Jackie Henderson

Swashbuckling centre-forward

John Gillespie Henderson, footballer: born Glasgow 17 January 1932; played for Portsmouth 1951-58, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1958, Arsenal 1958-62, Fulham 1962-64; capped seven times for Scotland 1953-58; married (two sons); died Poole, Dorset 26 January 2005.

The Scottish international footballer Jackie Henderson was a one-man forward line. The swashbuckling, pacy raider, feted by admiring contemporaries as quick enough to catch pigeons in his 1950s heyday, occupied every attacking position in a 13-year top-flight career during which he excelled with Portsmouth, failed to settle with Wolves, then served Arsenal impressively before falling prey to injury at Fulham.

Everything Henderson did was carried out at high velocity, and most aspects of his work were of impeccable quality. His running was hard and direct, he packed an explosive shot in either foot, and he was adept at crossing at speed, all of which made him a fearsome proposition for opposing defenders, although occasionally his hurry to control an awkwardly bouncing ball would let him down.

Frequently he featured on the wing, mostly the left, but he was a dashing centre-forward at heart, and was far more combative than most flankmen of his day, many of whom withered at the merest scowl from a hulking full-back. Not so the muscular Henderson, who relished a physical contest, be it in the air or on the ground, and raw courage earned him many a goal.

Unusually for a sports-mad young Glaswegian, he didn't play football at school, but tasted his first action with a church team near his home in Bishopbriggs. Soon he graduated to Kirkintilloch Boys Club, where his potential was spotted by a Portsmouth scout in 1948.

Later that year he enlisted as an amateur at Fratton Park, turning professional in January 1949 with a club on the threshold of the most glorious interlude in its history. That season and the next, Pompey won the League title with a beautifully balanced team renowned more for comradeship and co-ordination than for star individuals, and it is a telling tribute to the raw 19-year-old's progress that he was entrusted with spearheading such an eminent attack for most of the 1951/52 campaign.

After making his début against Sunderland in the autumn, Henderson featured regularly, totalling eight goals in 27 appearances as Portsmouth finished fourth in the old First Division table. His vigour and verve complemented the more measured skills of the inside-forward Len Phillips, he linked neatly with the flying winger Peter Harris and he provided an industrious, ever-willing target for the perceptive dispatches of the wing-halves Jimmy Scoular and Jimmy Dickinson.

There followed two down-table terms, but Henderson continued to flourish, demonstrating his adaptability by appearing frequently on the left wing and at inside-forward, then returning to centre-forward to shine alongside local boy Johnny Gordon as Pompey rose to third in 1954/55.

By then he was a full international - his case advanced by the fervent advocacy of his countryman Scoular - and, having impressed while winning his first cap as an outside-right against Sweden in 1953, he consolidated with further enterprising displays at centre-forward and on the left flank.

Back on the club scene, Pompey slid inexorably towards the foot of the First Division as the decade wore on and in March 1958, having netted 70 goals in 217 League outings for the Fratton Park club, Henderson joined the new champions elect, Wolverhampton Wanderers, in a £16,000 deal.

Given his direct, all-action style, Henderson seemed a natural for Stan Cullis's aggressive, strong, long-passing side, but he didn't fit in at Molineux, being unable to unseat steady performers such as Jimmy Murray and Norman Deeley, and only seven months later he was transferred to Arsenal for £20,000.

Never mind that he had enabled Wolves to turn a quick profit, it seemed that the Highbury boss George Swindin had pulled off a considerable coup in capturing a 26-year-old Scottish international in his prime, and it was expected that the newcomer would bring a fresh, incisive dimension to an Arsenal team in the throes of transition.

Henderson could hardly have started life as a Gunner more auspiciously, netting on début with two flashing headers in a rousing 4-3 home victory over West Bromwich Albion, and he continued to spark through the remainder of the 1958/59 season, contributing a dozen strikes to Arsenal's creditable third-place finish.

He did so well, in fact, that he earned a fleeting recall to his country's colours late in 1958, which was no small achievement at a time when Scotland's attacking ranks were dripping with sumptuous talent, the likes of Denis Law, John White, Ian St John and any number of others, a stark and poignant contrast with the dearth of quality available to the national coach in the early years of the 21st century.

But that Arsenal team never quite gelled, receding into mid-table over the next two terms, and arguably Henderson became a victim of his own versatility, his consistency dipping as Swindin experimented with numerous forward options. Despite having impressed in a deep-lying creative role as well as in his customary front-line berths, the 30-year-old was released to join Fulham, perennial top-flight strugglers, for £14,000 in January 1962.

Though past his pomp, he acquitted himself manfully for the Craven Cottage club, helping them to steer clear of relegation in two successive seasons, only for a broken leg suffered at Blackburn in March 1963 to signal an effective end to his senior career. Henderson managed a handful of games during the following term, but his trademark pace had declined, understandably, and in the summer of 1964 he entered the non-League ranks with Poole Town.

Not that the still-enthusiastic veteran was looking for an easy billet. In 1964/65 he was vastly influential as he helped his new club gain promotion to the Southern League Premier Division, then in 1967 he began four years of sterling service with Dorchester Town of the Western League, not ending his playing days until 1971, when he was nearing 40.

Henderson, an amiable fellow and a lively dressing-room spirit, had remained passionate about the game and had been keen to put something back at the lower level, an objective he achieved comprehensively and for which he deserved immense credit.

Later he spent 30 years as a storeman for a builders' merchant in the Poole area, and was a regular attender of Pompey reunions until the onset of his final illness.

Ivan Ponting

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests