IT SEEMS pretty certain that, with Barcelona in Glasgow tonight, there will be no Celtic player ducking in out and out of traffic in his work dungarees in an attempt to make kick-off on time.
Remarkably, this is what happened on the occasion of Barcelona’s visit to Scotland in 1961, when the Catalans were paired with Hibernian in a fascinating Inter Cities Fairs Cup tie that took two years to complete. Or at least, the two legs spanned the years 1960 and 1961.
The first leg at Easter Road was postponed due to fog and so what had supposed to be the second leg became the first clash between the sides, at the Nou Camp. At one point Hibs led 4-2 before being pegged back to 4-4.
In the return leg, in February 1961 Joe Baker was running late after leaving too little time to get to work from the engineering firm where he worked. With the striker having already scored twice at the Nou Camp, it was alarming for the supporters to see Baker hurrying to Easter Road. He got there, and scored once more in the 3-2 victory that sent Hibs into the semi-final, where they lost out to AS Roma in a play-off, after drawing 5-5 on aggregate (had it been played now, Hibs would progressed on away goals).
It therefore seems appropriate that a book about both Baker and his brother Gerry, who also played for Hibs, was launched last night at Easter Road, on the day that Barcelona arrived back in the country for tonight’s Champions League clash with Celtic.
The Fabulous Baker Boys (of course) by Tom Maxwell tells the unique story of the brothers’ football careers. Despite speaking with Scottish accents on account of their Lanarkshire upbringing, both played international football for different countries, neither of which was Scotland.
With Joe scoring goals for Hibernian like there was no tomorrow, it was only a matter of time before he earned international honours. The trouble was, although he felt Scottish, he was born in Liverpool, where his father was stationed at the time with the merchant navy.
Back then, however, the rules left no room for manoeuvre. He had to play for the country of his birth and so, at the age of only 19, Baker became the first player to play a full international match for England having not ever played English league football. He would in time make it to England with Arsenal, via a spell in Italy with Torino. His brother Gerry had en equally interesting international career. Because he had been born in New Rochelle in New York state, where the brothers’ parents lived for a spell in the late 1930s, he represented the United States, earning seven caps (and scoring two goals).
It is surprising it has taken so long for a book to be written about the brothers, and Maxwell’s well-researched offering is a fitting tribute to their memory, with Gerry, who also played for Manchester City and St Mirren among several other clubs, having passed away in August. His younger brother Joe died in 2003.
John Fraser, the former Hibs outside right, played with both the Bakers at Hibs, although the brothers themselves never played for the Easter Road side at the same time – Joe left in the summer of 1961, bound along with Denis Law for Torino, while Gerry arrived soon afterwards, and scored a more than reasonable 43 goals in 83 matches.
Joe had already hit 141 goals for Hibs before returning towards the end of his career to score a further 17 times. Fraser describes him as “one of the finest strikers I ever came across”. He contends that if he played now “he could have easily played this one up front role, absolutely no trouble at all”.
“There are not may top class players and Joe, well, he was close to being world class,” adds Fraser. “As far as England was concerned, I would put him as nearly as good as Wayne Rooney. Rooney is a bit different as a player, but Joe was in that class.”
Baker scored three times in eight games for England, and he made his last appearance in 1966, just months before their World Cup win. “He was good enough to be in the England team of that era, the one which won the World Cup,” says Fraser. “When we played Barcelona they had three or four Hungarians playing for them at the time. That is how good a result that was. They had famously just beaten England 6-3 a few years earlier.”
Hibs’ dramatic winner against Barcelona came from the penalty spot and was scored by Bobby Kinloch after a lengthy delay caused by a furious Spanish side. “Towards the end of the game the referee was edging nearer and nearer the tunnel and then when he blew for full time ran straight up the tunnel,” recalls Fraser. “Half the Barcelona team chased after him.”
Barcelona returned a year later to Easter Road to play a friendly designed to make amends for their behaviour. “They were entitled to be apologetic,” says Fraser.
By this time Joe Baker had left Hibs. However, he returned nine years later. Because of a groin injury, he was not the same player. “But it was a good move on Hibs’ part because it brought the crowds back to Easter Road again,” recalls Fraser. “Joe could have slotted into the Famous Five,” he adds.
“We were quite friendly,” he continues. “When he eventually did his transfer deal with Torino I ran him up from Easter Road to the North British hotel to do the deal. I remember him coming out again because I waited for him, and he had a brown bag in his hand. I said: ‘What’s that Joe?’ He said: ‘Oh that’s some money they gave me, it’s my signing-on fee’. I am not sure there was anyone official there from Hibs, just Joe, the agent who had done the deal and the Torino officials.
“I played with Gerry as well. It’s so sad. I was at Lawrie Reilly’s funeral, I was one of the pall bearers and Gerry was there. A week after it he had passed away – he was bright as a button that day. Gerry was a different player. He was actually faster than Joe. He had some pace on him.”
He also trumped his brother in the Scottish Cup scoring stakes, scoring a record ten times v Glasgow University for St Mirren, while Joe only managed nine against Peebles Rovers for Hibs.
They both had stories to tell.