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How Joe Baker, one of Britain’s most underrated strikers, saw his career turn after a tumultuous year at Torino

How Joe Baker, one of Britain's most underrated strikers, saw his career turn after a tumultuous year at Torino

Among the many many modifications introduced alongside by the arrival of the Premier League, the gradual improve of Italian gamers and managers in England has been among the many most evident. From Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Di Matteo paving the best way at Chelsea, to Fabrizio Ravanelli and Paolo Di Canio, the Premier League has been handled to some of calcio’s most profitable – and at occasions misunderstood – figures of the final 20 years.

The bond between Italy and England has not been confined to the pitch both, for Roberto Mancini and Claudio Ranieri have each gained the Premier League title as managers, and Maurizio Sarri certainly hopes to emulate his colleagues

Whereas Italian imports have been conspicuous, English – and British and Irish as a entire –  footballers on the peninsula are as uncommon as eating places in Rome serving Yorkshire puddings with their bucatini amatriciana. It’s a exceptional shift in dynamic from the second half of the 1950s, when Italian golf equipment welcomed British footballers kind of frequently.

Nevertheless, whereas the likes of John Charles, Ray Wilkins, Liam Brady and David Platt made a identify for themselves in Italy, some weren’t as fortunate. Particularly, a trio of British imports who arrived in Italy in 1961 had a torrid time. Jimmy Greaves’ fleeting spell with AC Milan lasted 12 video games, earlier than he was unceremoniously placed on a aircraft again to England, the place his career flourished once more as he turned a Tottenham legend.

If Greaves didn’t take pleasure in his time in Milan, two of his colleagues, who had landed 90 miles to the west, had an much more depressing keep in Italy, one which just about led to tragedy.

By the point Joe Baker and Denis Regulation arrived in Turin in 1961, John Charles was starting the final of his 5 years underneath the Mole Antonelliana. Nevertheless, whereas Italy’s first capital had proved to be a residence away from residence for the Welshman, Baker and Regulation by no means settled on the banks of the River Po.

Italian soccer was years forward of its English counterpart in phrases of consideration reserved to footballers’ lives and the previous was utterly unprepared for it. By the point he signed for Torino, Baker had constructed a identify for himself. In 4 seasons with Hibernian, the Liverpudlian had scored 102 league objectives in 117 appearances, together with all 4 objectives in Hibs’ Four-Three win within the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup in 1958.

That he achieved the exceptional feat towards the Hibees’ bitter rivals Hearts solely cemented his place in Hibs’ folklore, regardless of the very fact he was simply 17 years previous at the time. In the identical marketing campaign, his first at senior degree for the membership, he was additionally Hibs’ prime scorer. The season finally led to disappointment as they misplaced 1-Zero to Clyde within the cup remaining, whereas Hearts clinched a first title since 1897.

Learn  |  John Charles: the mild big who turned the best import in Juventus historical past

Three years on from his heroics towards Hearts, Baker was decided to reap the monetary rewards of his work. Nevertheless, when his demand for a £5-a-week pay rise was swiftly knocked again, he started exploring his choices, notably as a quantity of Italian golf equipment had proven curiosity.

Monetary disparity isn’t a modern-day phenomenon in soccer and Serie A provided Baker the interesting prospect of a a lot greater wage than the one Hibs have been ready to supply – the £5 pay rise he demanded amounted to virtually half of his wage. Regardless of curiosity from Fiorentina, Torino gained the race and signed Baker for £75,000. Later in his career, Baker would confide to Brian Glanville that he would have been higher off with La Viola.

As an alternative he selected Turin’s Baroque environment over Florence’s Renaissance, largely as a result of he heard that Regulation was additionally in talks to signal with i Granata and he felt he can be extra snug in a overseas land alongside a fellow Scot.

Baker’s emotions in the direction of Scotland have been of utmost significance to him. Born on Merseyside to a Scottish mom and an English father, he got here to the world on 17 August 1940, shortly after the Luftwaffe had launched an intensive bombing marketing campaign over England.

