A traumatic memory in any language

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The Independent Online
JOE BAKER was one of the lucky Scots who managed to get a ticket for the little domestic dispute at Hampden Park yesterday. He was, however, more than a shade uncertain about whether to accept his invitation, which was hardly surprising given his painful memories of 9 April 1960 - the afternoon he spent playing for England against Scotland at Hampden.

"The stick I took... Oh, Jesus!... it was unbelievable," he recalled with a wince. "I was standing at Hampden with a white shirt on and there were 129,000 people roaring `Sassenach this, Sassenach that' at me. I only lived 12 miles from the ground and I played for Hibernian. I vowed it would never happen again to any of my family. When I was playing in England I insisted that my wife came back up to Scotland to have our two kids."

It was Baker's misfortune that he happened to be born in Liverpool in 1940. He was by every other definition a Scot. He was raised in Wishaw, the Lanarkshire town where he still lives at the age of 59. His parents were both Scots. He even played for Scotland as a schoolboy international, against England and Wales. But because of a Fifa regulation that was not lifted until 1967 at Under- 23 and senior level he could represent only the country in which he was born. "It wasn't like it is today," he lamented. "I had no choice, no choice whatsoever."

Baker, who played in Italy for Torino and in England for Arsenal, Nottingham Forest and Sunderland, was a 19-year-old Hibs centre- forward when he won the first of his eight England caps in November 1959. He scored in a 2-1 win against Northern Ireland, though he almost didn't make it to Wembley. The taxi driver who picked him up from Heathrow airport became suspicious when he asked to be taken to the England team hotel and flagged down a passing police car. The debut boy had to produce his selection letter from the Football Association to verify his claim, made in a broad Scottish accent, that he was actually in the England team.

"I'll never forget the look on the policeman's face," the chuckling Baker said. "He just took off his helmet and said to the cab driver, `Good god, Fred. Are we that bad that we have to have Jocks playing for us?' "

Queen's Park rovers

THERE WAS a time, of course, when Scottish teams even played in the FA Cup. Indeed, on two occasions the old tin pot very nearly ended up on display in the trophy cabinet at Hampden Park. Queen's Park, who own the national stadium and play their Scottish Third Division home games in it, were beaten 2-1 by Blackburn Rovers in the 1884 final and 2-0 by the Lancashire club in the 1885 final. It would have been historically appropriate, then, if the movers and shakers at Lancaster Gate had offered the third-round place left vacant by Manchester United to the former Glasgow giants instead of giving a second chance to one of the second- round losers.

"Well, we would have been quite happy to take on that challenge," Alistair Mackay, Queen's Park's secretary, said. "In actual fact, we donated two or three guineas to the purchase of the original FA Cup. It's a pity that we didn't manage to bring it to Scotland. At least we had a good crack at it, though."

These days Queen's Park are having a good crack at winning the Scottish Third Division title. Unbeaten after 13 games, they stand 10 points clear of their closest rivals, Forfar Athletic, whom they meet at Station Park this afternoon. "It's the best start we've ever made," Mackay proudly reported. And it's all the more remarkable considering Queen's Park still cling to their status as an amateur club.

As the Rothmans Football Yearbook duly records each year, they have no record transfer fees to list because they have never received one nor paid one. "It's just part of our ethos," Mackay said.

There has, however, been one notable concession to cash. The legend "Irn Bru" is writ large across the front of Queen's Park's shirts. Still, judging by the league table this season, they are quite possibly made in Scotland from girders.

The identity parade

QUEEN'S PARK might not be contesting the English FA Cup this season but they have been drawn to play an English club in the Scottish Cup. Berwick Rangers visit Hampden in the second round on 8 January. "It will be a bit of a culture shock, crowd-wise, from the England-Scotland match," Keith Topham pointed out. "From a full house to about 700."

Topham was one of the 52,000 at Hampden yesterday and he'll be one of the 700 there on 8 January. For 12 years he's been a faithful follower of the lone Rangers of Northumberland, even though he lives 200 miles away in Sheffield. "To me it's real grass- roots football," he said. "The players get paid peanuts and they play with a bit of pride. That's my sort of football. These Premier League teams with directors who live in the Channel Islands or Barbados and players who are on pounds 20,000 a week... I can't identify with them."

A right bargain

UNLIKE THE Scottish Rangers of Glasgow, who reached the semi-finals in 1887, the English Rangers of Berwick-upon-Tweed have never played in the FA Cup.

On Tuesday, however, they will have an opportunity to get their hands on the trophy. The bill-topping item in an auction of sporting "rarities" organised by the on-line auction house QXL.com and The Auction Channel happens to be the pot Roy Keane lifted at Wembley on 22 May. It is not quite a sell-off, though, to follow the sell-out by Manchester United. The lot open to offer is the right to hold the FA Cup for 24 hours and all proceeds will go to the Cancer Research Campaign.

United, they stand out

THE CAUSE might not be quite so worthy, but in these days of football followers being ripped off right, left and centre-forward, Dundee United are to be congratulated for offering 10 of the 50 tickets they received for Hampden yesterday to their own season-ticket holders. "We realise these people are the lifeblood of the game," Jim McLean, the chairman at Tannadice, said. Are you reading, Newcastle?