The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 13

August 4, 2009

The Forgotten Ones – No 13 – Willie Henderson

Modem fashions in footballing injuries tend to run in favour of such medical esoterica as cruciate ligament damage, groin strains, and cartilage problems. The blight on Willie Henderson’s career was slightly less glamorous – he suffered from a bunion! Chiropody fans will know that this involves an enlargement of the first joint of the big toe. Whilst this may not be a problem for other sporting heroes such as golfers, anglers, darts players and the like, it was a substantial handicap for a wee tricky ball-playing winger. By the time that bunion had become a regular newsworthy item Henderson’s career was probably already in decline anyway, thanks to the emergence of Jimmy Johnstone as the archetypal wee brainless Scottish ned possessed of amazing dribbling skills.

Pre-bunion, Willie had been renowned as the second coming of the “Wee Blue Devil”, a nom de guerre previously applied to his Ibrox predecessor, Alan Morton. Willie had burst into the Rangers team as a teenager, causing the unprecedented situation where Alex Scott, then the Scottish team right winger, could not get into the Rangers first team. It was only a matter of time before Henderson replaced Scott in the international team as well.

Even before the bunion Willie’s physical condition did not exactly make him a candidate for Mr Universe. He was about 5 foot 4 with his boots on, he had a penchant for breaking his nose which eventually led to that organ being squashed flat across the entire width of his face, and he was so myopic that, without the aid of contact lenses, he would have been unable to see beyond the end of even that dramatically foreshortened proboscis. Despite these apparent handicaps, Willie was one of the leading flute players in the band which Baxter conducted to so many triumphs for both Rangers and Scotland. On form, Willie was quite irresistible, tearing defences apart with frequent and exhilarating brilliance. There were plenty of opportunities for Willie to be photographed in characteristic pose flashing a Churchill-type V sign, while
simultaneously dragging on a Churchillian cigar. The bunion really spelt the end of the glory years, and although Willie went on to wreak his particular brand of havoc in such exotic locations as Sheffield and Hong Kong, it was as a Rangers player that his reputation was made.

There we have it then. A wee, hen-toed, half-blind Lanarkshire bachle wi’ a bunion on his toe and a nose like a pomegranate, who, for a few exciting years, could do extraordinary things with a ball. If he had thereafter faded into obscurity then it might have been possible to remember him with affection. However, Willie was a “character”, and it was inevitable that he would re-appear in an alternative role. The first hint that he was making a comeback came years after he had retired. He made a celebrity appearance on Scotsport with Jimmy Johnstone. The contrast between them could hardly have been more dramatic. While Jimmy hadn’t changed much, and still sported the gaunt features and shaven head of an Alcatraz inmate, Willie was balding, and, ahem, corpulent. He looked as though, either someone had inflated him with a foot-pump with a view to entering him in a Michelin-man look-alike competition, or else that bunion had spread to the rest of his body. Shortly after this triumphant re-appearance, Willie felt moved to favour us with his autobiography, which amongst other things, recounted the full sordid details of his life’s sexual encounters. According to this worthy tome Willie had had several thousand lovers, and that was just the women! Frankly, I never read the book but it was nauseatingly serialised in the Sunday papers. It made compulsive reading if only because you couldn’t believe a word of it. While there was no doubt some sexual kudos attached to being a Rangers player, it was difficult to visualise “birds” queuing up to be serviced by “Wee Willie” (according to the man himself this was a singularly inappropriate nickname for his off-field persona as a major Lothario of the twentieth century).

Even if it was all true, the fact that it was published at all merely served to confirm that Willie was exactly the kind of cretin you’d always feared that he was. Not surprisingly, given this background, he apparently suffered some marital difficulties, which allegedly became so hazardous that he required to join the burgeoning expatriate Scottish community in the Spanish Costa Del Crime, amidst rumours of a warrant for his arrest being issued at Airdrie Sheriff Court. His swerve and side-step over to Spain was the latest recorded example of his legendary ability to beat a packed defence.

Let me sum up Willie Henderson’s career in less than 40 words: Wee Willie, big time, Wee Blue Devil, big cigar, wee bunion, big mouth, wee brain, big head, wee shit, big willie, wee liar, big bucks, wee ned, big deal.

First published in TAG 27 – March 1992


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