The Baker family hold a unique place in Ilkeston football and their contribution to the sport at local level is unequalled by any other family. The photo above depicts Aaron Baker's four sons, Arthur, Jim, Alf and Aaron wearing the red and blue stripes of Ilkeston United. This was clearly a specially arranged photograph because the four of them never played together for United, Alf never having played for his home town club at all.
The story begins in the mid 1880s when Aaron Baker, still in his teens, joined Ilkeston Wanderers FC in 1884. When a new, but shortlived club known as Ilkeston Town was founded a year later he, along with the best players in the town, was one of the players signed. In those early days he was a promising full back but in due course he became a forward with a huge appetite for goals.
When Town disbanded in 1887 Aaron rejoined Ilkeston Wanderers and he scored 13 goals in one game against Ilkeston Wesleyans. By 1888 he had become captain of the team which by now had changed their name to Ilkeston Town. He was a member of the Town team which became the first Ilkeston club to reach the final of the Derbyshire Senior Cup in 1892/93, and when the Manor Ground was opened for the first time in 1893 he scored the first ever goal there, going on to score a hat-trick in the 9-1 win against Matlock Town. In the next match on the new ground he scored four times against Belper. Yet the 1893/94 season was his last one in senior football in Ilkeston and he dropped down to play at a more modest level with Ilkeston Rangers.
Aaron's younger brothers, Arthur, Jim and Matt could all play a bit too. All three played in Ilkeston United's appearance in the 1902/03 Derbyshire Divisional Cup final appearance against Ripley Town with Arthur scoring from the penalty spot in a 4-1 defeat. All three played in a repeat of the final a year later that went to two replays. Centre forward Jim scored in the first of the replays whilst goalkeeper Matt saved a penalty in the second to ensure that United lifted the trophy.
Matt was adept at saving penalties and when United met Second Division club Gainsborough Trinity in the FA Cup in 1904 he saved three in succession as the referee ordered a retake on each occasion. He was beaten by the fourth and Trinity went on to win 4-1. Matt signed for Nottingham Forest in 1905 but returned to United after failing to break into Forest's first team. By now United had an even better 'keeper in Joe Webster but such was Matt's flexibility that he played up front on several occasions and scored a couple of goals.
Aaron's older brother, Bill, was also a decent player who spent three years with Ilkeston Town in the early 1890s. A left back he frequently played in the same team as Aaron, taking part in the earliest games on the Manor Ground as well as appearing in the 1892/93 Derbyshire Senior Cup final. Yet for all Aaron and his brothers achieved it was Aaron's offspring who made the biggest contributions to football.
Aaron's eldest of four sons, Arthur who was born in 1890, was the only one not to make it into League football but he was a good player in his own right. Nicknamed 'Pash', he was a big, fearless centre forward who did well at local level playing for Durham Ox Rangers before playing at a higher standard with Belper Town and Ilkeston United before the outbreak of World War I. The War and knee problems prevented him from progressing further although surgery enabled him to continue playing, for Eastwood Town, after the War.
The second eldest, Jim, was born in November 1891. He was arguably the most influential of the quartet because it was he who brought his younger brothers to the attention of Football League clubs. Jim spent a season with Ilkeston United before joining Derby County in 1911 who released him because they felt that he wasn't tall enough to be a successful centre half, even though he was later described as a tough as teak defender with skill and stamina. He then joined Southern League side Portsmouth before moving to another ambitious non League club, Hartlepools United. Then, in June 1914, he was snapped up by Huddersfield Town who chose to play him at right half. Despite the outbreak of the War he continued to play for Huddersfield in Wartime matches whilst serving in the Royal Navy. Jim helped Huddersfield win promotion to the top flight in 1919/20 before joining newly formed Leeds United shortly after, and he went on to make 200 League appearances for the Elland Road club, mainly at left half. Leeds' first ever captain, he led them to promotion to the top flight in 1923/24. He ended his playing days with Nelson in the Third Division (North) in the late 1920s.
Aaron's fourth son, also called Aaron, was born late in 1904 and he played local junior football with Ebenezer Methodist FC. A wing half like Jim, he was given a trial by Leeds United in 1924 thanks to his elder brother's influence. Aaron impressed enough to be signed and he stayed with them for five years although he rarely appeared in the first team. Aaron then joined Sheffield Wednesday in 1928, one of the top clubs in the country at the time, but he was unable to make a League appearance, such was Wdnesday's strength. Instead he returned to Ilkeston in 1929, becoming captain and centre half of Ilkeston United, remaining in local football until 1933 when he hung up his boots.
But it was Alf, Aaron senior's third son, who eclipsed anything any of his football mad family managed. Born in April 1898 he spent his teenage footballing years playing for Cossall St Catherines, Long Eaton FC and Eastwood Rangers before serving in the Royal Navy during World War I. He played Wartime football for Crystal Palace, Chesterfield and Huddersfield Town where he appeared alongside his older brother Jim. Jim began organising trials for him when the War came to an end and it was Arsenal, ahead of several other interested clubs including Aston Villa, who captured his signature. Alf went on to give over a decade's worth of excellent service to Arsenal, his adaptability meaning that he played in every position for them except in goal. However, it was at right half where he performed at his best and it was in this position that he was capped by England against Wales in November 1927, the first and only time that an Ilkestonian had represented his country at full international level.
Alf captained the Arsenal team throughout the 1924/25 season by which time his brilliant tackling, reliability and leadership skills were well to the fore. He twice represented the Football League, in 1925 and 1926, and was a member of the Arsenal team that lost in the 1927 FA Cup Final. Three years later he celebrated at Wembley after helping The Gunners win the FA Cup for the first time in their history. The 1930/31 season proved to be Alf's final season before retiring but he played occasionally as Arsenal were crowned as League champions for the first time. After hanging up his boots Alf continued to assist The Gunners in a scouting role.
The Baker's contribution to football in Ilkeston has probably not been recognised as much as it should. Hopefully this small piece will go a small way to addressing it.
The complete and much more in depth story of the Baker family, complete with statistical information and illustrations, could become available on a CDRom that will operate on PC's with Microsoft Word should there be sufficient interest. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy which you could download and print, please contact me at email@example.com. The likely cost would be around £5.00. Sadly, the cost of publishing this as a book is too costly for me and would result in an unrealistic retail price.