As an toddler, Baker spent a grand complete of 5 weeks in England earlier than his father, George, determined to maneuver the household north of the border, to Motherwell. The Bakers weren’t strangers to shifting round. Simply earlier than the outbreak of World Conflict Two, the household had been dwelling in New York and Baker’s elder brother, Jerry, was born within the Huge Apple in 1938.

Joe, nevertheless, by no means lived throughout the Atlantic. He grew up in North Lanarkshire and have become a Scot in every part however his birthplace, happening to play for Scotland at schoolboy degree. The truth is, he had little or no curiosity in representing England at all. Nevertheless, FA guidelines at the time meant footballers needed to symbolize the nation of their start and Baker was capped by the Three Lions at under-23 and at senior degree.

“Any Englishman, no matter where he is playing, will always be considered for the England team,” England supervisor Walter Winterbottom stated in 1959. He gave Baker his full England debut in November of the identical year when he got here on to switch Brian Clough at Wembley towards Northern Eire. In typical trend, Baker marked his debut with a aim, simply a week on after opening his account with the England beneath 23-side towards France.

Learn  |  Gerry Hitchens: the forgotten celebrity of English soccer nonetheless remembered fondly in Italy

Objectives have been simply the currencies Baker dealt in. Amazingly, his full England debut virtually by no means got here to cross. Having flown right down to London from Scotland to satisfy up with the workforce, he reportedly obtained in a cab and requested to be taken to Hendon Corridor. Suspicious as to why a man talking with a Scottish accent would ask to be taken to the place the place the England gamers have been staying, the driving force enquired concerning the vacation spot once more.

When Baker gave the identical response, legend has it the driving force referred to as the police. So the Hibs striker discovered themselves making an attempt to persuade a sergeant that he was, in reality, enjoying for England and never some lunatic from north of the border intent in inflicting havoc at Hendon Corridor.

When requested for identification, Baker proudly pointed to his image on the again web page of that day’s night paper. At that time, the constable that had accompanied the sergeant on the scene reportedly quipped: “A Jock playing for England. Surely we ain’t that bad are we?”

If some elements of the story could be apocryphal, they completely captured the shock of seeing a participant plying his commerce in Scotland and sounding very very similar to a Scot enjoying for England. To this present day, Baker stays the one participant capped for England earlier than kicking a ball in anger for an English membership – he moved to Arsenal in 1962, having made his debut for the nationwide aspect three years earlier.

Amazingly, as a result of of a loophole, Baker was allowed to characterize Scotland at schoolboy degree and, in 1960, at the age of 19, scored twice towards England at Hampden Park.

Again in Turin, Baker and Regulation started their foray in Italy in spectacular style. The latter scored as soon as and the previous added a brace as Torino drew Three-Three at residence to Vicenza within the second recreation of the season, earlier than the previous Manchester Metropolis striker added one other three objectives over the subsequent 4 video games.

It was then Baker’s turn to steal the headlines, scoring the profitable objective as Torino beat Juventus within the Derby della Mole. The 2 Scots mixed once more three days later, scoring all three objectives in a win away towards Udinese.

Baker scored simply twice within the subsequent 5 video games however the truth that he netted the winner on each events offset his diminishing return in entrance of objective. His type was dwindling, nevertheless, and he must wait two months for an additional objective, which might show to be his final in a Torino shirt.

Learn  |  David Platt: an Englishman in Italy

If the shortage of type on the pitch was a trigger for concern, his life off it took a turn for the more severe and spectacularly careered astray. Whereas Baker had initially appreciated the highlight Italians reserved for footballers, the novelty shortly wore off and the fixed consideration got here to resemble the proverbial tunnel with no sign of ending.

It didn’t assist the truth that whereas Baker had little time for the press, each he and Regulation – with whom, together with his brother Hugo, he shared an condo in Turin – loved a style of the Dolce Vita the town needed to supply. The duo’s fondness for a social drink and the media’s relentless intrusion made for a poisonous cocktail that spilled over in Venice when Baker, exasperated by a cussed paparazzo, despatched him flying into a canal with a single punch.

