Highbury Hero Joe Baker: His Generation’s Roy Of The Rovers

Today we’re going all the way back in the time machine to 16th July 1962. When Arsenal paid a club record fee of £70,000 to Torino for an exciting young swashbuckling centre forward. He was an instant success becoming a massive hit with the Highbury crowd. Even now more than half a century after leaving the Gunners he is still revered and remembered with great affection by the older Arsenal supporters. it’s the prolific all action Joe Baker.

Joe was small for a centre forward standing just 5 foot 8 inches but he was excellent in the air scoring plenty of headed goals. Joe was very brave, exceptionally quick with great acceleration and tough as old boots. He was lethal with both feet, striking the ball with power and precision with minimal back-lift. Joe was also very dynamic with great movement.

He possessed brilliant close control with quick feet. Joe loved to have to ball played to his feet even when closely marked. He loved to entertain the fans. He was flamboyant, audacious and unpredictable. Part of Joe’s make up was he had a short fuse and would sometimes react when he thought opponents were taking liberties with him. That day at Highbury when he laid out Ron Yeats was a prime example of that!

A great action shot of Joe in mid air

A great action shot of Joe in mid air

At Arsenal Joe was part of a formidable trio of attacking players. Joe and Geoff Strong playing upfront with the wonderful midfield schemer George Eastham supplying the ammunition for them. The three of them linked up superbly with intricate quick passing which would invariably lead to a goal.

Frank McLintock said this about him “Joe Baker was a phenomenal player. He was all you could want in a goalscorer – equally adept with both feet and with the sort of pace Ian Rush later used to such advantage. I love players like Joe, with the economical grace of Jimmy Greaves, the short back-lift when they shot and the bravery that distinguishes the great from the merely good. Joe once knocked out Ron Yeats with a punch, which, of course, I can’t condone. But there’s a part of me that admired his courage in even trying it on with someone as intimidating as Liverpool’s tough as teak centre half”.

Joe in action wearing the all red Arsenal shirt minus the white sleeves

Joe in action wearing the all red Arsenal shirt minus the white sleeves

Johnny MacLeod said “Joe Baker was all that you read about him and more – he was dashing, the Roy of the Rovers of his generation. Joe was the finest finisher that I played with, ever”.

David Court said “It was one of the great pleasures of my life to play alongside Joe. In my second game against Fulham, he smashed in a volley from outside the box. What a goal, just to be on the same pitch as someone like that, it gave you the enthusiasm to play with them more and more and to get better”.

Joseph Henry Baker was born at Woolton, Liverpool on 17th July 1940 to his Scottish mother Elizabeth and English father George. Joe’s brother Gerry, who also went on to have a successful career as a professional footballer with Motherwell, St Mirren, Manchester City, Hibernian, Ipswich Town and Coventry City, was 18 months older and was born in upstate New York In the USA. Early on in the Second World War the family returned from the United States to George’s hometown Liverpool as Joe’s father George felt he had to enlist and do his bit to help with the war effort and followed his four brothers who were all serving in the British navy.

Liverpool became a prime target for the Luftwaffe. After London it was the second most important port with the docks being heavily blitzed with 4,000 people losing their lives. Joe’s mother Lizzie wasn’t going to let her boys become victims and the family moved up to Wilshaw just outside Motherwell in Scotland to stay with Joe’s grandmother to escape the bombing when Joe was just six weeks old.

In 1944 George’s ship was blown up when returning home across the English Channel. Ironically it was a British mine that blew it up. George was one of the few survivors but was badly injured and had a lump of shrapnel in his stomach. He also lost his bladder and was constantly in and out of hospital over the next four years before finally succumbing to his injuries and losing his battle for life.

At school Joe and Gerry become targets for the school bullies and the boys learned to stick up for themselves joining the local boxing club. Joe was a natural and Gerry said “Joe could have been the middleweight champion of the world. If Joe hit you, you went down”. The boxing education would come in very handy many years later at Highbury against a certain Scottish centre half!

