Willie Henderson turned 72 on January 24th. It’s fair to say that Henderson’s legacy as a great winger suffers due to comparison to one of the all-time Scottish greats, Jimmy Johnstone who played at the same time. Both were born in the same year separated by 9 months and five miles or so. Henderson was also slightly taller at 5ft. 4” compared to Jinky’s 5ft. 2”.
Willie was first capped by Scotland at the age of eighteen under Ian McColl, playing in the first game of the 1962-’63 Home Internationals against Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff in October 1962. Scotland won 3-2 with goals from an Eric Caldow penalty, Denis Law and Willie scoring what would prove to be the winner.
A month later and Willie scored again in between four goals by Denis Law as the Scots routed Northern Ireland 5-1 at Hampden.
The final game of the Championships is part of the 1960’s Scottish legacy as the Scots won 2-1 despite going down to ten men early in the game after Eric Caldow’s leg was broken in three places following a tackle by England’s Bobby Smith. Eric was winning his 40th cap and this was to prove to be his last, although he would get back in the Rangers team the following season.
Scotland won the day thanks to two goals by Jim Baxter and despite England scoring with ten minutes to go, they held out for a famous victory. One of the most famous photos of Willie Henderson is of him carrying the Lion Rampant flag around Wembley after the game with his team mates, rather surprisingly he does not have a trademark Cuban cigar hanging from his lips.
Scotland’s next game is another one that is remembered for some unsavoury moments as Austria came to Hampden for a friendly; two sendings off and a further wee barney involving Denis Law and English ref Finney decided to wrap things up early in the 79th minute. Scotland had been leading 4-1 with two goals apiece from Law and Davie Wilson. The SFA do count these goals in official records although that is not always true of abandoned matches generally.
Game number five and Willie finally tastes defeat at the hands of the not so mighty Norway in Bergen June ‘63. Law was on killer form at the time and scored a hat-trick but lapses in defence in the last ten minutes allowed the Norwegians to sneak it 4-3. This was followed by another defeat in Dublin as they lost one nil to the Republic.
Next up, 4 days later is Spain at The Bernabeu and the Scots go a goal down after only eight minutes. However, this Scotland team did not fold like so many others; in a blistering 17 minute spell in the first half; first Law, then David Gibson, Leicester teammate Frank McLintock and finally Davie Wilson all score and the Scots go in at half-time 4 goals to 2. Willie would add a second early in the first half and Ian St. John would wrap it all up with a final goal in the 83rd minute. What a strange two weeks.
Winter of ’63 saw some of the worst weather Britain has ever seen and it didn’t start too well for Scotland in Belfast for the first game of the Home Internationals against Northern Ireland. Scotland lost 2-1 with Ian St. John scoring for Scotland. Revenge on Norway that winter was no doubt sweet as Denis Law laid waste to their defence with four goals at Hampden and Dave Mackay piped in with two. Remarkably Norway had scored after only eight minutes and perhaps thought they were on their way to another victory until Denis intervened.
A 2-1 victory over Wales at Hampden followed a fortnight later with John White of Spurs and Law scoring once more.
April, 1964 and Scotland beat England once more with an Alan Gilzean goal in the 72nd minute. This was followed a month later with a 2-2 friendly draw with West Germany in Hanover. There was a double each for Alan Gilzean and German legend Uwe Seeler.
Willie had played in 12 straight games but was injured for the next few. So who did Ian McColl replace him with? Jinky Johnstone of course, who made his debut for Scotland in October 1964 in a 3-2 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.
Henderson would return for the April 1965 game against England. Scotland drew this game 2-2, despite going down to goals from Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton after 35 minutes. The ever reliable Law scored six minutes later and in his final Scotland game Ian St. John would score in the 59th minute to equalise.
Almost a year after the eight goal fest in the Bernabeu, Scotland and Spain contrived to draw nothing each at Hampden in early May ’65, which would be Ian McColl’s last game in charge, as he would head South to manage Sunderland.
Although only a few months in the Celtic job, Jock Stein was asked to take charge for the rest of the 1966 World Cup Qualifiers. Scotland had already beaten Finland at home 3-1 in their first game.
Jock would pick Henderson as his first choice right winger for six of his seven games as Scotland Manager with Willie injured for the final one. Jock got off to a good start with two good away results in World Cup Qualifiers. A one each draw in Chorzow, Poland with Law scoring was proceeded with a 2-1 win in Helsinki with John Greig and Davie Wilson, who like Ian St. John signed off his Scotland career with a goal. However, these were to be followed by two defeats in October; the first in Belfast as the Scots went down 3-2 despite a Gilzean double but worse was to follow as Scotland lost two late goals to Poland in a vital World Cup Qualifier to lose 2-1 after Billy McNeill had given us an early lead.
In November 1965, Italy came calling to Hampden to play in front of a crowd of just over 100,000 remarkably 7000 down on the Polish game. Jock gave debuts to Bobby Murdoch of Celtic and Ronnie McKinnon of Rangers; It would not be until the 88th minute that John Greig would break the sturdy Italian defence and send the crowd in delirium.
A fortnight later and only 49,888 turned up to see Scotland win 4-1 with two goals from Bobby Murdoch, one from Henderson and another from John Greig. Murdoch was the only Celtic player in the team that night with five Rangers players in the team as well as Jim Baxter, then of Sunderland. You certainly couldn’t accuse Stein of being biased.
Henderson would miss the final qualifier as a depleted Scotland side lost 3-0 in Italy. Caps for Willie become less often with both Jimmy Johnstone and now Charlie Cooke of Chelsea vying for the right wing place.
John Prentice would pick Willie for his second game in charge in June ’66; a 3-0 friendly defeat at home to Netherlands. John had chosen players only from home based clubs for this game with Pat Stanton and Jim Scott of Hibs making their debuts along with David Smith of Rangers and Andy Penman of Dundee. For Penman and Scott this would be their only caps and as an experimented the idea of not playing Anglos was binned.
Malcolm McDonald would pick Willie for his only two games as Manager for Home Internationals against Wales and then Northern Ireland in late 1966. The first a one all draw in Cardiff with Denis Law netting and the second a 2-1 victory over the Irish in Glasgow with Celts Murdoch and Bobby Lennox on his debut, netting. These games doubled up as Euro Qualifiers.
The Euro dream was over when Willie returned for a game against the Netherlands under Bobby Brown in May ’68, which ended in a nothing each draw in Amsterdam.
Caps 25, 26 and 27 came in May 1969; three games with goals totalling 15, unfortunately 4 were for England in a drubbing at Wembley as the Scots lost 4-1, a few days after drawing 1-1 with Northern Ireland. Colin Stein scored in both games. Colin would better that and so much more as he put four past Cyprus at Hampden in a World Cup Qualifier. Willie also got among the goals as did Eddie Gray of Leeds, Billy McNeill and Tommy Gemmell.
Bobby retained Willie for a friendly in September ‘69 as Scotland drew one each with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin with Stein scoring for his fifth game in a row.
Willie was brought back for one final game a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in Lisbon in 1971 and that was it for him. He would play for Rangers for one more season before becoming a football nomad almost playing in as many continents as David Beckham before retiring from the game in 1979.
Happy Birthday Wee Willie and all the best.