Big Interview: Willie Henderson
READ a Big Interview with Gers legend Willie Henderson.
On RangersTV supporters can watch in-depth one-to-ones with a lot of the club’s greatest stars as they discuss their football careers and years at Ibrox.
One of the most popular players ever to pull on a blue jersey, Willie Henderson joined Rangers at the age of 15 and by 18, such was his talent, he was al ready capped by Scotland at senior level.
The quick and tricky wingers rapid rise to prominence hastened the departure of Alex Scott to Everton and from there he enjoyed great success, playing alongside attacking stars of the time such as Davie Wilson, Jimmy Millar and Ralph Brand.
Henderson was a key player in Rangers famous Treble-winning campaign of 1963/64 and he would end his Ibrox career in July 1972 having made 426 appearances and scored 62 goals.
A move to Sheffield Wednesday followed and from there he enjoyed spells in the United States and Hong Kong before returning to Scotland to finish his playing days at Airdrie in 1979.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW ON RANGERSTV HERE
Name: Willie Henderson
POB: Baillieston, Scotland
League Championship – 1962/63, 1963/64
Scottish Cup – 1961/62, 1962/63, 1963/64, 1965/66
League Cup – 1963/64, 1970/71
Rangers, Durban United, Sheffield Wednesday, Miami Toros, Hong Kong Rangers, Brisbane Lions, Airdrieonians
29 International Goals: 5
Willie, you were a winger in the true sense of the word, how did it come to be that this was your position?
WH: “First of all when I was at school I wasn’t a big guy and I was put out on the wing where it was easier for players with my height to play.
“It all started there and when I was growing up and practising and training players like Garrincha and Stanley Matthews were on television. Garrincha obviously for the Brazilians and Stanley Matthews was becoming world famous as well.
“I remember watching Stanley Matthews in the 1953 FA Cup final when he won his only FA Cup medal.
“He had a fantastic game for Blackpool and, of course, he was wearing the same number seven as myself. So a lot of my stuff came from watching Matthews and Garrincha.
“I have an opinion that Garrincha is the greatest player to wear a number seven jersey as a winger I have ever seen.”
When did it click for you that you were going to be good enough to make it as a professional footballer?
WH: “I think my name started appearing in the papers when I was 10-years-old and I was really excited. I played in the Airdrie Schools Cup which was the most famous tournament of its era.
“So at that time, once your name starts appearing in the papers, I was a cocky wee guy and I was very confident so I just went along with it.
“As long as everything went alright in terms of injuries and all that I think, certainly at 14 when I started playing for the Scottish Schoolboys, I always saw myself as a professional footballer.”
Were there ever any worries about your height? At 5’ 4” in today’s game that could hold you back.
WH: “No it wasn’t a problem and I don’t think it would be a problem in today’s game either. I think there was enough ability and enough strength there, put together with all the training, so I don’t think there are any problems with height.
“I also had natural pace but that was brought on a lot by a lot of hard work, nothing comes without hard work.
“It’s alright having talent but talent won’t come through unless the hard work is added to it, in any sport you are in. Nothing comes to you.
“My father worked me from a very young age. I was practising with a slipper on one foot and a boot on the other so I would be able to kick with both feet.
“I think there are a lot of situations today where some players just don’t practise enough to be two-footed. I was doing that when I was 8-years-old.
“Later on it really did help me because there was a time when I played on the left wing for Scotland as well and I’m quite sure if I hadn’t put in the hard work with my father I don’t think I would have done that.”
How many hours did you have to put in as a youngster to hone your skills?
WH: “When I was very young with my father I was playing for four of five hours a day.
“But when I signed for Rangers the norm in football at that time was that you trained for two-and-a-half hours every day which, looking back, may not have been enough.
“I think there must have been times when afternoon sessions would have been helpful but it just wasn’t the way then.”
You got your big move to Rangers when you were 15, how did that come about?
WH: “I had been playing for Scottish Schoolboys and we had won the British Championship. We had a great team and all of a sudden the scouts were appearing at the door, many, many scouts.
“It was really exciting and my father listened to them all but he was just waiting for the door to be chapped by the Rangers!
“Actually, the door never got chapped by Rangers, and this is quite strange. The chief scout then was Jimmy Smith and what a lot of people don’t know is that the guy who arranged the interview with Scot Symon was Archie Law who was a Bathgate bookmaker.
