Albert Henderson by Fraser Clyne
Albert Henderson’s amazing 17 year 4 month reign as Arbroath boss, between September 1962 and January 1980, made him one of the longest serving and most popular managers in British football history.
His record at Gayfield was without doubt quite remarkable. In the 13 year period up to the creation of the Premier League in 1975, the club was promoted twice and spent a total of four seasons in Scotland’s top division. When they weren’t in the top league, the Lichties were always challenging for promotion, placing third on three occasions and never finishing lower than seventh in the “old” Second Division. Arbroath fans were never short of excitement.
Before moving into management Henderson had enjoyed ten successful seasons as a half-back and inside forward with Dundee. He scored on his league debut for the Dens Park side in a 4-1 win over Stirling Albion in December 1951 and he was in the Dundee team that defeated Kilmarnock 2-0 in the 1952 League Cup Final. He went on to appear in more than 270 league and cup games over ten years and scored 50 goals.
Henderson even notched a hat-trick against Arbroath in 1960 when Dundee thrashed the Lichties 6-2 in a Forfarshire Cup tie. In 1961, just before the Dark Blues went on to win the league championship, Bert was transferred to St Mirren for a then substantial fee of £2000. His move to Paisley was not to prove successful, however, as a knee injury brought his career to a premature end the following year.
So, at the age of 31, he took the opportunity to succeed John Prentice in the Gayfield hotseat. It was to be the start of a long and successful association with the Maroons.
Bert’s teams always played with flair and flamboyance, never being scared to adopt an attacking attitude even against the best clubs in the country. He always seemed capable of matching good up-and-coming players with seasoned veterans, a blend that gave his sides a great balance of youth and experience. In this task he was ably supported over the years by trainers such as Dave Easson and Johnny Martin.
Throughout his long spell in charge Henderson made some great acquistions and helped numerous local players develop into respected professionals. In the 1960’s, guys such as Alan Kennedy, Jimmy Cant, Jimmy Jack, Ian Stirling, Denis Bruce, Tom Cargill, Eric Sellars, Barry Mitchell and Peter Miller all made their mark under Henderson’s influence.
In the 1970’s he successfully brought in wise old heads such as Gordon Marshall, Andy Penman, Hugh Robertson, Ernie Winchester, Cammy Murray and Jimmy Bone – all of whom performed to great effect for the Maroons despite being at the tail-ends of their respective careers.
Others like Billy Pirie, Tommy Walker and John Fletcher also blossomed in Henderson’s sides. Fletcher was indeed the hero of one of the most memorable results the Lichties achieved under Henderson’s leadership – a 3-2 league win over Rangers at Ibrox Stadium. The blonde-haired striker grabbed the winning goal with just a couple of minutes remaining.
Arbroath also twice reached the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup under Henderson’s stewardship, losing to Airdrie after a replay in 1975 and going down 3-1 to Dundee two years later.
His reign finally came to an end following a couple of difficult seasons in the late 1970’s when the Lichties struggled near the foot of Division One. Ironically it was Henderson’s former team captain, Ian Stirling, who as chairman of the club committee, announced in January 1980 that Bert was leaving the club “by mutual consent”. It was the end of an era.
Article contributed by Fraser Clyne author of The History of Arbroath Football Club