Cambridge United people have been saddened to hear of the death, at the age of 83, of former defender Gerry Baker who played for the U’s to great acclaim from 1965 until 1969. Pat Morgan writes...
When United manager Roy Kirk signed Gerry in October 1965, it came as a shock to fans of fellow Southern League side King’s Lynn. Such was the big, no-nonsense defender’s popularity at The Walks that the Linnets were forced to hold a public meeting to explain the reasons for his departure.
Immediately appointed captain at the Abbey Stadium, Gerry formed a formidable defensive combination with Jackie Scurr. During the 1966/67 season, before the advent of substitutes in the English game, he played an astonishing 73 first-team games.
Kirk’s successor, Bill Leivers, praised Gerry’s performances as his team improved enough to claim a third-place finish in the 1967/68 Southern League Premier Division, and the player confirmed his popularity among U’s supporters by winning their player of the year award.
The following season was a triumph for the club, who claimed the Southern League and Southern League Cup double, and striker Tony Butcher recalled in 1971 that, if any single player was responsible for those successes, it was Gerry. ‘In the last ten games or so he was fantastic,’ he said. ‘He propped us up match after match and never put a foot wrong. We were struggling to win those matches, but the big fellow saw us through and I think they should have struck a special medal just for him.’
But Leivers’ signing of Terry Eades from Chelmsford City in March 1969 signalled the end of Gerry’s Abbey career. The manager, able to call on the Southern League’s two best centre halves, did not hesitate to play both of them when the occasion demanded, but as 1969/70 progressed, Terry began to ease Gerry out of the side.
On October 17, having been ‘tapped up’ by Cambridge City manager Tommy Bickerstaff, Gerry signed for United’s cross-Cam rivals. An incensed Leivers visited City chairman Harold Ridgeon and negotiated a £1,000 fee on the spot. Gerry wasn’t the greatest footballer in the world, he noted of his departing player, ‘but my God, he could stop the others playing.’
Gerry had started 259 games, made two substitute appearances and scored 16 goals in black and amber.
He was just as popular, if not quite so successful, at Milton Road as he had been at the Abbey. He captained the Lilywhites to promotion to the Southern League Premier Division in 1969/70, and had played in 147 games over three seasons when he joined Stevenage Athletic.
Gerry then moved into Cambridgeshire League football with Great Shelford, managing the reserve team before becoming first-team manager in 1976. Under Gerry, Shelford reached unprecedented levels of success, notably becoming the first Cambs League club to win the county’s Invitation Cup in 1981, and long-term supporters remember fondly a 1-0 victory over City at Woollards Lane after a draw at Milton Road.
Gerry Baker was born in South Hiendley, West Yorkshire on 22 April 1939. In his youth he was Yorkshire junior high-jump champion and his promise as a footballer was confirmed when he played at full back for the county’s boys’ team. Following National Service he joined the ground staff at Sheffield Wednesday, and moved to Bradford Park Avenue in 1955.
He played 16 Football League games for Park Avenue before signing for King’s Lynn in 1961. Having become captain at The Walks, he moved from full back to centre half in 1964. ‘I’ve got the build for centre half and I love being in the thick of things all the game,’ he said.
His post-football working career finished as an insulation engineer at Kershaw. In retirement he looked after the gardens of many Shelford residents.
Gerry’s dementia progressed following the death in 2018 of his devoted wife Jean, and he moved into a care home in Buckden. He then moved into care closer to his Yorkshire roots. He leaves a son, Gary, and a daughter, Jayne.