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neilbaker

Bake’s Memoirs

by Neil Baker, local sporting legend

September 10th 2020, Issue 100

Previous articles by Neil Baker can be found here

Messi to Man City or PSG is the big headline in the football world. Arguably the best player of my lifetime but does it make sense to spend massive money on a 33 year old who could possibly be past his best? He’s still a special talent but even if they were to get him on a free transfer (which is being muted as I write this) his salary and image rights will still earn him a package that most clubs in the world couldn’t afford.

It would be fantastic to see him come to the Premiership as a football fan but with my manager’s hat on would I want a player who has two or three years at best left at the top, is going to break the club’s pay structure and as suggested, demands favours from the club that others won’t get and upset my group of players?

If he does come to England and City he may well make the difference and help win them the Champions League which in itself would be money well spent, so plenty to ponder for both Pep and the club.

Is he the best of all time? Who knows. It’s all about opinions. He’s certainly one of the best. You will all have your favourites and two of mine are Pele and George Best.

I saw Pele play at Stoke in 1969 when the Potters entertained his club side Santos. Stoke stumped up the fee of £12000 to host the team from Brazil. He scored a fantastic goal weaving through the Stoke defence before slotting past Banks. I also recall Denis Smith having a goal ruled out as the referee blew for half time before the ball had crossed the line! Imagine that happening today, there would be uproar!

George Best had everything and I mean everything! Two footed, he could play anywhere up front though he mainly operated from the left wing. For me the best dribbler of all time. He could beat defenders with either foot, go past them either way, make and score goals and was good in the air.

I saw him play a number of times before he self- destructed though there was a rumour at the time that he rarely played at the Victoria Ground as he was frightened of getting kicked by former teammate Maurice Setters!

I also saw him out socially. The first time was at a sportsmans evening at the former Stakis Hotel in Hanley hosted by Newcastle Town FC. He did a question and answer session for about an hour. He had Miss World at his side, Mary Stavin. There was a waiter who stood behind him with a bottle of wine and every time his glass approached empty the waiter filled it.

The other time was when Alan Hudson opened his nightclub in Newcastle. He sat on a chair at the end of the bar and only left that seat to go to the toilet. That about summed the man up. He enjoyed the company of beautiful ladies and the drink as much as playing football unfortunately for us football supporters.

Most of you will have heard the joke that’s told about him in various forms. This is my version. He’s in Ireland in the finest hotel in Belfast lying on the bed with another stunning girl as company. They had been to the casino and obviously had a successful night at the roulette table as notes were scattered all over the bedroom. He had rung down to reception for a bottle of their finest champagne.

A knock on the door and the cry of ‘room service’. In walked the waiter with the bottle and two glasses, his eyes nearly popped out of his head as he saw all the money and the gorgeous girl - ‘be Jesus Mr Best, where did it all go wrong’ was his comment!!!

Talking of Alan Hudson I also regard him as one of the best players I’ve seen play. When Tony Waddington signed him from Chelsea we already had a decent team but he made a decent team a good one. There were a plethora of good midfield players around at the time and he probably didn’t achieve as much as he should. Another who liked a drink I’m led to believe but players who played with him said that it never affected his performance.

He would have been even better today on the surfaces that the game is played on. If you look at old clips of Hudson they are mainly played on mud baths but even on poor pitches his skills shone through. If you looked at the England squad named for the games in Iceland and Norway his name would have been the first one in midfield.

He and Tony Currie should have played many more games together in partnership for England and the present crop of Henderson. Rice, Winks and co just don’t compare.

My team Leek Town played Rocester in a friendly on the 21st August. Needless to say it was played without a crowd. It was great for me to take my team back home to the club I first played for and the village I was born in. Although the place has changed remarkably since I left in 1964 I still have so many fond memories of the place and the people.

I went into the clubhouse to look at the old photos of teams and players. Make no mistake about it Rocester FC have had some very good teams and fantastic players over the years. Alan Beaman and Alan Smith had a lot of success at the club and even prior to that they had good teams who were run by a committee rather than a sole manager.

The team of the late fifties and sixties were up on the wall and I was pleasantly surprised how many I could remember. Committee men synonymous with the club were Ken Green, Gilbert Egerton and my late father George. Players, Ranji Bullock, Keith and Leon Hibberd, Alf and George Blood, Barry Hulton, Pete Swanwick, Pete and Brian Walker, Joe Carpenter, Graham Darbyshire, Barry Wain, Frank Hitchen amongst others.

It was nice to see chairman Barry Smith who works so hard and chatting to him about his hopes that the club can return to former glories.

An old friend Will Paxton was also present and we talked about old times.

Good luck to Paul Wright and his players and all at the Romans for the coming season and thanks for the game,

Congratulations to Nigel, in particular, and your staff on reaching your ton, Issue 100! I know how hard you must work to fulfill your obligations and it’s been a pleasure to help and support you.

All the best,

Bake.