Gerry Baker: Prolific striker who played for the US in the World Cup
His daughter Lorraine reached the final of the Olympic 800 metres at the 1984 Games
Sunday 22 September 2013
Gerry Baker may not have scaled the heights reached by his younger brother Joe, but a football career which saw him recruited by the English champions at 15 and delivered a Scottish Cup-winners' medal, international recognition by the United States and a double century of goals was hardly blighted by under-achievement. The late Joe Baker remains the only player to have made his England debut without having played in the Football League, having been with Hibernian before joining Torino. Gerry was born in New York State, where their English father and Scottish mother had settled, whereas Joe was born in Liverpool on the family's return to the UK. To escape the Luftwaffe's onslaught, both were evacuated to Motherwell and grew up considering themselves Scottish, with accents to match.
In 1955, the 5ft 7in Gerry was a pacy forward, often used on the left wing, and had represented Lanarkshire Schools before being lured south by newly crowned champions Chelsea. In contrast with today's squad at Stamford Bridge, he was the only player among 45 professionals and apprentices not born in the British Isles. He later recalled that his main function was to cross the ball for a prodigy called Jimmy Greaves to score.
Homesick, he left in 1956 for Motherwell, where his hopes of a regular place were blocked by Greaves' future ITV foil, Ian St John. Switching to St Mirren in 1958, he finally operated as an out-and-out striker and marked his debut with the winner against a Hibs side that included Joe. In 1958-59, the Paisley club swept all before them in the Scottish Cup, vanquishing Celtic 4-0 in the semi-finals and Aberdeen 3-1 in the final at Hampden Park before 108,591 spectators, the last six-figure attendance for a match between two Scottish clubs not featuring Rangers or Celtic. Baker maintained his record of scoring in every round.
When St Mirren began their Cup defence with a 15-0 rout of Glasgow University on a snowbound pitch in January 1960, he plundered 10 goals. His haul might have been greater had he not left the pitch for treatment after a defender's clearance thudded into a delicate part of his anatomy.
In November that year, after 66 goals in 81 matches for St Mirren, a £17,000 fee took Baker to Manchester City to partner Denis Law, who would link up with Joe at Torino. City were in decline yet Baker still managed 14 goals in 39 games before again heading north after 12 months, joining Hibs as replacement for his brother.
While he did not emulate Joe's incredible strike-rate at Easter Road (141 goals in 160 games before he was 21), Gerry's tally of 43 in 83 appearances ensured his popularity. It also prompted renewed interest from England, and in December 1963 a £25,000 fee led him to Ipswich, who were propping up the First Division barely 18 months after winning the championship.
He scored in one of his earliest appearances, at Fulham on Boxing Day. The hosts, alas, hit 10, and he liked to recount how he had touched the ball only 11 times, all but once to kick off after Fulham goals. Ipswich were relegated, yet Baker's total of 18 goals in 23 matches, which included a hat-trick in a 6-3 defeat at Tottenham, was testament to his finishing prowess.
He departed with 66 goals from 152 games, moving to top-flight newcomers Coventry in 1967. A three-year sojourn produced only 34 appearances and six goals, but Baker, persuaded by his mother to take out US citizenship at 21 (she hoped he might eventually live the “American dream”) joined his brother as an international footballer. Between October 1968 and May '69 the British coaching duo of Phil Woosnam and Gordon Jago selected him seven times for World Cup qualifiers. On his debut against Canada the programme listed him as “Gary Baker”. Before scoring twice against Bermuda he absent-mindedly turned to face the visitors' flag as the band played their anthem, “God Save the Queen”.
After retiring, with 201 goals from 409 club matches, Baker worked at the Jaguar plant in Coventry. He and his wife Anne, a former runner, took pride in the athletic achievements of their daughters Karen and Lorraine, the latter finishing fifth in the 800 metres final at the 1984 Olympics. When asked whether he minded being overshadowed by his brother, he said the outsider status imposed by their birthplaces meant they learned to stick up for themselves and each other. He regarded Joe as his twin.
An ebullient character, Baker looked forward eagerly to the publication this autumn of Tom Maxwell's biography of himself and Joe, The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had, when he suffered a stroke and died a week later.
Gerard Austin Baker, footballer: born New Rochelle, US 11 April 1938; played for Larkhall Thistle 1954-55, Chelsea 1955-56, Motherwell 1956-58, St Mirren 1958-60, Manchester City 1960-61, Hibernian 1961-63; Ipswich Town 1963-67, Coventry City 1967-70, Brentford (loan) 1969, Margate (player-manager), Nuneaton Borough, Bedworth United, Worcester City; seven appearances for the US 1968-69; married Anne Stevenson (deceased; two daughters); died Wishaw 24 August 2013.
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