An unusual title you might say but allow me to explain as all will be revealed! Peter Barr Cormack was one of my three favourite Hibees of all time along with Joe Baker and Alex Cropley. All very different players but owning a little genius each in their own way. Continue reading
“Joe Baker Dies of Heart Attack” (October 06, 2003)
Those were the words that made my heart sink just two years ago when I discovered that a great hero of my childhood had passed on. I am sure that many can recount a similar feeling when I say that this man was something of a cornerstone of my younger days, hero-worshipping him, studying everything he did on the pitch and avidly reading every few words I could about the great centre-forward as I knew he was. There too were the stories from a Hibernian-supporting father. In truth there was never any possibility that he wouldn’t become my hero.
I’m sure there was something about Joe that transcended pure hero-worship though, judging by the effect he had on football supporters whoever had the blessing to call him the centre-forward of their team. Who can forget the homage paid to him back in Torino for all those years ago? The Baker Boy played but a mere single season in Italy with another young prodigal, Denis Law, yet still he is remembered with much fondness and not a little acclaim.
Much has been lovingly written about Joe, not least in the Mass Hibsteria fanzine and on this website. For an anecdotal history and a full account of his many achievements, please note the references at the foot of the page to two excellent articles.
My aim here is not to compete with those excellent words but to offer a different and personal slant on the Joe Baker story, for this man wove through my younger days, seemingly inextricably.
As a youngster living in Nottingham, though a firm Hibernian supporter, I was ironically able to watch a great Hibernian hero at something like his peak. This is not an opportunity that would have been afforded me in Edinburgh not being old enough to watch his exploits at Hibs the first time around. Although I was too young to understand everything that was happening on the pitch I was under no illusion that I was watching anything but a great and legendary player in Nottingham. Joe just had that special ‘aura’ about him which was very hard to explain and which belongs to the very few.
The football fans from the red side of Nottingham could hardly believe their good fortune when Joe, from Arsenal, signed on the dotted line at The City Ground. Joe had a stunning goal-scoring record at Highbury which at my last inspection was superior to Thierry Henry’s in goals per game – no mean feat. What was very noticeable was how well the Nottingham public took to Joe – like a favourite son. Still to this day the football fans of the city talk of the number nine in hushed and reverential tones. Similarly one can also still view the odd ‘Baker 9’ garibaldi red Forest jersey around the city. How I love to see that.
By my calculations it’s around thirty-eight years since Joe wowed the big, City Ground crowds with his surging forward play, how many players do you know with that kind of longevity of popularity – especially as Joe played for Forest for only a relatively short period of time?
Shortly after Joe died I met a friend, a friend who is a Nottingham Forest supporter of many years standing and one who has seen many wonderful internationalists play for his team winning a large quantity of silverware. His first words to me that evening were simply and sadly, “my one and only all-time hero died this week”. The words were almost unnecessary but the understanding between two lovers of the great game was implicit.
Those schoolboy images of him remain extremely vivid to me, the equal or more than any other player I can think of. I still see the low through ball hit between two defenders and Joe in a blur or acceleration racing onto the pass leaving his markers yards behind. Not only did he have blinding pace but the quickness of thought that made him almost unstoppable at times. Another strong image is of him turning a defender and shooting explosively with either foot equally. Add strong aerial ability, superb close control, and agility around the box and one has the master centre-forward which is what Joe was.
How pleased was I when he re-signed for the Hibees, passing by an unhappy period of injury at Forest and then Sunderland. Deep in my heart I knew it was all over though, we would never see the great forward in his pomp of the likes we had done before. For the Nottingham fans there was to be no gnashing of teeth at Joe’s unhappy departure as they knew he would never be the same as befitted his free transfer from the club, much as they loved him. One last fling at Easter Road seemed very appropriate to me as a Hibernian supporter though.
My one last poignant memory of Joe and me was after the news of his death. I received a message at home on the lunchtime before Hibs’ next game in which he would be honoured before the kick-off. The message simply asked me if I’d like to be a part of the minute’s silence for Joe which was going to happen at Easter Road and to stay by my mobile phone.