Gerry was the one with a real passion for football and he had to coax Joe into playing. Joe himself said “I couldn’t have cared less” but gradually Joe got the bug and ended up as football crazy as his older brother. They quickly became the best players in their school. In one match playing for Craigneuk Boys Guild they won a game 15-0 and the brothers scored seven and a half goals each! For the eighth goal they both connected with ball at the same time to sent it over the line! In Joe’s last year at primary school Joe bagged over 100 goals. Also when Joe was nine years old he was the youngest member of the Motherwell and Wishaw Select side that won the Scottish Primary Schools Cup beating Aberdeen who included future Torino teammate Denis Law in their side.

Joe was picked to play for Scotland schoolboys scoring against Wales in a 3-1 victory and netting both of Scotland’s goals in a 2-2 draw with England. Joe was about fifteen when he learned he’ll never represent Scotland. His teacher asked him what he wanted to do when he left school Joe replied “I want to be a professional footballer and one day I’ll play for Scotland” His teacher said “That you’ll never do, Joe – you were born in England, so you cannot play for Scotland” Joe was crestfallen.

Joe became a Hibs fan and watched them as a 12 year old kid, being mesmerised by the by the Hiibees Famous Five of Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Lawrie Reilly, who was Joe’s hero, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond. They were part of the Hibs side that won the Scottish title in 1948, 1951 and 1952 and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1955-56. It was no surprise when Joe signed for them his boyhood team. However before that Gerry was invited down to Chelsea for a trail. Gerry asked Joe and his uncle to accompany him. Another goalscoring Arsenal legend Ted Drake was the manager and after arriving at Stamford Bridge all the boys were taken to a nearby park to play the trail match. They were a player short. So someone threw Joe a pair of boots and told him to do his best. The Baker boys throughly enjoyed themselves Gerry scored a brace and Joe netted a hat-trick. Ted was impressed enough to visit them at their home in Scotland to try to persuade them both to sign for Chelsea. Gerry signed but Joe was only fourteen and his mother Lizzie wanted him to finish his schooling. Gerry said “I think Joe knew even then he’d be a Hibee”.

Joe signed for Hibernian and was only seventeen when he made his debut in 1957. One of the other Hibs players at the time was Johnny MacLeod who Joe would play alongside both at Hibernian and later at The Arsenal. Once Joe started scoring for Hibs there was no stopping him. Against a Tottenham side containing Danny Blanchflower and Bobby Smith at Easter Road in the Anglo-Scottish Floodlit League Joe destroyed them scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 win. Joe left the pitch to a standing ovation.

Next followed his first league hat-trick against Airdrie and teammate John Fraser said “If Joe gets clean through one-on-one with the keeper you would bet your life on him scoring. He didn’t really blast the ball, he passed it into the net”. Another Hibs player Gordon Smith said “One moment, he’s facing his own goal – the next, he’s whipped round like a top and streaking for goal. His pace is unbelievable at times and he’s learning the business very fast”.

Unfortunately despite Joe’s goalscoring feats Hibs fell away badly in the League. Meanwhile their local rivals Hearts were well on course to win the title. They were skippered by future Tottenham legend Dave Mackay and also included Alex Young in their side who would go on to become the “Golden Vision” at Everton. Nobody gave Hibs a chance when they were drawn away to Hearts at Tynecastle in the 3rd Round of the Scottish Cup. However it was in this game that seventeen year old Joe Baker cemented his place as a Hibs legend. Joe scored all four goals in Hibs 4-3 victory over their rivals. Hearts were destroyed by the pace of Joe and couldn’t handle him as he tormented their defenders all afternoon. Hibs went on to reach the Scottish Cup Final but lost 1-0 to Clyde in front of 95,000 at Hampden Park.

