Sunday, 1 September 2013

Jim's column 31.8.13

Last Saturday evening I received the sad news that former City player Gerry Baker had passed away earlier that day at the age of 75. It seems only five minutes since I laughed and joked with him at the last Legends Day in March when he was full of beans and posed for pictures with his fellow ex-City great Scots such as Stein, Carr, Hutchison & Wallace.
Gerry was born on 11 April 1938 in New Rochelle in New York State, where his English father ( a sailor) and Scottish mother had settled, but after a year in the States, the family moved to his father's native Liverpool, so that he could assist the war effort by joining the Merchant Navy. During their time on Merseyside, his younger brother Joe was born and the two brothers both had outstanding football careers. Gerry & Joe both won international caps for the countries of their birth despite their broad Scottish accents. 
A few weeks after Joe's birth, the family were evacuated to Scotland and the football mad brothers were brought up in Motherwell, playing football first for his school sides of Park Primary and St. Joseph's Secondary, as well as Craigneuk Boys Club.
Gerry's skills soon brought him to the attention of local side Larkhall Thistle, and after only six games, the 15 year old headed south to join Chelsea where he starred in their youth, third and reserve teams (scoring four goals in six starts), before making one appearance for the Chelsea first team, against Luton Town in a Southern Floodlight Cup match in September 1956. He returned to Scotland later that year suffering from homesickness, and was quickly snapped up by his home town team of Motherwell.
Gerry's first team chances were limited at Motherwell and he was regularly played at outside left, which was not his favoured position. A move to St. Mirren in early 1959 kick-started his career and he scored on his debut in a 2-1 win over a Hibs side which contained his brother Joe. He also helped the Saints to the Scottish Cup final, scoring seven goals en route, and then netted the third goal in the clubs 3-1 final win over Aberdeen at Hampden.
The following season, Gerry made history by scoring an incredible ten goals in a Scottish Cup tie against Glasgow University, which St Mirren won 15-0. (Unbelievably brother Joe scored nine against Peebles Rovers for Hibs a year later.)
 In 1960 Gerry caught the eye of Manchester City who paid £30,000 for his signature and he crossed the border again, playing alongside the great Denis Law, but once more did not settle in the south and a year later he was on the move to Hibernian. He was a regular scorer for Hibs for two seasons & once again attracted the English scouts. In November 1963 former Newcastle legend Jackie Milburn paid £25,000 to sign Gerry for Ipswich Town. He was unable to stop Ipswich being relegated from Division One that season but was a regular at Portman Road for four seasons scoring 58 goals in 135 games.
Noel Cantwell signed Gerry for the Sky Blues two weeks after taking over from Jimmy Hill as City's manager in October 1967, paying Ipswich £25,000. He made his debut in a disastrous 0-3 home defeat to Fulham which sent the team to the foot of the table. Fellow Scot Ernie Hannigan made his debut the same day. Gerry netted his first goal for City in a 1-1 home draw with West Ham on a snow-bound pitch with his speed unnerving the normally calm Bobby Moore.
Gerry was small for a striker but he was good in the air. His real strength however was in his speed and finishing. He scored further goals at home to Liverpool, Newcastle and Charlton but his most memorable goal came in a 2-1 home win over Chelsea in February 1968. The previous week City had won their first away game of the season and only their second league win since September & the first of many great escapes was underway. Cantwell had signed centre-forward Neil Martin and he made his debut in an all Scottish forward line of: Hannigan, Baker, Martin, Ian Gibson & Willie Carr (Baker always considered himself a Scot despite his US passport). City trailed the high-flying Londoners 1-0 at half time but Gerry headed an equaliser before Hannigan clinched a vital win with a searing shot.
Gerry played 22 games that season, scoring five goals & helping the Sky Blues avoid the drop. The following season he lost his place to Ernie Hunt and made only 11 appearances scoring a solitary goal, against Newcastle at home. That season he did however make himself available for the U.S.A. team as it began qualifying matches for the 1970 World Cup. His first cap came in a 4–2 World Cup qualifying defeat to Canada on 17 October 1968.
Over the next month, Gerry started six games with the U.S.A. and scored twice in a 6–2 victory over Bermuda. His seventh & last cap came in a 1–0 loss to Haiti which put the U.S.A. out of contention for a spot in the finals.
His final first team game for Coventry came in September 1969 when deputising for the injured Hunt he won one of two penalties in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace. The following month he joined Brentford on loan where he scored two goals in eight games before being released by the Sky Blues at the end of the season. In total he played 34 games and scored six goals.
Gerry then signed as a player-manager with Southern League Margate, but was limited by several injuries, first a dislocated shoulder in August 1970, then broken ribs in the November. Despite these injuries, Gerry played a total of 48 games (16 goals) before leaving the club in September 1971. He joined Nuneaton Borough and played 30 games (9 goals) under David Pleat for one season, followed by spells with Bedworth United, Worcester City & Racing Warwick.
Brother Joe, who won eight caps for England in the early 60s, passed away 10 years ago.
After retiring from professional football Gerry worked for Jaguar Cars in Coventry, and took up golf. His late wife Ann was a champion sprinter in her heyday, and daughters, Karen and Lorraine, were both international athletes. Lorraine represented Great Britain in the 1984 & 1992 Olympics, finishing fifth in the 800 metres in 1984. Gerry & Ann returned to live in Scotland some years ago & Ann passed away last year after a long illness. Gerry's funeral took place in Motherwell yesterday .

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