the park,” he says. “Everyone wanted to beat each other at everything. My group of mates – Jacob Carton, Dominic Weir, Jake Moore, people like that – we were always neck and neck, whether it was football, cricket or rugby. I think that’s rubbed off, helped me to stay focused.

“When I go back now, I see other lads who were with me who’ve either fallen off or didn’t quite want it enough. I feel I’ve got that responsibility, and want to do the town proud.”

Henderson was not initially a goalkeeper. “My brother, Calum, is six years older and I’d play against lads his age – and the youngest would get bullied to go in net. I used to be brave, make saves, take it in the face. I didn’t like [being a keeper] at first, but that changed when I started doing some actual goalkeeper training.

“At Carlisle United, I got offered two [academy] contracts, one outfield and one goalkeeper. It was a tough decision but I was like, ‘Mum, listen, I just want to dive in the mud!’ They stuck by me, stuck with the decision, and I think it’s safe to say it paid off.”

Henderson developed quickly at Carlisle and was snapped up by Manchester United at 14. He progressed through the age levels before first-team football beckoned with loan moves. At first this was in the Conference North at Stockport – “still the hardest level I’ve played” – and then in League Two with Grimsby.

Until his horizons widened, Henderson’s ambition had been to play for Carlisle. He got an outing at Brunton Park on January 2, 2017, but for Grimsby, producing a fine display in a 3-1 away win. The chance to return as a Blues player then came the following summer. Henderson, though, is scornful of the circumstances.

“Keith Curle [United’s manager] rang me when I was in Mexico. He said, ‘Do you want to come? You can be number two’. Number two? Good one. I had offers in League One and said, ‘Listen, I ain’t coming there to play second fiddle’. I was quite surprised that he picked up the phone to say that, especially when I’d played for Grimsby at Carlisle and it was probably the best goalkeeping performance you’d had all season there. He [Curle] should have been happy to have me there. In my eyes it was their loss.”

Would a first-choice offer have tempted Henderson? “Yeah – I would have been back home, played a full season, and I believe I’d have been the difference between promotion and not. To get my boyhood club back up a league would have been a really proud moment. I’m sure he [Curle] regretted it soon after when I got in the team of the year with Shrewsbury in the league above.”

How had it felt that day with Grimsby? “The night before, I couldn’t sleep,” Henderson says. “I couldn’t wait to get out on Brunton Park. I’d always dreamed of playing on that pitch. I remember the grass being perfect when I was growing up and a ball boy. I got a decent reception, although when I was wasting time towards the end I kept turning round and seeing my mates in the crowd giving me abuse. All part of the fun.”

The following year Henderson helped Shrewsbury to the third-tier play-offs, and next impressed in the Championship, where he encountered another west Cumbrian goalkeeper. “It was brilliant playing against Scott Carson twice,” he says of Derby’s ex-England player, who is from Cleator Moor. “We’ve exchanged a few texts and he’s given me good advice. If I follow his pathway I’ll have done something right.”

Henderson, whose agent is the former Carlisle defender Sean McDaid, earned many plaudits for his goalkeeping for Chris Wilder’s team last season, and became a cult hero through his lively interaction with Blades supporters. He also had a couple of bad days, when errors cost Sheffield United against Leeds and Aston Villa. “It all comes down to mentality,” he says, when asked how he deals with such mishaps. “It gave me a kick up the backside. We kept something like eight clean sheets on the trot after that. You’ve just got to get back on the training pitch, clear your mind and back your ability. Just because you make a mistake doesn’t make you a bad goalie. If you don’t believe in yourself, no-one will.”

Henderson hopes this belief will now lead to top-flight experience. A decision on where he will play in 2019/20 will be discussed with Manchester United after the Euros. “I’ve been staying in Sheffield for the last week or so while I’m getting my house done in Manchester, and every time I drive past Bramall Lane I think to myself, ‘What actually happened last season?!’ As a kid growing up in Whitehaven, dreaming of playing in the Premier League, and to actually get promoted to that level…you have to take a step back and pinch yourself at times. When Gary Madine came to Sheff United last season, I was thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, I used to clean your boots’. Hopefully the journey can continue, because the sky’s the limit.”

Henderson has stayed the course so far at Old Trafford. “I think it comes down to dedication,” he says. “It’s the little things, like not wanting to go out partying and so on, realising the reward is much better than the sacrifice.

“I find that part easy. I watch videos a lot on YouTube, of big games I’ve played in, or big games I want to play in, like the Champions League final. It reminds you to make sure you’re doing everything right. You’ll only be remembered for what you do on the football pitch, not how much you can drink on a Saturday night.”

Henderson’s immediate aim is to be remembered for a notable summer for England. His rivals for the Under-21 goalkeeping position are Freddie Woodman and Angus Gunn, while Boothroyd’s squad (who also face Romania and Croatia) includes outfield stars like Phil Foden, Aaran Wan-Bissaka and James Maddison.

“It’s a really proud moment when you pull the shirt on and sing the national anthem,” Henderson says. “You get them goosebumps. You can’t take it for granted. England have been successful through every age group so it’s gonna be outstanding to go out there and try to win another trophy. We’ve got the capabilities, so we have to go out and play with no fear.”

The latter point seems to define Henderson, a Cumbrian enjoying his rise. “In the short time you have – maybe 20 years as a goalkeeper – you’ve got to make the most of it, because it doesn’t last forever. I want to enjoy every bit of it.”