That afternoon shortly before 3pm I received a call from a very good friend and Hibby sitting in the Famous Five Stand. I wasn’t at home though as I wanted to share my last moments with Joe Baker somewhere special. In the locality where I live there lies forestry, part of what would have historically been ancient Sherwood Forest. I took my daily jog through those woodlands and sat on a bench at a clearing amongst the ancient oaks and birches on that sunny Saturday afternoon and took the call I had been awaiting. A brief announcement from my friend, and I listened in to the sound of silence and utter respect from my other home at Easter Road.
As I sat there in silence looking at the autumn sun glistening through the trees with just a pair of horses for company in the nearby field, I remembered what Joe had meant to me as a boy. I think Joe would have appreciated his one last day in the sun too – in the green fields of Nottinghamshire.
The Baker Boy: Joe’s Story
Like some I’ve no real time for public grieving and have been slightly irritated by the media-driven incidences of it recently over Diane…then I realised my own hypocrisy.
Back in 1989, I and three work colleagues were appointed from our place of work to drive to Liverpool and take the proceeds of a collection and lay a few flowers for the 96 dead of the Hillsborough disaster. As one might imagine, that particular matchday left a legacy in this city too as Forest were Liverpool’s opponents that day.
I still don’t regret doing that for any reason. Thinking about it draws me to examine what the difference in feeling was between that time and the Diana thing. There is a difference for me personally and it’s not all to do with being an anti-royalist (as I am). On that sorry occasion back in ’89 it ordinary folk that suffered. Many, many, of them. It was senseless, avoidable and it affected guys just like me – people who were/are liable to be found doing something innocent like standing on a football terrace on a Saturday afternoon watching the team they love. Standing in a crowd cheering on ‘the lads’, the next moment lieing on a makeshift stretcher at the side of the pitch, devoid of breath and of life. I can publically grieve about that because the situation is so crass. I don’t feel shame or any embarrassement in that.
In those days ‘public grieving’ wasn’t the industry it appears to sadly have become. The people that went to Anfield and stood four-deep in a queue hundreds of yards long outside the Shankly Gates did it because they cared for their fellow football supporters and regular guys. I firmly believe that. A couple of the lads I travelled with were huge Forest men and had no love for Liverpool football team whatsoever. They realised quite rightly that some things are much more important in life however – in spite of what Shanks said.
Just another slant on public grieving.
Sometimes fate can play the strangest of hands. Today was to be a fairly normal Thursday for me, the only difference was that I wasn’t to be working today but rather had suggested a walk with a friend through some of the villages by the River Trent here in Nottinghamshire.
What has that to do with the leading lights of Edinburgh football you might ask? Bear with me as all shall soon become apparent.
During the country walk, as is the custom on these occasions, there was need for a libation. Not by good fortune but by good planning, a beautiful old public house named ‘The Reindeer’ at Hoveringham village had been planned at a point through the amble in order to fulfil this most welcome of desires.
As I made my way into the ancient bar and met the blazing log fire, a senior couple asked where the lounge might be. I directed them through to the cosy little bar, complete with original beams and extensive view out to a midwinter cricket pitch aloof in its frigid silence and bereft of the summer sounds of willow on leather. Thinking little about the brief encounter I sat with my walking friend and chatted over a couple of pints of excellent Czech lager – perhaps not strictly in keeping with this old English environment, but certainly one modernisation that sat well with my sensibilities.
It was after donning our warm winter coats to hit that first blast of winter fresh air laced with the most welcome yet unseasonable bright sunshine outside, that the few words spoken to the gentleman earlier took another fascinating turn. Leaving The Reindeer Inn, I noted on a small table by the doorway, a single copy of that days edition of The Nottingham Evening Post. The ‘Post’ was inverted with its back sports page with a ‘screamer’ headline reading:
“AT LAST! A WORLD CUP CAP FOR REDS HERO IMLACH!”