Joe continued to score prolifically in his second season at Hibs. He was becoming hot property and a lot of clubs began to take a keen interest in the eighteen year old including The Arsenal. Hibs Chairman Harry Swan’s response was empathetic. “As far as I’m concerned, I would rather burn down our grandstand than see him sold”. Joe’s reputation as a deadly marksman continued to grow. In the 1960-61 season Joe scored no less than nine goals in a 15-1 win against non-league Pebbles Rovers in the Scottish Cup. Hibs also reached the semi-finals of the Inter City Fairs Cup. In the quarter-finals they despatched the mighty Barcelona with Joe scoring in both legs. So impressed were Barcelona with Joe that they tried to buy him. He also scored in both games in the semi-final against Roma which ended 5-5 on aggregate. Under today’s rules Hibs would have won on away goals but that rule didn’t exist then and Hibs lost the replay a month later in Rome 6-0. But the big story was that the Hibs star man Joe Baker had already signed for another club.

Prior to that Joe had met for talks with Hibs manager Hugh Shaw and Chairman Harry Swan and they were surprised when Joe didn’t sign immediately on the dotted line. Joe said he wanted a rise and they asked him how much he wanted. Joe replied that a fiver would keep him happy. They said they’d have to think about it! Joe was on £12 a week and even with the fiver rise would still be below the maximum wage of £20 a week and even that had been abolished in January 1961 with Johnny Haynes becoming British football’s first £100 a week Footballer. It’s incredible that Hibs were quibbling over paying an extra fiver a week for one of the most prolific centre forwards in Europe. The next day the newspapers carried the story saying Hibs couldn’t satisfy Baker’s wage demands! In April 1961 the club issued a statement saying “If Baker insists on his demands, he will leave the club with no alternative but to refuse”. Joe was placed on the transfer list and there was a stampede of clubs fighting to get Joe’s signature. On the 11th May 1961 Joe was sold to the highest bidder and he signed for Torino for £65,000 and received a £12,000 signing on fee. Joe ended his first spell at Hibernian where in four seasons he scored an incredible 141 goals in 160 games! He also smashed every goalscoring record at Hibs. However Joe was ready for a new challenge in Italy.

Joe in his Torino days

Joe in his Torino days

Torino had enjoyed great success in the 1940’s winning four Serie A’s on the spin and were on the verge of a fifth when tragedy struck. On 4th May 1949 the plane carrying them back from a friendly match in Lisbon crashed and burst into flames with all 31 people on board killed including 18 of the Torino squad. Since then Torino were in the doldrums and never really recovered. Joe was one of two star signings Torino made in 1961. The other player was Denis Law. The two strikers were looked upon by the press, the fans and the club as the men to get Torino back to where they were in their glory years. Unfortunately it never worked out. In fact the whole venture was a nightmare for both players from start to finish.

Joe with Denis Law and his brother Gerry

Joe with Denis Law and his brother Gerry

John Charles was the trailblazer for British players going to Italy. He’d spend five years at Juventus and was a massive success. He won three Scudettos and two Italian cups and the Juventus fans adored him. In 1961 four British strikers tried their luck in Italy. As well as Joe and Denis Law there was Jimmy Greaves who went to AC Milan and Gerry Hitchens who moved to Inter Milan. Of the four only Gerry Hitchens stayed in Italy, the other three didn’t last the first season, Jimmy Greaves was back in England in about three months! The Italian’s put Joe and Denis in a beautiful luxury apartment in Turin but they were so homesick and bored. Neither of them could speak Italian and they were very young. They were allowed Just one phone call home a week and they felt the club treated them as if they owned them body and soul. The press intrusion was terrible with one particularly prying paparazzi getting a right hander from Joe. On the pitch Joe and Denis hated the way the Italian defenders went about their business. Denis Law said they played practically an 8-2 formation. Joe said “The Italians play the dirtiest football I’ve ever seen. I found life in Italy great but the football was terrible, brutal. There was kicking, elbowing, things I was never used to, although I didn’t mind playing hard. You could have the ball anywhere in your own half, but, as soon as you came within 30 yards of the opposition’s goal, they put you in a coffin. The defenders were suicide men. You soon learned to stay yards away from the nearest defender, otherwise you were given an elbow in the face, had the hairs in the back of your legs pulled out, or took a dig in the kidneys”.

