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Obituary: Gerard Austin Baker, footballer

Joe Baker (left) and Gerry Baker in 1960

Joe Baker (left) and Gerry Baker in 1960

  • by MARTIN HANNAN
 

Born: 11 April, 1938, in New Rochelle, New York State. Died: 24 August, 2013, in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, aged 75

Gerry Baker, who died in Wishaw General Hospital at the weekend, was one half of the most unusual pair of brothers ever to play professional football in Scotland. Both played for Hibs, but at different times, and both were internationalists, but for different countries, while neither played for the land they called home.

Instead Gerry was capped seven times for the land of his birth, the USA, while his younger and more famous brother Joe played eight times for England in the years before their 1966 World Cup victory.

Both were strikers, and both had formidable scoring records. While playing for St Mirren in the first round of the Scottish Cup on 30 January, 1960, Gerry scored ten goals in the then Cup-holders’ 15-0 win over Glasgow University – a post-war record in the Cup.

Just over a year later, Joe Baker scored nine for Hibs in their 15-1 win over Peebles Rovers, also in the Scottish Cup.

Brothers they were, but never rivals. Indeed Joe Baker often stated that it was his elder brother who encouraged him to play football.

They were both the same height, 5ft 7ins, and had the striker’s attributes of an eye for goal and natural speed, with Gerry being particularly fast. Joe had the greater all-round talent, but Gerry was equally adept in front of goal.

The curiosity of their differing football “nationalities” came about because their father George, from Liverpool, and mother Lizzie, from Motherwell, had briefly emigrated to America.

After Gerry’s birth in New Rochelle, NY, they returned home and on the outbreak of war George moved his family to Liverpool and enlisted in the Merchant Navy.

Joe was born in 1940, but after Liverpool was blitzed by German bombers, Lizzie and the boys went north to Motherwell. George Baker survived his ship being torpedoed, but died later from the injuries he received.

Both brothers attended St Joseph’s Secondary School. Gerry was selected for Lanarkshire Schools and played for Craigneuk Boys Club before joining Larkhall Thistle where he was spotted by a Chelsea scout who signed him at the age of just 15.

Baker played just one senior match for Chelsea but could not settle in London and returned north to play for Motherwell where manager Bobby Ancell was building a formidable side, so much so that Baker could not pin down a place in the team.

He was transferred to St Mirren in 1958 and on his debut for the Paisley side, he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over a Hibs team that featured his brother.

Playing regularly for St Mirren he became one of that club’s legends when, in the 1959 Scottish Cup Final, he scored the third of St Mirren’s goals in their 3-1 victory over Aberdeen in front of 108,000 people at Hampden Park. Almost 50 years later, his feats were recalled when Baker was inducted into the St Mirren Hall of Fame in 2007.

After three seasons in Paisley, with a phenomenal scoring rate of 65 goals in 81 games, Baker tried his luck again in England, signing for Manchester City. Again he could not settle, and came back north to Hibs in November, 1961, becoming the club’s first foreign player shortly after Joe had featured in a sensational transfer to Italian club Torino.

Gerry Baker went on to score 43 goals in 83 games for Hibs, before he was transferred to Ipswich Town in 1963 for the then very large fee of £25,000. He scored 58 goals in his successful 135-match spell at Ipswich before moving to Coventry City for three seasons. It was while at Coventry that he won his seven caps for the USA, playing in World Cup qualifiers.

Dropping down to non-league football as player/manager at Margate, Baker suffered debilitating injuries, and he left the club in 1971 to work at the Jaguar car factory in Coventry where he spent many happy years.

He played for the local non-league clubs, Nuneaton Borough and Bedworth United, but latterly concentrated on golf.

Baker enjoyed a long marriage to Anne (née Stevenson) who was herself a top athlete. They had two children, Karen and Lorraine, both of whom were athletes whose club records for Coventry Godiva Harriers still stand.

Lorraine was a double Olympian, finishing fifth in the 800 metres at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and reaching the semi-finals in the same event at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The couple had four grandchildren, two of whom, Ryan and Thomas Strain, Lorraine’s sons, are in Aston Villa’s football academy. Anne Baker died in 2012 after a recurring battle with cancer.

Baker was a friendly and personable man who, but for Fifa’s then rule that you could only play for the land of your birth, might well have joined his brother in the Scotland squad. He always thought of Scotland as home, and indeed moved to live latterly in Holytown, Motherwell.

The brothers’ biographer Tom Maxwell has written their joint story, The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had, which will be published next month. He recalls that far from any sibling rivalry, both Baker brothers were entirely supportive of each other.

Maxwell said: “Any time I spoke to Gerry about Joe, it was always in the most glowing terms. They had an excellent relationship – he described Joe as being like ‘his twin’. When Joe died, Anne said it was like Gerry ‘losing an arm’. Gerry was Joe’s biggest fan – and vice versa. And once, on the train to Ipswich, he collared Alf Ramsey and tried to persuade him to pick Joe for the 1966 World Cup squad.”

Earlier this month, Baker attended the funeral of Lawrie Reilly, the last survivor of Hibs’ Famous Five forward line. Baker will himself now be remembered with fondness at Easter Road, St Mirren Park and all the other football grounds he graced.

Gerry Baker is survived by his children and grandchildren. His brother Joe predeceased him in 2003.

 

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