I’ll lay this on the line straight away.
Jim Baxter was a hero of mine.
The reasons for that are many but in simple terms it was because my father worshipped him and this suggested that I ought to too. Another reason was simply because Jim was absolutely brilliant.
There, now I’ve got that out of the way I’ll begin. Much of Jim Baxter’s story as a player with Glasgow Rangers, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest and Scotland is fabled stuff. As always I won’t head in the direction of a detailed resume of his life or career as that has been covered by many. I’ll alternatively offer an individual take on a man who entranced the world of football during the 1960s. One who passed through that decade’s football folklore like a shooting star. A very brilliant star at that. As a young man growing up in Hill O’ Beith he was a Hibernian fan, admiring the stellar forward play of the Hibees’ Famous Five.
And what football! On a ‘research study’ at my favourite watering hole The Woodlark at Lambley, (tours available), I ‘nebbed in’ as they say in these parts, on a conversation between some worthies sitting in the bar who were talking of some sterling names from the local football fraternity. Totally ignoring my partner of course, I listened in with glee as the names of Jim Baxter and Joe Baker dutifully came to bear upon proceedings. That Nottingham Forest in particular have much indebtedness to players from north of Hadrian’s Wall is not lost on most knowledgeable Forest fanatics to their great credit. The talk was of ‘Slim Jim’ and his magic left foot which he self-christened ‘The Glove’. Interestingly Iit seemed lost on these local men after the decades had passed on how Jim struggled in the Garibaldi Red of their beloved team, (mainly due to the wonderful social life James Curran Baxter had sought out in the Lace city). Another Baxter story was of him addressing the apprentice boys in the Nottingham Forest dressing room, requesting them to ‘fetch my magic wands’ – to bring his boots to him!
Jim was known to be fond of the odd Bacardi and Coke and found a terrific ally in Garfield Sobers, the greatest cricket player that ever lived and also a world class drinker. Together as the famed ‘Drunk n’ Sobers’, they toured the fleshpots of Nottingham in spirit-infused abandon and no little debauchery. Famously after one nightclub scrape, former former Black Watch recruit James had to be picked up out of the gutter by the genial Forest coach, Irishman, Tommy Cavanagh in the early hours. On this occasion Jim had taken on one too many doormen and come off worst, so bad in fact that his teammates were not allowed to see the state of him for the next two weeks as he was ordered to train on his own.
In those days the local Nottingham Evening Post would often report that Jim was ‘two or three moves ahead of his teammates’ in thinking. Forest had a team on the wane when Jim arrived and his football brain, though let down by his physical condition, was still razor sharp. He didn’t flourish in Nottingham but rather showed odd flashes of his genius which some still talk about.
Jim Baxter was like no other football player I’ve seen. He seemed to almost glide across the pitch and was always in the right place at the right time. That left foot was a stunning yet delicate tool. Its brush strokes creating small masterpieces whenever he was on the ball. Jim would read the game very well and ‘see’ a pass where others wouldn’t and slide it through with precision weight and accuracy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player with a finer touch, one so deft.
Of course orchestrating two Scotland victories over England at Wembley in 1963 and 1967 (and humiliating them in the process in the latter game) elevated Jim’s standing in our house to astronomic status. He made our dreams into a reality. He was the elegant rapier that cut and tore England to pieces with his cavalier midfield play, prompting prodding and waltzing around the England rearguard in elegant style. Punishing them into submission. How could we not love him?
Jim will always be immortalised for that heroic display in 1967. The other thing he will always be known for is for kicking his career away at a very early age. His drinking was almost as accomplished as his football, the former finally overruled the latter as he attempted one last hurrah at Rangers after Forest freed him.
Jim was very frustrating in some ways. You just wanted him to play football forever but that was never his style. It was sad to see his self-imposed health and weight problems as he got older. It was also easy to forgive him too. he never showed any regret for his lifestyle and we should remember he left his elegant footprint on football more than most. He will always be remembered.
Thanks for the memories Jimmy Baxter – you were simply sublime.
A Working Class Hero? Is Jim Baxter To Me! (Kevin Raymond)
“Go on grand-dad tell us,
Tell of us of the day?
When Scotland with Jim Baxter at his best
Beat the England team away”
“Well if memory serves me right
My bonnie wee lad, the story go’s like this
Scotland made the trip to Wemberly in ’67’
To play the champs of ’66′”
“Were England unbeatable grand-dad”?
“Unbeatable? Tis hard to say
But Scotland led by Baxter
Sure made them pay that day
With Jules Rimet stood watching
Jim Baxter was our conductor in dark blue
Sent pinpoint passes like greased lightning
Almost thirty, forty yards, it’s true
“What did England do grand-dad,
Did they try to stop him playing”?
“Aye my bonnie wee lad, they did try that
But Baxter? He out played them
Grown men were seen to cry the tears
For a nation once more proud
As Baxter and his Scottish peers
Brought cheers that echoed loud
Jim Baxter sat upon the ball
In the middle of the park
Then he’d start the England nightmare off again
With a taunt, a feign, a pass
They tried hard to get the ball off him
My, how those English boys did try
But Baxter tantalized and sucked them in
Then nonchalantly knocked it wide
That game you boys play in the street
Keepie uppie… is it called?
Jim Baxter played that in front of ninety thousand fans,
Right along the Wemberly touchline
The England team were overawed
A young man in his prime he was
Possessed with ball at feet
When England saw him gliding o’er the green
Yon blonde cap’n called “retreat”
Baxter walked about the pitch
A God amongst mere men
He’d beat one man, then turn around
Then beat that man again”
“The scoreline! Tell us granddad
How did it end up”?
“Son, the result? It did nae mean a thing
When you drank the heavenly elixir
From Jim Baxter’s dark blue cup
When this game is often talked about
You’ll hear praise as old one’s sing it
What a match! A terrific victory
But how the hell did Scotland win it?
The other twenty one? Are sadly part of history son
T’was Jim Baxter in a dark blue shirt….. finest ninety minutes”!
“Jim Baxter played in this game as if his very life depended on it”