Joe’s short fuse led to him being sent off twice for retaliating to the cynical Italian defenders. Leading to suspensions and heavy fines. Denis Law said “Joe was a fiery character-both of us were. If people are constantly kicking you, you’re not going to say, that’s okay, you keep kicking me. You’d retaliate and of course you’d get sent off”. Denis also said “I was a little wimp compared to Joe. I was just a piece of flesh and bone, whereas he was really tough and strong”. There were some good moments though. Joe scored a brace in his second game in Italy in front of the Torino fans and they loved it when Joe scored the only goal in the fierce derby victory over their bitter rivals Juventus who had John Charles in their side.

The nightmare got worse for Joe and Denis when Joe bought himself a new sports car. A white Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint for £2,000. It was so fast that Joe almost took out the salesman as he drove it out the showroom! in the early hours of the morning Joe together with Denis and his brother Joseph were returning from a nightclub when Joe took a corner too fast and the car flipped over, spun and crashed into a lamppost thirty metres down the road. Denis was more or less alright with just a cut hand and Law’s brother Joseph didn’t have a scratch on him. However Joe broke his palate, his nose, both his cheekbones and his jaw. His face was a mess covered in bits of glass and he had to have plastic surgery using skin from his hand and was hospitalised for two months drinking through a straw. Torino paid his £2,300 hospital bill through their insurance but weren’t happy Joe and Denis had broken the clubs strict 10pm curfew. Denis got a £320 fine and was suspended from the next game, while Joe’s contract was cut until the end of the season meaning he didn’t receive a penny in wages for the two months he was in hospital.

Joe's wrecked sports car

Joe’s wrecked sports car

Joe and Denis desperately wanted out of Torino and a transfer back home. The two even struck a £5 bet on who would leave first. Denis won the fiver when he walked out the club and subsequently got his move to Manchester United and Joe wouldn’t be far behind him. However Torino were in no mood to let both their star strikers leave in the same season. This called for drastic measures and Joe’s brother Gerry went out to Italy to kidnap him! It took them a week waiting for their chance before doing a moonlight flit taking as much as Joe’s belongings as they could carry from the apartment. Once back home in Motherwell Joe announced to the press he was finished with Italian football and begrudgingly Torino agreed to sell him. He left Italy having scored 7 times in 20 appearances.

Joe wanted to join a club in England as he believed it would enhance his chances of getting his place back in the England side. Torino wanted £70,000 and Manchester City offered them £28,000 with the rest made up from the £42,000 Torino still owed them for Denis Law. However Torino decided to accept Arsenal’s offer of a straight £70,000 cash deal. Billy Wright in the twilight of his playing career had played against a 17 year old Joe Baker in a friendly between Wolves and Hibernian and Billy had experienced first hand what a handful Joe was even at that age and made Joe his first signing as Arsenal manager on the day before Joe turned 22. Joe had to pass a rigorous medical to prove he’d fully recovered from the car crash in Italy before The Arsenal handed over the club record fee. Billy Wright said “We had to be sure, 100% sure. We were paying a lot of money and we couldn’t take chances” Joe said on signing for the Gunners “This is the happiest thing that has happened to me in football. I’m an Arsenal player at last. I’ve a job to do for the greatest club in the country and I hope to do it well”.