The headline referred to FA Cup winner’s medal holder, the late Stewart Imlach, Forest’s Scottish international left winger from the 1950s’. ‘Stewy’ had a very distinguished career on the wing for the Nottingham club – so much so that he was selected to represent his home country, Scotland in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Mass Hibsteria has for some time now known about the unjust situation where Stewart and many other former Scotland internationalists were not awarded caps for their country as up until 1975 they were only handed out to players who appeared in matches versus the home countries. Of that number it should be immediately pointed out that our own great inside-forward and later manager, Eddie Turnbull was one of those to end his career cap-less, even though appearing some nine times for his country in what was a much less busy international calendar at the time.
Watch and listen to the story of Stewart Imlach
– The man known as “The Rabbit” by the Nottingham Forest faithful
due to his dazzling speed,
Knowing that my friend – a lifelong Nottingham Forest supporter would be interested in the story as I was, I pointed out the story in the newspaper to him. We had talked about the anomaly of the cap situation previously and at that time he had told me of his times watching Imlach’s memorable days patrolling the left-wing berth for the ‘Reds’.
Looking over the happy news of Stewart’s and the rest’s soon-to-be awarded caps, there came a soft voice with a hint of an accent I know so well from behind us. “Do you remember him?” asked the gentleman I had spoken to earlier on the way in. “I don’t but my friend does, I’m very aware of the story though” I replied. I indicated to him that here in this gentle and quiet spot of rural Nottinghamshire – a most unlikely spot perhaps, he was speaking to a life-long Hibs supporter and that the website I visit and contribute to had alerted the campaign for Stewart Imlach et al’s caps to be awarded.
At this his eyes lit up! “Gordon Smith – The Famous Five, I saw them play!” This man was actually a Hearts supporter all his life and, in the days, when it was quite the fashion to watch ‘the other team’ on opposite Saturdays, had gone along regularly on a Saturday afternoon to watch the great forward line in green and white of his team’s great rivals.
We all are able to wax lyrical about our own team’s heroes. I’m no different when I get to thinking about Joe Baker, Peter Cormack and other personal Hibs idols of mine from the past. There is something different however when you see an old-time opposition supporter glowing about the days when he used to watch your team.
As he spoke the years rolled away as if they never happened. My new acquaintance, Norman, “call me Norrie”, told tale of the Gay Gordon and his dashing, cavalier wing-play. “Make no mistake – there was no one like him”. Norrie went on about how the five forwards would interchange and how nobody had seen this before. He told of how Gordon would run across the pitch to the opposite flank and the whole forward line would shuffle one position across to accommodate his brilliance in another area of the field.
Something I had forgotten about was Gordon Smith’s innovatory ways for the time. Norrie explained that if the surface of the pitch didn’t suit his footwear, the great man would change into a pair of baseball boots at half-time, in order to continue a display of his dazzling footwork.
Norrie loved watching The Famous Five. He explained that his own team were good enough but relatively uninteresting compared to the space-age football on display at Easter Road in that era. No shame on Heart of Midlothian this as surely Hibernian in full flow must have been some spectacle in those days.
It was time to go, the wind was blowing its chilly February blast outside The Reindeer, but my heart was hugely warmed by this man. He made me understand and realise once again that this really is only a game. That he harkened back to a more simple time, when we all understood that, was not lost on me. Given a choice in thinking and talking about Bosman rulings, share issues, pre-contracts and all the rest of the modern paraphernalia of the great game or alternatively talking to a man like Norrie about Gordon Smith there is simply no contest. We parted on a warm handshake but not before we talked of our respective teams and their resurgences and were happy to agree how wonderful that was to see. “Edinburgh forever” was the feeling of the man from Haymarket and myself.
During the course of our conversation, Norrie asked me about the Mass Hibsteria website. He told me he would look out for it and pay a visit. I sincerely hope he does and I’m sure he will be assured a warm welcome.
Over to you Norrie…
I’ve never been to Greece before, never particularly had a hankering to either particularly, apart from something deep down inside wanting to stand on the steps of The Parthenon where my dad had stood all those years ago, smiling with his buddies in their smart white Merchant Navy uniforms. The town of Marathon might have been an honourable exception too, as you will understand I have a little of that in my soul. Melanie however had travelled many of the Greek Isles and suggested one of them as an ideal destination. I really felt on this occasion that Mel should have the autonomy in choosing – especially as I was somewhat modus non operandi of late, (selecting which colour underpants in the morning had become something of a problem). So Santorini it became, specifically the resort of Perissa on the smallish volcanic island in the Aegean Sea was to be our home for the next seven days.