The gesture highlighted the striker’s fiery mood, and Torino have been lower than inclined to see the humorous aspect of the incident, which value them 700,000 lira. An already troublesome state of affairs took a tragic turn when Regulation and Baker hopped into the latter’s model new Alfa Romeo within the early hours of a February morning in 1962. Baker had picked up his Giulietta Dash on 7 February, and by the point it crashed into the Garibaldi monument on By way of Cairoli at roughly 4am, it had simply over 60 miles on the clock.

Whereas Regulation escaped unscathed, Baker, who was at the steering wheel of his Alfa Romeo, wasn’t as lucky and needed to spend a few weeks in hospital being fed by a drip after fracturing his palate and nasal septum.

Over a month after the incident, Baker was ultimately discharged however the time spent in hospital satisfied him his Italian journey had lasted lengthy sufficient. Drained of the Brit’s antics – it was extensively reported Baker went on a starvation strike after being pressured to remain a lodge within the days earlier than a recreation, which was commonplace amongst Italian golf equipment again then – Torino have been all too glad to take heed to provides.

By July 1962, Arsenal’s £70,000 bid – then a membership document for the Gunners – was accepted and Baker returned to Britain. Nonetheless solely 22, he had his greatest days forward of him and swiftly picked up the place he had left with Hibs, scoring 100 objectives in 156 appearances in all competitions.

Regardless of his goalscoring exploits – he reached a century of aim for Arsenal quicker than Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie would do virtually 50 years later – Baker by no means managed to pressure his means into the England workforce and solely appeared eight occasions for the nationwide staff. Scotland’s loss wasn’t England’s achieve.

Learn  |  The Roman tragicomedy of Paul Gascoigne at Lazio

Regardless of ending as prime scorer in every of his 4 seasons at Highbury, Baker by no means completed larger than seventh within the First Division. In February 1966, he moved on once more, this time to Nottingham Forest, the place he scored 41 league objectives in 118 appearances. By a unusual twist of religion, throughout his spell at the Metropolis Floor, Forest completed second within the First Division to a Manchester United aspect who have been propelled to the league title by Regulation’s objectives.

As was the case for Baker, the prospect of a greater wage at a time when English golf equipment nonetheless enforced the utmost wage rule was had proved too tempting to withstand for Regulation and had satisfied him to maneuver to Italy. The bigger paycheck got here with the added sweetener of enjoying in a league that would legitimately declare to be the most effective on the earth. Gigi Peronace, the person who had engineered Charles’ transfer to Juventus, brokered each offers and Regulation adopted Baker to Turin. 

His spell in Serie A was extra profitable than his teammate’s – he scored a respectable 10 objectives in 27 video games – however two months after the crash he handed in a switch request after rising disillusioned with life in Italy and the bodily battering reserved for centre-forwards.

Torino president Angelo Filippone then knowledgeable the Scotsman he had accepted a suggestion from Juventus, however Regulation needed to ponder the transfer and returned to his native Aberdeen, the place he was knowledgeable he had been named greatest overseas participant in Italy forward of Baker, Fiorentina winger Kurt Hamrin and Internazionale midfielder Luis Suárez.

Regulation ultimately opted towards crossing the town divide in Turin – and virtually definitely spared Filippone some very awkward moments within the course of – however had no such qualms when he returned to Manchester in 1962. 5 years later, he netted 23 objectives in 36 video games as United claimed a second title in three seasons. They might grow to be the primary English aspect to carry the European Cup a year later, once they beat Benfica Four-1 at Wembley.

Whereas the career of his former flatmate in Turin was laden with particular person and workforce trophies, honours largely eluded Baker. It was virtually as if, symbolically, comparatively shut till their transfer to Turin, his and Regulation’s career started diverging the very second Baker’s Alfa Romeo crashed on that chilly winter morning.

As an injured Regulation watched on from the stands as United held the European Cup aloft, Baker’s stint at Forest was nearing its finish. A transfer to Sunderland adopted, earlier than a second spell at Hibs preceded two seasons at Raith Rovers the place, after scoring at a mean of virtually a objective per recreation, Baker would retire in 1974.

In October 2003, Baker’s coronary heart gave approach whereas he was enjoying in a golf event in Scotland at the age of 63. With 372 objectives in 615 video games he stays one of the most prolific and maybe much less celebrated strikers British soccer has seen during the last six many years.

By Dan Cancian @mufc_dan