12 February 1966: Joe Baker played his last game for Arsenal.

by Tony Attwood

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On this day Arsenal’s centre forward Joe Baker played his last Arsenal game.  He played 144 games for Arsenal and scored 93 goals – a terrific goal to game record – before going on to Nottingham Forest on 26 February.

Joe was signed by Billy Wright, a manager who brought a problem of his own – a lack of club management experience, and who joined a club with a problem – Arsenal’s huge historic reputation but a lack of trophies stretching back to 1953.

Under Swindin, Arsenal’s previous manager, the seasons had ended with us 3rd, 13th, 11th and 10th.  In the cup we had once reached the fifth round, once the fourth, and twice gone out in the third, including on one occasion to Rotherham.

In one sense almost anything would be an improvement – but in another there was clearly no sound base to the squad, and Wright had no base in club management experience.  He had been made manager of England’s youth team in 1960, but that was it.  Indeed the story he himself told was that he went in on day one and said to his secretary, “right what do I do?”

Swindin’s first team for his final season was

Kelsey, Magill, McCullough, Brown, Sneddon, Neill, McCloud, Eastham, Charles, Henderson, Skirton, with Petts, Griffiths and Strong coming in later in the season.

Wright started with

McKechnie, Magill, McCullough, Brown, Neill, Sneddon, Armstrong, Strong, Baker, Bramwell, Skirton.

Joe Baker was the big-name summer signing, at centre forward, despite being only 5 feet 7 inches tall.  He was born in 1940 and went through some junior Scottish clubs before playing for Hibernian and was their top scorer for four years getting 102 goals in just 117 league games.

The Hibs board apparently refused to up his weekly wage from £12 to £17 and so sold him to Torino for £75k.   However Joe was involved in a serious car crash while there, and Joe, like other Britains of the era who tried playing outside the UK did not fare very well.

He then became Arsenal’s record signing in July 1962 and made his début on 18 August 1962 in the opening league game of the season away to the newly promoted Leyton Orient.   I remember it well – I was there with my dad.  (I also remember being at the match where Baker had a fist fight with Ron Yeates of Liverpool, and winning.  Both were sent off – Joe said in the press after that he had never been sent off before in his life – although there was another report of him throwing a journalist into a canal while in Italy.)

Baker was the top scorer for three of his four years with us, and got 100 goals in 156 games, playing alongside Geoff Strong who had come up through the youth and reserves teams.  Near the end of his career Wright sold Baker to Nottingham Forest for £65k – after which he moved on to Sunderland before going to Hibs again, and then Raith.

Baker retired in 1974, having scored 301 league goals in 507 games.  He also won eight caps for England (he was born in Liverpool – and was that rarity – a man who plays for England without having played for an English club).

After playing, Joe Baker was manager of Albion Rovers – which I think was probably a part-time position.  He ran a pub and worked for Hibs but died tragically young at 63 while playing in a golf tournament.

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4 Replies to “12 February 1966: Joe Baker played his last game for Arsenal.”

  1. Correction to the names of two players mentioned above. For McCloud and Bramwell, read John MacLeod and John Barnwell.
    Joe Baker was a fantastic player, fast, skilful and two-footed. The game against Orient – he nutmegged the defender in a tight situation before slipping it home. Remember it well! My favourite – at the Clock End, a mishit shot by McCullough against Manchester Utd rolled towards Joe, back to goal, he flicked it up and volleyed an overhead shot into the roof of the net. Shades of that goal against the same opponents by Henry decades later. Joe would have fitted like a glove into this current side!

  2. In an era that was barren of trophies Joe Baker still made visiting Highbury in the 60 s an exciting experience . His partnership with George Eastham was almost telepathic and his commitment – as shown in his famous clash with Ron Yeats – was never in doubt , and he managed 100 goals in four seasons . But for his falling out at Arsenal he would surely have made the World Cup squad in 1966 . So sad he died at such an early age . Along with his brother Gerry his life is recorded in the book “ The fabulous Baker boys by Tom Maxwell”, a book which I will read again .

  3. My 1st time at Highbury was Wright’s team,great attacking footy,my 1st 2 games were a4-5 defeat to Villa & a 5-4 win v Wolves what a start 18 goals.

  4. One of my heroes. Joe was the best centre forward in England but as usual the managers at the time had their favourites and he was passed over. At the time we were offered Joe and his mate Dennis law and as per usual arsenal bew it. With those two we would have another 6/8 trophies in the museum. An Arsenal story. Thank you Joe.

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