THE family of a professional ballroom dancer who transformed the way football legends played have paid tribute to a ‘talented man’.
Great-grandfather-of-seven Lennie Heppell, who helped stars including World Cup winning skipper Bobby Moore and worked with managers including Kevin Keegan and David Pleat, died on Saturday, aged 89.
The well-known father-of-two, who was born in Colchester but moved up to Hexham, Northumberland, started off life down the pits at Acomb before meeting his beloved wife Molly at church in Hexham.
Newcastle United Fairs Cup winner Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, who married Lennie’s daughter Maureen, 59, said Lennie was very popular in the area.
The 63-year-old said: “Lennie was well known in his own right for his coaching. He first started with me in the football world.
“He coached both his sister Philomena and his daughter Maureen who both became champions in table tennis.
“I first met him at table tennis and he said he could improve my balance. I worked with Lennie and then I scored 30 goals and Newcastle won the Fairs Cup, which is virtually unheard of. He was very good at upper body movement and strength and it really helped me to get the right balance.”
Lennie and his wife Molly, 81, championed ballroom dancing, winning countless trophies.
They were also invited to dance on TV’s hugely popular pop show The Six Five Special. The couple opened the first nightclub in the North East called the Fandango.
Mr Heppell has been described as a genius across the boundaries of many sports, as he was an expert on balance and rhythm way ahead of his time.
But he was briefly shunned in the late 1960s by old-fashioned football managers who didn’t want a ‘ballet dancer’ involved with training.
His outstanding work with Pop alerted others, though, and Lennie’s reputation grew among those who were anxious to improve. In February 1974 Bobby Moore walked into a steak house and found Pop, Trevor Brooking and Lennie sitting a table.
In the following conversation Lennie told Mr Moore that when he ran he looked as though he was supported by a coat hanger – stiffly upright – which made his running harder and slower.
Fellow World Cup winner Alan Bell, Peter Shilton and Peter Beardsley, England managers Don Revie, Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson, Brian Clough and Kevin Keegan all also listened to the Hexham guru.
He also helped boxers including Frank Bruno and Wimbledon favourites Steffi Graf, Bjorn Borg and Jo Durie and the LTA employed Lennie for many a year and brought out a much-sought-after video called Heppell on Tennis.
And when Kevin Keegan first got the Newcastle job he had Lennie in three times a week to work with the players.
Bryan added: “Lennie saw very little payment for his coaching but he loved it and was very confident in his own ability. He used to go down the golf club to swing a few clubs, but really he would be looking for people to coach. When you talk about celebrating someone’s life, he just had a fantastic one.”
Lennie’s funeral will be held on Thursday at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Hexham at 10am.