Obituary: Sammy Baird

First Rangers player to score in World Cup finals and early star on the European stage

Born: 13 May, 1930, in Denny, Stirlingshire.

Died: 21 April, 2010, in Bangor, Northern Ireland, aged 79.

DURING the peak years of his playing career, Sammy Baird emerged as something of a Scottish football pioneer. With both Rangers and Hibernian, the tall and robust inside forward seemed to save many of his most effective performances for the early European club competition fixtures which captured the imagination of the Scottish public in the mid-1950s and early 1960s.

A native of Denny in Stirlingshire, Baird was spotted playing for Denny High School by leading Glasgow junior club Rutherglen Glencairn, for whom he signed as a teenager. In 1949, he took the step up to senior football when he joins the Glens' near neighbours Clyde.

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It was after Clyde's relegation from the top division of Scottish football in 1951 than Baird established himself as a first team regular, helping them bounce straight back by winning the Division B title the following year.

As Clyde re-established themselves as a leading top-flight club, Baird earned his first representative honour in March 1954 when he was part of the Scottish League side who defeated their League of Ireland counterparts 3-1 in Dublin. By now, Baird was attracting the attention of several big clubs, both north and south of the Border, and in June 1954 he moved to Preston North End for a fee of 12,000.

The Deepdale club were a major power in English football at that time, having won the League Championship in 1953 and reaching the FA Cup final the following season.

Just days after signing Baird, however, Preston manager Scot Symon answered the call to replace Bill Struth in charge at Ibrox. Baird would spend just one season in Lancashire, helping Preston to a safe mid-table finish in the First Division, before Symon swooped to sign him again and take him to Rangers for 10,000.

Baird quickly established himself as Symon's first choice inside-left for the Glasgow club and endeared himself to their supporters when he scored twice in a 4-0 defeat of Celtic at Parkhead in a League Cup tie in only his third appearance at the start of the 1955-56 season.

Rangers went on to lose 2-1 to Aberdeen in the League Cup final but Baird found ample compensation as he proved an influential figure in their League Championship triumph. He missed only one game as Rangers finished six points clear of their nearest challengers, Aberdeen.

The following season saw Baird take his first steps on the continental stage where he would prove himself such an adept performer. Rangers became the second Scottish club to take part in the new European Cup, following the trailblazing entry of Hibs the previous year. Rangers were eliminated by French champions Nice in the second round, losing a play-off 3-1 in Paris, but Baird would go on to play in every one of their first 16 European ties over the next four seasons.

His most significant contributions came when Rangers reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1960. He scored five goals in the campaign, including two in a dramatic 3-2 win over Dutch champions Sparta Rotterdam in the quarter-final play-off at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium.

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At the final whistle, Baird was carried shoulder high back to the dressing room by some of the jubilant Rangers supporters. In the semi-final, however, Rangers found West German champions Eintracht Frankfurt too hot to handle as they suffered a chastening 12-4 aggregate defeat against the side who themselves would go on to lose 7-3 to the brilliant Real Madrid in the famous Hampden European Cup final.

Domestically, Baird collected another League Championship winners' medal with Rangers in 1957 but also suffered the painful disappointment of playing in the League Cup final the following season which was lost 7-1 to Celtic. With a young Ralph Brand pressuring him for the number 10 jersey, Baird's first team place became less secure, but he added further silverware to his collection as part of the Rangers side which defeated Kilmarnock 2-0 in the 1960 Scottish Cup final.

He made all seven of his Scotland appearances while he was with Rangers. Baird made an auspicious debut for his country, scoring in a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia at Hampden in November 1956. It was the first time the highly rated Yugoslavs had ever lost to British opponents.

No less impressive was a 4-2 win over Spain at Hampden in a World Cup qualifier the following May as Baird earned his second Scotland cap. He remained part of the squad who reached the 1958 finals in Sweden where he was left out of the first two group games against Yugoslavia and Paraguay.

Baird was recalled for the final match against France on 15 June 1958 and earned the distinction of being the first Rangers player to score in the World Cup finals. Sadly, his goal was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat in what was Baird's final appearance for Scotland.

His Rangers career, during which he scored 52 goals in 179 appearances, came to an end in October 1960 when he was sold to Hibs for 5,000. Signed to replace Bobby Johnstone, one of the "Famous Five" forward line who had left Hibs for the second time, Baird proved a stabilising influence on the Easter Road side who were facing a relegation battle when he joined them. Baird helped them climb the table and was part of the side which famously defeated Barcelona 7-6 on aggregate in the European Fairs Cup before losing in a play-off to Roma in the semi-finals.

He spent just over two years with Hibs, scoring seven goals in 57 appearances. In November 1962, Baird joined Third Lanark, who were then managed by former Rangers and Scotland captain George Young. In his brief spell with the Cathkin club, Baird enjoyed a Glasgow Cup final success against Celtic before he was recruited as Stirling Albion player-manager in 1963.

During this time he became a successful publican in Bo'ness, where Baird's Bar would become a fixture for many years. Although he guided Albion to the Second Division title in 1965 with record points, he was dismissed in March 1968 with the club destined for relegation.

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Baird died peacefully at home in Bangor, Northern Ireland, where he had settled late in life.