After a short and uneventful journey we arrived under the merciless sun, alighting from our air-conditioned coach at the apartment. Initially both of us were a little dismayed at the standard of the accommodation which was barely adequate and seemed far worse after a sleepless, hot, noisy and fitful night. Thankfully this was to change. We acquired air-conditioning and shut the outer doors during the next evening and had a much-needed rest. In the meantime we had begun to explore our new surroundings.
The small ‘developing’ resort of Perisso seemed rather empty. There were many tavernas with gaping spaces in the seating areas and one or two slightly exasperated owners at the doors exhorting passers by to come in ‘yes please’. ‘No thank you’ bade I. No matter we were here for the three r’s – rest, relaxation and reading. In fact Perissa we quickly established had a nice beach, albeit impossible to walk on in bare feet foot due to the black volcanic pebbles absorbing the day’s heat but beautiful nonetheless.
Both Mel and I being very happy to attempt whatever was available in gastronomic produce began to explore the menus of the various tavernas by night. In my case I was looking for the ‘fruits of the sea’ or in general anything that might happily wiggle out of a shell or own eight legs at some point of its evolution. What we did find was that many menus were very similar in content but that were was plenty of variety generally within that.
One of the sights that had become quickly familiar to us was that of stray cats and dogs on the island. You may at this point quite rightly ask what this has to do with eating out but please bear with me as I hope to make it worth your while. On our second taverna visit there was an animal incident more worthy than any of those silly clips that the public send in to those endless home video shows, no this was of Tom and Jerry proportions but infinitely funnier in real life rather than the usual animation. Tucking into our appetisers we noted yet another small but perfectly formed kitty sitting but two feet from our table in some expectancy of a little squid perhaps from some fellow diners. Suddenly from between the gingham-clothed table tops lurked a large but stealthy dog, a canine with great powers of patience – hell this pooch could have stalked buffalo for days. Moving ominously inch by inch within range of the cat’s rear end it waited and waited… Suddenly all hell let lose as a fellow doggy who the kitty had been keeping a nether eye on some yards let out a hoarse bark. At this command the stalker-dog bit the cat’s ass (I throw that expression in as it is my understanding that is a Canadian-ism – and a good one too if I might add) The cat leapt up in the air in a vertical take-off strategy that would have done a Harrier Jump-Jet proud and let out a loud REEE—OWWWW!!! Before scarpering amidst some bemusement and mirth from fellow revellers. We had almost seen our first kill in Santorini.
A little about the island
As you will note Santorini is of a somewhat distinct shape. The large area of sea you will view in the centre is actually the mouth of a volcano, the faint area of land just visible on this picture remains the active part of the volcano and this is habited, the last blow being in the 1800’s. Startling sunsets are available from particularly the east coast areas of Thira and Oia (at £4.50 per pint actually) to sit on a cliff side café and watch this daily slice of drama. In order to have a look around we hired a small jeep for the weekend. The jeep was an interesting vehicle – not least for the full seven inches of ‘play’ in the gear stick. Obviously this and the complete lack of any symptoms of a suspension system made for an authentic Greek journey, this was how I attempted to rationalise our temporary transport at least.
Of interest was the archaeological dig at Akrotiri. The large village made out of mud blocks and dating back to 1500 BC had only comparatively recently been exhumed from the ashes of two huge eruptions by the island’s volcano and is at this time having a roof built over it to protect its precious secrets from the elements. Some say this settlement may even be the lost village of Atlantis, it’s not for me to say but what I can state with confidence is that Akrotiri is a fascinating and absorbing visit and not to be missed if travelling in this part of the world.
Unveiling the past – Akrotiri
The ancient capital of Thira was our next destination. Here we could view the lost tribes of Gucci and Prahda dwellers in their natural habitat through the grid of small, thronging streets. I fought off an infinitesimal desire to purchase a flowing white cheesecloth creation a la Demis Roussos and soldiered on through the hot streets of Thira, silver mining with Mel. Please lord I never want to see another jewellery shop ever again.
