Allan Baker was born in Tipton on June 22nd, 1944 and made his mark in schoolboy football at Willingsworth school and played for the likes of Staffordshire Boys, Birmingham County Boys and was capped at both Schoolboy and England Youth level. Allan takes up the story, "In those days at those levels they only gave you one cap per level no matter how many games you played but I'm very proud of the two caps they gave me. I scored a penalty against Germany in one game. I played with Martin Peters in some of those games and he sent me a post card a while later wishing me good luck in my career and I still have to this day."
He had built up a bit of a reputation from these formative years and was taken on the Aston Villa
ground staff at 15 years of age, straight from school, in 1959 and it didn't take him long to make it.
He made his debut at Fulham in April1961 whilst just 16 years of age playing along side Jimmy Mac Ewan and Alan Deakin who both later joined Walsall and such was his progress at Villa Park that he was first team regular by 1962-3 season and played in both legs of the Football League Cup Final of that season playing alongside the likes of George Graham and Roy Wylie as Villa lost 3-1 to near neighbours Birmingham City over two legs as the competition was worked in those days .
Allan spoke of those early years, " We had some very good players at Villa like Derek Dougan and a great player in Gerry Hitchens. His last game in Villa's colours before his move to Inter Milan was actually on my debut. In training my peg number was No25 and Dougan's was next door to mine he had no26. He was such a joker, you never knew what he was going to do next! But on the pitch he was excellent on both the ground and in the air."
He certainly enjoyed his years at Villa Park and remarked, "Joe Mercer was in charge when I joined and his No2 was a chap called Dick Taylor and he really looked after me. I also built up a great friendship with Gordon Lee who used to take me in his little van to the bookies! That set me off on horse racing, a passion I still have to this day! Lew Chatterley was another life long friend, I still see him now and then."
Then came a body blow - In October 1963 Allan had the misfortune to suffer a broken collar bone which kept him out of action for some time but he did return in the 1964-5 season getting the match winners against Arsenal and Wolves. That injury was pretty painful as Allan explained, " I had to have a skin graft and the injury knocked me about but I was only young so recovery wasn't too bad." His total record at Aston Villa was 105 appearances of which 92 were in the League and 16 goals of which 13 were in League games.. Somewhat surprisingly, he became surplus to requirements and was allowed to join Walsall in the summer of 1966.
On his signing for Walsall Allan said, "I was pleased to sign for Walsall. RayShaw signed me and he had Arthur Cox with him as his coach. He was very hard on us but he got the best out of players which was the main thing."
His first appearance in our colours was a friendly match against Manchester City on August 9th 1966 in which he scored a splendid goal wearing the No7 shirt paving the way for a 2-1 win. His league debut came in the season's opener against Mansfield at Fellows Park. He settled in right away and only missed two games that season and notched 13 goals. In the FA Cup he banged in a couple more and in the FL Cup he scored one of the best goals ever to be seen at St James' Park in the 2-1 victory over Exeter City.
Of this goal Allan purred.... " From our own goal line Frankie Gregg played a short ball out to me and I kept going and going. I ran the full length of the pitch beating five players who stood in my way then as the keeper started to advance I dummied him, he fell on his arse and I had the simple task of tapping it in!" Spectacular goals were a bit of a trademark for Allan and he quipped, " Yes there were a few, I remember chipping Jim Barron from about 30 yards against Oxford and there were a couple of others, one against Peterborough and I remember doing another long distance lob at the Gay Meadow against Shrewsbury. "
Allan certainly had a great first season at Walsall, and stated, " I was deployed in a more attacking role than midfield in that season and it benefitted me." Allan was renowned for his pace and nimbleness and defenders had a job to keep up with him. Of his Walsall team mates from then he remarked, " They were all fine players, Frank Gregg, Stan Bennett, Colin Harrison, Mick Evans every one of them. Although only Evo had any real pace between them. He was a terrific defender, awkward to get past.. Does Stan Bennett remember the time in training when I nutmegged him? He came after me I think he was going to hit me but I kept running, he couldn't catch me up!"
1967 - 8 saw Saddlers climb to the top of the table and stay there for over three months. "Yes we had a very good season, that great win at Scunthorpe set us on our run and we played some great football. I also remember those cup games that we enjoyed that season, especially the two Liverpool games in the FA Cup when I was up against the likes of Emlyn Hughes." Allan continued to re a fairly regular starter in the side in that season and the next. 1967-8 and 1968-9 saw him play in over 30 games and he scored 7 goals in each.
Injuries restricted him to 19 starts in 1969-70 although nothing prepared him for the career - ending injury that finished him on September, 12th, 1970. "At the time I felt I was reaching my peak. I was playing better than ever and really enjoying my football. I'd scored in that game against Tranmere Rovers and all was going well. Then about 18 minutes into the second half I fell awkwardly in their half and I heard my knee snap. It was such a blow when I had to retire from playing so early." His Walsall career was 152 total appearances scoring 36 goals. He was awarded a testimonial match against Leicester City in 1972.
Allan found employment away from the game by becoming a leather cutter. He later had 26 years working at Castings. However there was a return to Walsall on a part time basis in 1976. "I was offered the role of Reserve team coach and I also looked after the kids on a Thursday night. There could be as many as 20-30 some weeks so it was a case of constantly thinning them out"
There is another family connection with Walsall - his father Dennis was a keen supporter and indeed served on the committee of the Saddlers Club for many years. Allan's other sport was cricket and he turned out for Walsall Trinity for many years. Those of us old enough to have seen Allan's four years in our colours can remember him displaying those qualities on the pitch and it was great to hear him look back on his proud career with so much enthusiasm.