Joseph Henry “Joe” Baker (July 17, 1940 – October 6, 2003) was an England international footballer. Born in Liverpool, England, he spent virtually his entire childhood growing up in Motherwell, Scotland. Despite having a Scottish accent and upbringing, his birthplace made him only eligible to play for England under the rules of the time.
A centre forward, Baker began his career with Hibernian, scoring 102 goals in 117 games. His place of birth made him ineligible to play for Scotland (much to his chagrin), so he reluctantly opted to play for England. He made his England debut against Northern Ireland in 1959, which made the first player to be given his debut having never played in England (the only other player to have done so is Owen Hargreaves). Baker was labelled “England’s Scottish player”, and in all he won eight caps for the senior England side.In 1961 Baker moved to Torino, joining other British players such as Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law. However, despite scoring in a derby match against Juventus, his time at the Italian club was short and almost ended in tragedy; Baker was involved in a serious car crash on February 7, 1962; he attempted to drive his car the wrong way around a roundabout – it clipped a kerb and flipped over, nearly killing him and injuring Denis Law, who was a passenger.
Baker recovered from his injuries and in July 1962 he returned to the UK, joining Billy Wright’s Arsenal for a club record £27,500. He made his debut against Leyton Orient on August 18, 1962, and in all spent four seasons with the Gunners. In each of those seasons he was the club’s top scorer; he scoring 101 goals in 156 games, making him one of the club’s most prolific goalscorers of all time. His pace and acceleration made him a highly effective and dynamic attacker, and he was equally adept with his feet and his head, despite his lack of height (he was only 5’7″ tall). With Geoff Strong he formed one of Arsenal’s most prolific striking partnerships, but Arsenal’s defence could not match the quality of their attack, which meant they were unable to challenge for silverware, or even a regular place in Europe. In March 1966, Baker left Arsenal for Nottingham Forest.
Despite earning a brief recall to the England side in 1965, scoring in a 2-0 win over Spain, Baker didn’t make the squad for the 1966 World Cup. After three years at Forest, scoring 41 goals in 118 league games, he moved to Sunderland. After two seasons there, he returned to Hibernian for a second time in 1971, but his comeback did not last long and he moved to Raith Rovers in 1972 after 12 goals in 30 appearances for Hibs. He retired in 1974, having in all scored 294 league goals in under 500 games. His elder brother Gerry was also a footballer, who played for Manchester City, Ipswich Town and Coventry City.
Baker later became Albion Rovers manager on two occasions, but never pursued a full coaching career, instead running a pub and working for Hibernian’s hospitality service. He died at the age of 63, after suffering a heart attack during a charity golf tournament.