Two wins against German opposition at Roker Park in pre-season served to raise expectation that we might see a quick return to the first division in the 1970/71 season.
Having despatched a very handy Eintracht Brunswick outfit 2-1, three days earlier, it was the turn of Hanover to try and restore German pride at Roker Park on this day 9th August 1970.
The German team contained several upcoming young players as well as international midfielder Hans Siemensmeyer.
The crowd of approximately 10,000 witnessed an entertainingly good contest with goals a-plenty.
In what seems a familiar story, Sunderland dominated the first half hour, with Helmschrot in the Hanover goal making good saves from Colin Todd and Billy Hughes. On thirty-eight minutes Keller scored from close range for Hanover against the run of play. The crowd did not have too long to wait for a reply as Joe Baker bent double to score with his head on forty-one minutes after Billy Hughes had headed down a Bobby Kerr corner.
Three minutes later Ian Porterfield, whose consummate skills on the ball were much in evidence as the game progressed, found Baker again in the box with a slide-rule pass and the former England international scored his second goal of the match as he prodded home.
The second half resumed with a cracking goal from Bobby Park, who capped a classy performance, thrashing a great shot in after good work again from Billy Hughes.
With all-out attack on the agenda and some necessary tinkering with the home defence after a knee injury to Cecil Irwin, Hanover caught the home team with a diving header from Siemensmeyer on seventy-two minutes.
Cometh the man cometh the hat-trick though, as Baker stepped up to hammer a right foot shot off the base of the post for his third goal of the game after good work from Porterfield and Hughes.
The scoring was not quite finished though as Keller scored his second goal of the game on seventy-eight minutes. Colin Todd distinguished himself in the closing stages of the game, holding the defence cooly together as Hanover pressed for the equaliser.
Sunderland team that day – Montgomery, Irwin, Harvey, Todd, McGiven, Kerr, Porterfield, Chambers, Park, Baker, Hughes. Subs – Pitt, Heslop, Tueart.
Baker’s hat-trick was not the only one of his career with Sunderland. He went on to score ten goals in fifteen games that season and crashed in a hat-trick against Charlton at Roker in September 1970.
I saw a number of Joe Baker’s games for us, but as a young fan had not appreciated the colourful and interesting career he had prior to joining us, and his phenomenal goalscoring record of 301 goals in 507 appearances.
Whilst raised in Scotland, with a Scottish mother, the strict international playing criteria at that time meant he had to represent England (having been born in Liverpool of an English father). He was the first player to represent England without ever having played in the English league (the second was Owen Hargreaves).
He played six times for the England u23 team making his debut in 1958 and scoring his first international goal on 11th November 1959 in a game at Roker Park against France. Seven days after this he was called into the full England team (replacing Brian Clough) and scoring on his debut.
Funnily enough he almost did not get to play in this game courtesy of the London Metropolitan Police. Upon arriving in London for the game, he hailed a taxi and instructed the driver (in his broad Scots accent) to take him to the England team hotel. The taxi driver fearing some kind of Scottish skullduggery on the England team, contacted the police, who smartly despatched a car and “collared” the 5’8” forward. It was only when Baker produced a newspaper with his photo on the back page, that he was sent packing by the Police, who told him they did not realise England were so bad they had to play “Jocks”.
He went on to collect eight full caps for England over a six-year period from 1959 to 1965. After a gap of four years, he was called into Alf Ramsey’s pre-world cup squad. His goalscoring form certainly warranted the recall and he did not disappoint many fans or himself, scoring two goals in three games and playing well in all three games according to the press and most fans at the time. He did not do enough to impress Alf Ramsey (infamously anti-Scottish) though, who dismissed him without explanation or even a word.
Baker himself was philosophical about his international career and his near miss with the World cup winning squad of 1966, quoted many years later as saying “I was the first Scottish league player to play for England and it was a hard thing to take, I was a Scot as far as I was concerned!”
His career took off when he signed professional forms with his beloved Hibernian in 1956. He scored 102 goals in 117 appearances and after scoring 42 goals in 33 games for the Hibees’ in 1959/60 he asked for a £5 pay rise on top of his £12 per week wage. This was denied by the Hibs board and he promptly handed in a transfer request.
Italian giants Torino stepped in, they saw him as the perfect foil for their new signing from Man City, Dennis Law.
Baker was paid a phenomenal £12,000 signing on fee, along with an apartment (he would share with Law) and an Alpha Romeo Giuletta Sprint Sports car.
Turin life was not an easy transition for Baker or Law. Despite this Joe scored 7 goals in 19 games, but a serious car crash in the Alpha Romeo in which Baker was driving, saw him sustain injuries that required lengthy recuperation. (Baker initially thought he had killed his passenger in the crash, but Dennis Law thankfully walked away without a scratch). Upon recovery Joe Baker never played again for “Toro” and was bought back to the UK by Arsenal who paid £67,500 for his services.
Things settled down at Arsenal and Baker got on with his business of scoring goals. He played for the Gunners from 1962 to 1966 becoming a real crowd favourite scoring 93 goals in 144 games.
In 1966 after the disappointment of not making Alf Ramsey’s final world cup squad, Baker signed for Nottingham Forest where he quickly established a fine understanding with a young player who was turning heads at that time Ian Storey-Moore. He scored 41 goals in 118 games for Forest, where he is still regarded highly not just for his goals, but his assists too.
In 1969 he signed for Alan Brown at Sunderland for £30,000. His 39 games for us between June 1969 and January 1971 yielded 12 goals. It was not a startling return and arguably the leanest period of his career, though there are many Roker fans of that generation who remember him fondly.
If you thought that was it for Joe Baker, you would be wrong. He signed once more for his boyhood team Hibs in January 1971 for £12,500 and scored 12 goals in twenty appearances for them, before signing off at Raith Rovers for whom he made 49 appearances between 1972 – 74, scoring a very credible 34 goals.
His hattrick against Hanover gave us a good indicator of what he could and used to do so regularly, his ten goals in 15 games that season (70/71) were credible, but the writing was on the wall with the signing of Dave Watson our first ever £100,000 signing, whom Alan Brown bought as a centre forward.
I can still recall the chant of Joe Joe Joe Baker ringing out from the Fulwell End, for a colourful and interesting player and character to say the least.
Joe Baker suffered a heart attack whilst playing in a charity golf tournament in 2003 and died as a result, too young at the age of sixty-three.
I leave you with Denis Law’s words in reference to his former flatmate.
“Joe Baker would not have been good for Scotland, he would have been great!”