Trust Curator Tom Wright takes a look at Joe Baker and an extraordinary seventeen-day spell where Hibernian scored 32 times.
By the end of the 1950s Hibs were a side in transition. Gone were the halcyon post war years when, led by the Famous Five, the club was considered to be the best in the land. By now Reilly had retired prematurely due to injury, Smith had joined Hearts and Turnbull the Easter Road trainer, leaving only the veteran Ormond from the illustrious forward line.
Near the start of the 1959/60 campaign however, the former Famous Five player Bobby Johnstone had rejoined the club from Manchester City and although past his best and slightly overweight, the veteran inside forward would prove the perfect partner for the dynamic Joe Baker.
In what would be a season of highs and lows, Hibs would score 106 league goals, the clubs best ever total in a single season and four more than the champions Hearts. The downside however, would be that only the bottom side Arbroath had conceded more. 42 of the goals had been scored by the nineteen-year-old centre forward Joe Baker, at that time the hottest prospect in the game. Baker’s season goal tally is a club record that remains to this day.
In the season ahead Hibs would score 147 goals in all competitions with 52 of them scored by Baker. However perhaps even more amazingly, 32 had been scored in just 17 days, a feat unequalled by both the Famous Five and the Hearts Terrible Trio.
A 7-4 defeat of Dunfermline at Easter Road on 17th October 1959, Baker scoring a hat trick, would be followed just two days later by a win against Preston North End in a friendly under the Easter Road lights. Despite the absence of the famous ‘Lion of Vienna’ Nat Lofthouse due to injury, the visitors opened the scoring inside the first ten seconds but another two goals by Baker would help his side to a 5-2 win. Things were about to get even better.
In what was to prove an eventful afternoon, on Saturday 24th October 1959, Hibs travelled through to Broomfield for a league game against Airdrie. In a sparkling display that totally demoralised the home side the quicksilver Joe Baker scored yet another hat trick in Hibs eventual 11-1 victory.
Despite Baker’s trio of goals, it was the inside left Tommy Preston who took the goalscoring honours by scoring four. Hibs other goalscorers that afternoon were MacLeod with two and a single strike from Ormond. Even left back Joe McClelland got in on the act with a goal.
Incredibly, not only was the eventual 11-1 victory Hibs first away win of the season but then the highest scoring League victory ever by a visiting side in British football beating the previous record 10-0 by Sheffield United against Port Vale in 1892. To make matters worse for poor Airdrie, that same afternoon at Easter Road their reserve side lost 8-0.
The following Saturday at Easter Road, Baker was again at his very best, scoring twice in a 3-3 home draw with Celtic as he gave the experienced Scotland centre-half Bobby Evans the run around for ninety torrid minutes. Hibs other goal that afternoon was scored by Bobby Johnstone, his first for the club since his return from Manchester City.
Joe Baker had been born in Liverpool during the war, the family moving back to the Motherwell area when he was just a few weeks old to escape the bombing of the English port.
In those days you had to play for the country of your birth. Already capped twice for the England under-23 side, Baker celebrated his call up for the forthcoming under-23s game against France by scoring yet another hat trick for Hibs in a quite incredible 6-6 draw against English second division side Middlesbrough in a friendly a few days later.
This match incredibly brought Hibs tally of 32 goals in a little over two weeks.
Facing Hibs at Easter Road that evening would be a certain Brian Clough, the former Celtic player Willie Fernie and goalkeeper Peter Taylor who would later form a prolific managerial partnership with Clough. Already capped twice for the full England side, just a few days before, Clough had scored all his side’s goals in a 5-0 victory against the Irish League and was hotly tipped to replace West Bromwich Albion’s Derek Kevin permanently in the England side.
However, such was Baker’s reputation at that time that before Hibs game against Middlesbrough, the England selectors had announced that they would be travelling up to Easter Road to run the rule over the two prospective centre forward candidates for the forthcoming game against Ireland.
On the night there was only one winner. Although Clough managed to score twice in a thrilling high scoring game, the fast, intelligent and always dangerous Baker scored a hat-trick to completely overshadow the less mobile Clough and it now seemed that there was no way that the selectors could ignore the claims of the Hibs player.
Unfortunately, the England selectors had failed to make the game when their plane was fog bound in London, but according to one newspaper report the following morning: “on this showing Baker would have walked into the England side.” Baker’s full international debut however would be delayed by a matter of weeks.
Just days before Hibs return friendly against Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park, Baker had been selected to lead the under-23 side against France. Arriving at the squads training camp, the Hibs player was delighted to discover that he had also been selected to lead the full England side against Northern Ireland at Wembley the following week.
In Hibs return game at Ayresome Park, Baker was barracked throughout by a small section of ‘Boro’ fans who resented the fact that the Hibs player had replaced their hero Clough in the international side. Although Hibs managed to win the game 4-3, Clough had upstaged the Hibs player by scoring twice, Baker managing to get on the score sheet once, the other Hibs goals scored by MacLeod, Preston and Ormond.
Making a dream start to his full England career against Northern Ireland at Wembley, Baker had opened the scoring with a trademark strike in the 2-1 victory, his all round exciting performance making him an instant hero with crowd and now the hottest prospect in the game.
Despite a 5-1 defeat by Barcelona during the club’s close season tour of Spain the previous summer, Baker had impressed the Catalan club enough for them to offer the then incredible sum of £40,000 for the services of the free scoring centre forward, an offer that had been rejected out of hand.
And day after the game against Northern Ireland Everton were said to have been willing to pay Hibs £45,000 for the player which would have equalled the record fee paid to Sheffield Wednesday by Manchester United the previous season for the English international Albert Quixall.
For Hibs it would not be the end of the high scoring sequence. In a game against Partick Thistle at Firhill just a few days before Christmas 1959, the Easter Road side would again go on the goal rampage by defeating the home side 10-2.
With Johnstone providing the ammunition from midfield, the former Scottish international had a hand in all the goals as MacLeod scored three, Baker, Preston and Ormond netted twice, with the other an own goal. Hibs would eventually end the season in 7th place but it was obvious that they would now face a herculean task to hold on to Baker.
The coming 1960/61 season would be the players last at Easter Road - at least for the time being - before a £65,000 move to the Italian side Torino in the summer on 1961.
Written by Tom Wright