At the Clock End Billy Wright shows Joe round Highbury

At the Clock End Billy Wright shows Joe round Highbury

The Arsenal fans were really excited at Joe signing and were eagerly looking forward to the 1962-63 season hoping that Joe would fill the void left by David Herd’s departure to Manchester United the season before last. Joe didn’t disappoint, getting off to a flyer in the opening game against newly promoted Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road, scoring the winning goal by nuttmegging a defender on the edge of the box, then driving a wicked low shot into the bottom corner of the net giving Arsenal a 2-1 victory. He then scored on his home debut a 2-0 win against Birmingham City. In fact he didn’t stop scoring including his first hat-trick for the Gunners in a thrilling 5-4 nip and tuck match against Wolves at Highbury, followed by a brace in the next game an amazing 5-5 draw against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Joe ended his first season at Arsenal top scorer netting 31 goals in 42 league and cup games. He and Geoff Strong scored 52 goals between them as Arsenal finished 7th, but despite scoring 86 goals Arsenal also conceded 77.

Joe was also very popular with his teammates as well as the Arsenal fans. He made a big impression on young 18 year old David Court “He obviously had a mixed time out in Torino, but Joe was a big signing for Arsenal. He was as brave as a lion, a bit of a gunslinger and he must’ve been hard to mark. Off the pitch, he very quickly endeared himself to the younger elements of the club. He was a mixer. He had no airs or graces about him – he was one of the boys. Everybody recognised his talent but they liked him as a person too. Some of the most talented players aren’t that likeable, but he was. There was no arrogance about Joe and that’s what he took with him into the dressing room. He was a very funny, witty person and he was someone we all looked up to and recognised as a real talent”.

In Joe’s second season at Highbury in 1963-64 the goals kept flying in. George Eastham said “We had a very good forward line, with Joe and with Geoff Strong, who also scored a lot of goals. I used to slide the ball through and they looked for one-twos with me. They gave me a pass and I’d push it back in for them. You found Joe and Geoff very easily in the box. Joe had good movement and he was a very good player. If it weren’t for our defence, you’d think we’d be challenging for the title”.

As usual it was an eventful season for Joe. In Arsenal’s first venture into European competition in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Joe became the first Arsenal player to score a hat-trick in a European competition in a 7-1 demolition job away to Danish outfit Staevnet. He also scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa at Highbury in a 3-0 win and netted the winner in a 2-1 victory over Manchester United at Highbury. In another enthralling North London Derby it was goals galore at Highbury as Jimmy Greaves put Spurs 1-0 up. Bobby Smith made it 2-0, then a George Eastham penalty made it 2-1. Dave Mackay increased Spurs lead to 3-1, before goals from Bobby Smith and George Eastham put the score at 4-2 to Spurs at half time. Dramatically with just five minutes left to play Joe shot left footed past Bill Brown, then Geoff Strong headed a late equaliser in the dying seconds of the game.

Earlier that season Jack McClelland got injured against Leicester City at Filbert Street. It was before substitutes were introduced and Joe volunteered to go in goal. Bob Wilson who was watching said that it was hilarious seeing Joe in goal looking like a midget as Arsenal went down 7-2!

Joe was very supportive of Bob Wilson who said “I was an amateur playing in goal for the Arsenal. Of course most of the players didn’t accept me and one of the only ones who did was Joe Baker. He was the only one who understood my discomfort. There were people there who wouldn’t even converse with me, including George Eastham, the captain. For him, it was the equivalent now of Wayne Rooney turning round and seeing an amateur schoolteacher in goal, so I understand where they were coming from, but it’s bloody hard when your coming from my background and everything. It was very hard to take. So even when I made my debut against Nottingham Forest, on that day the only one to really put his arm around me and say ‘Come on, enjoy it’ and do his best to make me feel comfortable was Joe Baker. I think he understood what was going through my mind and, for that, I’ll always be grateful”.

This was also the season of the infamous incident when 5 foot 8 inch Joe Baker laid out 6 foot 2 inch Ron Yeats with one punch in front of the East Stand at Highbury in an FA Cup 5th round tie which Arsenal lost 1-0. Both Joe and a very groggy Ron Yeats, who Bill Shankly’s called his colossus, got their marching orders. Arsenal finished 8th and despite scoring 90 league goals the Gunners leaky defence conceded 82. This was in spite of Billy Wright trying to strengthen the defence by buying Ian Ure from Dundee for £62,500, which was an absolute fortune for a centre half in those days. Joe finished up joint top goalscorer with Geoff Strong on 31 goals each in all competitions.

