Sammy Baird: Footballer who won three League titles with Rangers and played in the 1958 World Cup
Saturday 01 May 2010
Sammy Baird was a much-admired member of the formidable Rangers team of the late 1950s, and in a highly successful spell at Ibrox he won three League Championship medals and the League Cup. In the years from 1956-58 Baird also enjoyed a brief international career, which was cut short after Scotland's disappointing performance at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Baird, at least, scored on his seventh and final appearance for his country, scoring in the 2-1 defeat against France which ended the Scots' run in the tournament.
Baird, a gifted, ball-playing inside-left or left-half, began his career with Clyde before following the well-trodden path for Scottish footballers to Preston North End. The old aristocrats of English football thought highly enough of Baird that they paid Clyde a substantial £12,000 fee for his services, but he stayed at Deepdale for just one season before switching to Ibrox in 1955 for a cut-price fee of £10,000.
This was the era when European club competition was in its infancy, and Rangers were among the pioneering home clubs ready to break British football's entrenched insularity by taking part. Although Rangers failed to reach the final of the European Cup in a period monopolised by Real Madrid, Baird revelled in the new challenge and played some of his best football in the competition. Rangers fans thrilled at the sight of their team taking on such fabled names as St Etienne, Anderlecht and Milan. In his farewell season with the Gers Baird played his full part in the club's run to the European Cup semi-finals, where they lost to Eintracht Frankfurt. Baird scored five goals in that campaign, including two in the stirring 3-2 win against Sparta Rotterdam in a quarter-final play-off at Highbury. It was perhaps Rangers' greatest night in the competition, and the most memorable game of Baird's career.
Baird won his first Scotland call-up in 1956, scoring on his debut as Yugoslavia were beaten 2-0 at Hampden. He was a regular throughout the qualifying stages of the 1958 World Cup, and travelled with the Scotland squad to the finals in Sweden, where his impact was frustratingly fleeting. He missed selection for the first group games, a 1-1 draw with the Yugoslavs and a 3-2 defeat against Paraguay. But Baird was chosen for the third game, and he scored Scotland's consolation – a precise shot from the edge of the penalty area – in the 2-1 defeat against France which spelt their early elimination. It was a dispiriting experience for the Scotland side. Their exit triggered a fusillade of criticism, including accusations that the players were out of condition, the result of gorging on creamy Swedish cakes in the team hotel. Many of the squad never played for Scotland again, the unlucky Baird among them.
He left Rangers in 1960 when he joined Hibernian in a £5,000 transfer, and he made his European pedigree count at Easter Road. Baird was an influential figure in the Hibs team which reached the semi-finals of the 1960-61 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, where they lost to Roma in a play-off. He ended his career with short stints at Third Lanark and Stirling Albion, a club he also managed, without conspicuous success.
After retirement from the game Baird kept a public house in Bo'ness, Baird's Bar, which became an especially popular haunt for Rangers supporters. The town's Member of Parliament, Tam Dalyell, struck up a friendship with the former footballer that vaulted political differences.
"The bar became the epicentre for Scottish Nationalism in the constituency," Dalyell said. "At that time Nationalism was sustained by the Rangers Supporters' Clubs. I did not complain about that. All the Celtic Supporters Clubs were solidly behind the Labour Party. But I always found Mr Baird a most genial man and he was well liked and respected in the town."
After retiring, Baird settled in Bangor, Northern Ireland.
Samuel Baird, footballer: born Denny, Stirlingshire 13 May 1930; played for Clyde 1949-54, Preston 1954-55, Rangers 1955-60, Hibernian 1960-62, Third Lanark 1962-63, Stirling Albion 1963-64; played for Scotland seven times, 1956-58; managed Stirling Albion 1963-68; died Bangor, Northern Ireland 21 April 2010.
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