“He was very friendly with Scot Symon and he came to see me one day and the manager wanted to meet me. That is how it came about.
“Just before that Manchester United offered me £5,000 to join them and that was in 1959. My father was getting £16 a week working down the pit so it was going to be a big decision in our lives.”
The rumour was that there were 45 teams in for you at that time, is that true?
WH: “Yes there were, all the main teams in Britain were in for me, including Aston Villa, Tottenham, Liverpool.
“It was a huge compliment that someone like Matt Busby sent someone up from Manchester United, in fact it was his brother-in-law.
“Sometimes I wonder how it would have gone if I had signed for Manchester United but my father refused it.
“I can remember Everton came to see us, a guy called Arthur Dixon, and my father said to him that it was going to be a huge decision in our lives and we wanted time to think it over.
“After Arthur Dixon went away my father said to me ‘go and get your school bag’ so I went and got it.
“He then said ‘right get that atlas map out’ and for the next four hours we tried to find Everton on the map!”
How exciting was it to walk through the Main Stand doors at Ibrox to sign on the dotted line?
WH: “It’s really difficult to explain to somebody, when you are only 15 and your dad is a hard-working miner.
“We walked through the big brown doors and it was pretty intimidating. But my dad was a very proud man.”
What were your initial thoughts on the manager, Scot Symon?
WH: “My initial thoughts were that he was a gentleman and also very authoritarian sitting behind the desk with his Saville Row grey suit and the Bahama tan on his face.
“It didn’t take me long to sign for him and two years later I made my debut in a 2-1 win over Clyde.
“I remember everything from that day, I think there were 45,000 fans in the ground and there were a huge amount of nerves, absolutely, and they never left me.”
You played in Russia at just 17 and scored the winner against Dinamo Tbilisi in a friendly. How much did you enjoy that experience?
WH: “It’s hard to believe that one minute you are a wee guy in the village of Caldercruix and the next minute you are standing in Lenin Square in Moscow.
“It wasn’t my first time abroad but it was my first trip abroad with Rangers and it was a huge trip because we played three games and we were the first British team to come back from Russia undefeated. It was very good.”
You scored 62 goals for Rangers, did you prefer hitting the net or setting up your team-mates?
WH: “I liked scoring goals, I got 62 for Rangers and some were from the top drawer.
“In that era wingers weren’t expected to score, they were looked upon as the players who would set up the centre forwards and the people in the penalty box.
“But arguably one of my greatest goals came against Celtic in the Scottish Cup quarter finals at Ibrox. I picked the ball up just inside my own half and I went on a mazy run, beat three Celtic players, went around the referee and hit a shot with my left foot which went into the back of the net. That was a great goal.”
You won your first trophy after helping Rangers beat St Mirren 2-0 in the Scottish Cup Final of 1962. Do you remember much about that?
WH: “I came up against John ‘Cockles’ Wilson who was St Mirren’s left back and he was well known as a hard player but I had a good game that day.
“It’s like something out of a dream, here I was an 18-year-old boy winning the Scottish Cup in front of over 127,000 fans. It was massive and I’ve still got the medal.”
It was you and Davie Wilson on the right and left wings back then and Jimmy Millar and Ralph Brand up front, a very potent attacking force.
WH: “Yes and I think people today, not knowing Davie Wilson’s record from the outside left position, the amount of goals he scored was out of this world.
“It was a great team and sometimes when you look at a team you might feel it could be improved here or improve there.
“The whole Rangers team back then was absolutely superb.”
Is Jim Baxter the best player you played alongside?
WH: “That’s a very difficult question to answer because I’ve been fortunate to play in teams with George Best and Puskas and Di Stefano so it’s impossible to equate who the best player I played with was.
“Jimmy Baxter, as an attacking midfield player, was hugely world class and I remember the two of us were asked to play in a Rest of Europe game against Britain. In fact, it was Stanley Matthews’ last game and he was the player I modelled my game on.
“I remember coming down the stairs of the hotel to go onto the bus and Jim shouted to me ‘wee man just go and get two seats on the bus, Puskas and Di Stefano are wanting my autograph!’
“That was him, he was brilliant.”
You are known as being one of the greatest ever Rangers players, how does that feel?
WH: “When I think back it’s a great feeling to have that bestowed upon you by the fantastic fans of Glasgow Rangers and also the club.”
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