Reality is biting so hard for Willie Henderson over his beloved Rangers’s prospects, it is chewing up and spitting out any grounds for optimism. The legendary Ibrox winger works as a host at the club on match days. After defeat in last week’s League Cup semi-final against Celtic – which followed a 5-1 thumping by their Old Firm rivals six weeks earlier – Henderson struggles to see Rangers getting the better of their rivals in a one-off, never mind a league campaign, this side of 2021.
“I think it’s a case of saying things you never thought you would say. But you need to be realistic at this stage. To get second, I think would be great,” said the 72-year-old, 12 years a major figure at Rangers from 1960. “It’s quite difficult because there hasn’t been as much investment as there might have been. As long as Celtic are playing in the Champions League then the funds are going to be a lot more all the time. It’s going to be a wee while. Things happen in games but if you’re being realistic then it’s going to be hard for Rangers [even] to beat Celtic at the moment.
“You’ve got a situation where Brendan Rodgers has taken over and it’s fairly easy to see that they’re in a different position now to what they were in the last couple of years. The fact they brought Rodgers in, how he’s got things organised, the players he’s got, some are getting £40,000-a-week. If someone is on £40,000-a-week and someone is getting £7,000-a-week you’re going to get better players. I think the fact they brought Rodgers in, the juggernaut will be hard to stop on the way to ten [straight titles] under the present situation at Ibrox.”
The point-blank refusal by Henderson to sugar the pill for Rangers is reflected in his admirable refusal to follow the line regularly trotted out that everything could be sorted out simply by throwing sums of cash they don’t have at all their problems. Laying out more money than is taken in is precisely what led to the last incarnation of Rangers going down the tubes, and caused the liquidation of 2012.
How tough will it be for his club to get back to the top, the former Scotland international was asked.
“‘How high is Mount Everest? Very hard,” he said, but he downplayed how painful that realisation might be. “It’s not so much painful. I think what people tend to forget is that the doors were nearly shut at the club. Probably a lot closer to being shut forever than what people realise. So I can understand the people running the club at the moment wanting to make sure that the proper business plan is in place. To make sure that never happens again. That’s really important. The other side of it is Scottish football in general isn’t in a good place.
“And I think it’s quite difficult for business people to want to come in and pay millions of pounds into a business like Rangers in an environment that it’s in right now. That doesn’t help Scottish football either. Until the investor – if there’s one out there – wants to come along and put a lot of money into Rangers then there’s going to be slow progress.”
The concern is that the near sell-out crowds that are watching the first top-flight football staged at Ibrox for four years won’t retain the patience to accept this slow progress. Too many within the club were allowed to get ahead of themselves in promoting the fanciful notion of a challenge to Celtic this season – reflected in the “going for 55” card display on the opening day and the hashtag.
A 55th title isn’t something that even next season will be considered a realistic aim deep down by those at the club and their followers, Henderson suggests.
“It’s not going to be a situation where everyone is geed up at the start of next season, under the present circumstances. Not a situation where everyone is keyed up with a huge chance of winning the league which for a lot of years was always a situation. Now, I just don’t see that,” he said.
“The crowds have been unbelievable. Rangers fans are strong people. In the divisions we were in, they have kept it going. They wanted to keep it going to get back to the league we’re in. You can kid some of the people some of the time but you can’t kid them all of the time. Unless there was sensible investment going into the club and the fans were seeing that, sometime down the line [them dropping off] would be your worry.”