After the obligatory sunset view we chose a restaurant as even my powers of patience were now being tested by the tempting thought of battering to death the next taverna owner with a pork kebab skewer due to their ahem, ‘persuasive’ tactics of asking you into their restaurants. ‘A very large Amstel draft’ I heard myself ask in some desperation before scouring the laminated menu for further wiggly things. All was well ultimately. Nourished by more fish than a seal could gorge in a week and washed down by copious amounts of Dutch lager I entered the throng yet again with my partner. Suddenly matters became all too much. I spotted the Irish pub I had eyed jealously earlier and bade Mel a fond farewell in her ceaseless quest for more silver. You could tell the pub was Irish as there was an old U2 video playing on the big screen and a picture of a Jack Daniels on the wall? My slight concerns were put to one side as the diminutive American waitress swooshed over to me as if on small casters, ‘what will it be sir?’ Fighting off the urge to ask for a crocodile sandwich – and make it snappy, I ordered a large Irish stout or beer as our American friends cutely like to misname it. The girl on casters came back in an unseemly short period of time carrying a frothing pint with a shamrock inscribed on top and, blessing good old Ireland, I found myself at peace with the world again – particularly American waitresses, or any waitresses in fact.
Sunset from Thira
The rest of the evening did not pass without incident. After a ride home in the jeep with square wheels (or so it seemed) we arrived at the apartment, an entrance that would be accompanied by one of those many random squeals and yelps that Mel often elicits and which I obviously studiously ignore as they would engender me having to ‘do something’. On this occasion it was a cockroach that had taken a liking to our accommodation – hell it probably lived there a long time before us I thought as I went to acquire a broom in my underpants, (NB the broom was in the hall not my underpants I hasten to add) As I went for the sucker using all my wasp fighting skills acquired as a boy growing up in the UK I recalled a friend in Atlanta’s excellent description of the cockroach as a ‘flying armour plated filth machine’ how memorable was that almost Shakespearian phrase I thought as I gave the creature a further sock with the broom.
The roads in Santorini are interesting, some day they may even have cars on them. Easily the single most annoying thing on the island (apart from the taverna owners naturally) were the motor cyclists and scooter-ists. In my dreams and at the height of my annoyance I thought of rigging up cheese wires across the expanse of the road outside the apartment and ensnaring the island’s youth in this manner. Instead however I consoled myself with the fact that these youngsters had very little chance of gaining sexual intercourse on an evening by owning such modes of transport. Ha! One up to the sports cars, suckers.
Sadly and inexorably our holiday came to end as they all do, unfortunately it was something of an exasperating end due to a six hour delay and no Euros left (a rather unfortunate combination it has to be said) I consoled myself with a nice warm Dutch lager on the plane however.
Goodbye Santorini you were interesting while you lasted. A further recommendation for other future travellers would be to look up the nearby resort to Perissa of Kamari which looked exceedingly attractive upon inspection, though I would not deter anyone from Perissa and its value for money and spacious beach.
Further Santorini information:
|Recognise that song title? Some of the more mature amongst us certainly will. It’s one of those silly tunes that’s been in the back of your head for over thirty years now. Don’t worry, you’re not alone and you can get help. It’s called the plague of the football song.
The chirpy ode to former Tottenham Hotspurs’ stalwart Cyril Knowles is hardly alone in the cringe stakes, we all know of a whole catalogue of bad football songs, indeed there are very few ‘good’ ones.
It’s important that we establish a distinction here straight away as the author enjoys nothing better than a rousing good chorus of’ Glory Glory To The Hibees’ at the appropriate time, (i.e., in the day or at night, but no it’s not the joyous coming together of a group of like minded supporters I talk of here, but rather the sad collection of dubious collaborations between groups of highly paid professional footballers and oft ‘celebrity’ fans to record a platter for the general consumption.
They’re all flooding back now aren’t they? I’m sorry…I really couldn’t help myself.