Joe has just decked Liverpool's colossus Ron Yeats at Highbury

Joe has just decked Liverpool’s colossus Ron Yeats at Highbury

The wheels really started to come off for Billy Wright in the 1964-65 season. Arsenal played Liverpool on the opening day of the season and it was the first ever Match of the Day television broadcast. Joe scored for Arsenal which commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme described as “What a beautiful goal! Glorious goal by Baker”. However Arsenal lost 3-2. This was the first of 18 defeats in the league that season as Arsenal finished a lowly 13th in the table as well as suffering a humiliating FA Cup giant killing away at Peterborough United. Joe was still banging in the goals finishing top scorer again with 25 goals. To make matters worse Joe lost his strike partner in November 1965 when Geoff Strong went to Liverpool.

Arsenal went on a pre-season tour to the West Indies in August 1965 and Joe scored six goals in one of the matches. However in another match in Jamaica Joe’s patience was wearing thin with Billy Wright and Frank McLintock said “Joe got so fed up with Billy Wright’s hectoring, half-time talk that he flung his boots at the manager and refused to go out for the second half”. Another of the games played in Kingston had to be abandoned after Joe squared up to Jamaican defender Frank Brown. Bottles rained down onto the pitch. The crowd were in a frenzy as they couldn’t take their team getting beaten. When Arsenal left the stadium David Court said “Joe had seen the Italian riots first hand, particularly after scoring the winner against Juventus, and he warned us to make sure we put our coats over our heads as we got into the bus”.

The 1965-66 season was Joe’s last as a Gunner and it ended up being a disastrous one for The Arsenal. Joe scored his 13th goal of the season and his 100th goal for The Arsenal in a 5-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury on the 28th December 1965. This was also to be his last goal in an Arsenal shirt. As the season moved into the new year Arsenal had a terrible start to 1966 losing the first three league matches and then got dumped out of the FA Cup in the Third Round on 22nd January getting hammered 3-0 by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. This was Joe’s Final appearance as an Arsenal player. Billy Wright reacted to the cup defeat by dropping his two star names Joe and George Eastham, although both were still picked for the England squad.

George Eastham patched things up with Billy Wright and returned to the side against Tottenham at Highbury in March. However by then Joe had been sold by Billy Wright for £70,000 to Nottingham Forest. Joe was only 25 years old when he left Highbury and in my opinion this was a grave error by Billy Wright to sell him. There was a backlash and the Arsenal supporters gradually turned against Wright as the teams results continued to be dire and attendances dwindled to just 4,454 for one match at home to Leeds United. Arsenal finished 14th that season. Things couldn’t continue like that and Billy Wright inevitably ended up getting the sack.

Joe Baker’s eye for goal was as deadly as ever scoring 19 times in 39 games for Forest who were going for the Double in 1966-67. Unfortunately for Joe and for Forest after just two minutes of an FA Cup quarter-final at home to Everton Brian Labone made a clumsy mistimed tackle on Joe and he was ruled out for the rest of the season. This included the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham and had Joe been fit who’d have bet against Joe scoring the winner. Of course Forest lost and also finished runners-up in the league to Manchester United. With a fully fit Joe Baker for the run-in who knows maybe they’d have done the Double.

Forest were never to repeat the form of that season during Joe’s time there. Despite scoring 21 times for Forest in all competitions in 1967-68 teammate Ian Storey-Moore says “I didn’t think Joe was ever quite the same after his injury against Everton. He did well to come back and he scored a few goals the following season, but I’m sure that injury ultimately affected his career. He lost that bit of pace which took him away from defenders and enabled him to score those spectacular goals”.

