One of my favourite films is The Fabulous Baker Boys, released in the UK in 1990 and featuring Beau and Jeff Bridges. Laced with a combination of humour, pathos, sibling rivalry and unfulfilled ambitions of the two brothers, it has generally slipped under the radar.
An equally enthralling movie could perhaps be made starring the footballing Baker brothers – Gerry and Joe – who through accidents of birth were prevented from playing for the land of their upbringing.
George Baker was a merchant seaman from Liverpool, his wife Lizzie from Motherwell. After their marriage, they relocated to the United States to start a new life. Their first son, Gerry, was born in New Rochelle, New York on 11 April 1938. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War they returned to Liverpool, where their second son, Joe, arrived on 7 July 1940.
With her husband away on active service, Lizzie moved back to Motherwell with her young offspring. It was a challenging time for her, as Joe suffered a severe bout of tuberculosis when he was three and nearly died. This event brought the two brothers even closer together and that bond remained with them throughout their lives. Gerry also broke his leg twice as a child and was told he would never play football again.
The boys grew up in Scotland. They spoke with the same rich lowland brogue as their friends and they wanted to play football for the only land they had ever known: Scotland. Whilst at school, the Baker boys showed a natural aptitude for the game and attracted various club scouts. Chelsea took Gerry to London, where he played for the youth team alongside Jimmy Greaves. Unfortunately, he suffered from homesickness and returned to play for Motherwell.
Joe Baker demonstrated throughout his youth that although Gerry was a decent footballer, he was clearly going to be a better one. He was selected for the Scottish schoolboys’ side and was invited to train with Chelsea in 1955, but they didn’t pursue their initial interest. After returning to Scotland, he joined the team that he and his brother supported, Hibernian, the first-ever Scottish side to participate in the European Cup.
Gerry found it difficult to break into a Motherwell side containing the likes of Ian St John, moving to St Mirren for the 1958/59 season. His first game for the Buddies was against a Hibs side featuring Joe. Gerry netted the winner in a 2-1 victory. This was one of only four times that they would play against each other in a competitive fixture.
It was a season to remember for Gerry. He scored in every round of the Scottish Cup, culminating with a goal in the final as they defeated Aberdeen 3-1 in front of 102,000 spectators at Hampden Park. It was the only trophy either of the brothers were to win.
The Scottish Cup was a fertile territory for the Bakers. Joe attained hero status amongst Hibees supporters when he scored all four goals in their quarter-final win over cross-city rivals Hearts in 1958. In January 1960, Gerry scored ten goals when St Mirren beat Glasgow University 15-0. The following season, Joe notched nine as Hibernian smashed Peeble Rovers 15-1.
Nowadays, it appears that the modern-day footballer can chose his nationality at will. Scotland have been represented by numerous players who were not born or even lived in the country. Unfortunately, at that time, the Scottish selectors were bound by stringent eligibility criteria. This meant that because the Baker brothers were born outside of Scotland, neither could represent the nation.
For Joe, who had lived in Motherwell since he was six weeks old, this decision was heartbreaking. Gerry was also in international limbo, opting to choose US citizenship at the age of 21 to avoid a spell of National Service.
Walter Winterbottom, the England manager, became aware of Joe’s eligibility and in 1959 picked him to play against Northern Ireland. The taxi driver who collected Joe in London on his way to meet up with the England squad refused to believe that the young Scot was telling the truth, calling the police to arrest him.
Joe was the first = footballer to represent England who played in another country. He scored in a 2-1 victory and won another four caps before being overlooked for the next five years.
Gerry’s exploits attracted attention in England and in November 1960 he moved to Manchester City where he partnered Denis Law. Despite scoring 14 goals in 31 gamesm=, he struggled to settle and returned to Scotland to replace Joe at Hibs, who had left the club in the summer of 1961 to join Italian giants Torino. As one Hibs fan said, “How do you replace a man who scored nine goals in one game? Easy bring in his brother who scored ten!”
Joe scored 102 goals in 117 league games for Hibernian, nevertheless the board refused to increase his wages by £5 a week and sold him to Torino for £75,000. = Law also arrived at the club and had seemingly swapped his striking partner at Manchester City for his younger brother. As he once said, “I couldn’t get rid of the Baker Boys.”
It was an eventful year in Turin. Joe later recalled, “I was punched, kicked, fined, suspended, sued, and had a punch up with cameramen in Venice.” Not to mention the fact that he almost killed Denis and himself in a car crash.
Arsenal bought him for £70,000 in the summer of 1962. He enjoyed a successful spell at Highbury, scoring 100 goals in just under four seasons. His form led to a recall from England manager Alf Ramsey. He made three appearances that season and was included in Alf’s initial squad of 40 for the 1966 World Cup. Joe never made the final 22 and his England career was over. There is still a school of thought that Alf was uncomfortable having a player with a broad Scottish accent in his team.
Gerry moved to Ipswich in 1963, netting 66 goals in 151 games. He switched to Coventry in 1967, becoming the first American – in the loosest sense of the word – to score a hat-trick in the top division. Noting his eligibility to play for the US, he was selected to assist their attempts to qualify for the 1970 World Cup. His first appearance was against Canada in March 1968, when he became the first top-flight European footballer to play for them. Ironically, he was one of only three players in that team born in the States.
A dispute with manager Billy Wright led to Joe joining Nottingham Forest in March 1966, a decision which dismayed the Highbury faithful. The following season, the club finished as runners-up to Manchester United and lost to Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final. Forest fans are still convinced that if Joe had not been injured in the quarter-final, they would have won the double.
He was never quite the same player after that, spending two years at Sunderland before returning to Hibs and finishing at Raith Rovers. In a career of 507 games, he scored 301 goals.
Gerry was released by Coventry at the end of the 1969/70 season and continued his career in the English non-league system with Margate, Nuneaton, and Worcester. Although never as prolific as Joe, he can be proud of his record of 152 goals in 337 professional games.
The Baker brothers were two outstanding footballers who grew up in Scotland but were cruelly prevented from representing their country. It is a decision that still rankles with Scotland fans today. Some may even say it cost them the 1966 World Cup.
By Paul Mc Parlan @paulmcparlan