A young fifteen year old John Robertson used to clean Joe’s boots at Forest and said these kind words about him “I was just a kid so unfortunately I didn’t get to play alongside Joe, but I played against him in practice matches. He was like shit off a shovel. His movement was fantastic and he could always get a goal. I used to clean his boots, but it was a privilege to be at the same club. Joe is an absolute legend in the city of Nottingham. Everybody talked about him and everyone remembers Joe Baker”.

By the time he went to Sunderland for £30,000 at the start of the 1969-70 season Joe’s best playing days were behind him at only 29 years old. Things didn’t work out for him at Roker Park and just eighteen months later Joe was on his way back to the club where he made his name. Joe signed for Hibernian for £12,000 in January 1971. Joe was such a legend at Hibs that on his return to Easter Road the fans treated him as if he was the Messiah and the attendance for his debut for Hibs was treble the average home gate. Joe didn’t disappoint the fans scoring the winner with a header in a 2-1 victory over Aberdeen. In his two seasons back at Hibs Joe scored 17 goals in 34 games.

Joe makes a triumphant return to Hibs

Joe makes a triumphant return to Hibs

The sands of time were running out for Joe. However at 32 years old there was one last hurrah for him when he joined Raith Rovers in 1972 for his last two seasons as a professional footballer scoring a very decent 43 goals in 66 games. After which Joe hung his boots up in 1974 aged 34.

Internationally Joe would dearly have loved to have pulled on the dark blue jersey of Scotland, but although Joe spoke with the broadest of Scottish accents the fact that he was born in Liverpool meant it was the white shirt of England that Joe would wear. Incidentally his brother Gerry played at full international level for the United States due to being born there. On 18th November 1959 such was Joe’s impact in Scottish Football that even the England selectors had to take notice. He had already been selected for England Under 23’s and was picked for the full England side against Northern Ireland becoming the first player to represent England without playing in the Football League. Joe’s brother Gerry was at the game and a fan sitting behind him kept moaning “Why did they pick a bloody Scotsman for England? Why didn’t they pick Brian Clough?” After Joe fired England in front with a bullet of a shot Gerry turned round and said “That’s why they picked a fucking Scotsman for England!”. Joe’s second appearance for England was in the cauldron of Hampden Park against Scotland and Joe got slaughtered by the Scottish fans. But it was water off a ducks back to Joe. He played in all five of England’s games in 1959-60. Joe was then dropped from the squad and didn’t return till the 1965-66 season making a further three appearances and scoring two goals. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to convince Alf Ramsey who left him out of the 1966 World Cup squad.

Alf Ramsey talks to the England squad including Joe, Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves

Alf Ramsey talks to the England squad including Joe, Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves

Joe had a couple of spells as manager of Albion Rovers in the 1980’s. Sadly on the 6th October 2003 Joe suffered a heart attack at a charity golf tournament and though he was rushed to hospital he passed away at just 63 years old. In a seventeen year club career Joe notched a remarkable 372 goals in 615 matches.

Joe Baker was idolised by the supporters of Hibs, Nottingham Forest and of course The Arsenal where he had a brilliant goals to games ratio netting exactly 100 goals in 156 appearances. It was a crying shame that a centre forward of Joe’s quality didn’t win a single thing as a player. Joe never got to play in one of the many great Arsenal sides as unfortunately his timeline at Arsenal coincided with the club’s longest barren spell between trophies. However in one of the darkest eras at Highbury Joe along with George Eastham lit the place up with some unforgettable moments.

As always thanks for reading my Highbury Hero. It’s been a long one but hope you all enjoyed it.

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One Response to Highbury Hero Joe Baker: His Generation’s Roy Of The Rovers

  1. david gilroy July 3, 2020 at 9:56 pm #

    Thank you Gary for a wonderful tribute to Joe Baker. He was my boyhood hero at Hibernian and I finally met him in person when he returned years later as a hospitality ambassador and regailed with stories of his memorable career
    His warm and down to earth personality shone through . He was all you wanted your hero to be and I will always cherish his memory

    David G edinburgh

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