Baxter's back in Town

BILL Baxter simply couldn't resist the opportunity to be reunited with his Ipswich team-mates of 40 years ago.The youngest member of Alf Ramsey's side that took football by storm in the historic 1961-62 season, he had no intention of ever returning to the town where supporters took him to their hearts.

By Mel Henderson

BILL Baxter simply couldn't resist the opportunity to be reunited with his Ipswich team-mates of 40 years ago.

The youngest member of Alf Ramsey's side that took football by storm in the historic 1961-62 season, he had no intention of ever returning to the town where supporters took him to their hearts.

An ugly confrontation with manager Bobby Robson, then a rookie boss, saw him turn his back on Ipswich – forever, as far as he was concerned.

Then, a few weeks ago, an invitation dropped through the letterbox of Baxter's home in his native Scotland.

The pleasure of his company was requested at a Portman Road reunion to mark the 40th anniversary of the club's greatest-ever achievement, winning the League Championship for the first, and so far only, time. It set him thinking…

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"This could be my last opportunity to see these guys," reflected Baxter, who will be accompanied by his wife, Dot, on the long drive south from their home in Dunfermline.

"I haven't seen people like Ted Phillips, Larry Carberry, John Compton and Andy Nelson in years – as long ago as 1963 in some cases."

A large slice of nostalgia will be the main item on the menu when the Championship-winning heroes reassemble at Portman Road tomorrow evening.

Ipswich will put their current relegation fears to one side as they host an emotional get-together to honour the men who secured the biggest honour in the club's history.

Town are hosting the reunion and Pat Godbold, who was secretary to a succession of managers until her recent retirement, is co-ordinating the event.

Baxter admitted: "Pat twisted my arm. She helped to persuade me to attend. It will be great to see everyone and I just hope I can still recognise them!"

Sadly, all the heroes from 1962 will not be present. As well as Sir Alf, goalkeeper Roy Bailey and right-winger Roy Stephenson are both dead.

Baxter's career at Ipswich spanned 13 years, 459 games and 22 goals, and many long-serving supporters still insist he is the best Town player of all time.

But he laughed: "I don't know about that. It's a team game and we were all in it together. I'm not one for picking out individuals – I can't understand that when it's all about the 11 of you.

"Football was my job and I enjoyed it. I went out to do my very best and I wasn't looking for glory, although we all enjoyed the good times."

Baxter enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Ramsey and his successors, Jackie Milburn and Bill McGarry.

He recalled: "Alf was one cool character, more like a schoolteacher than how you might imagine a football manager to be.

"It wasn't difficult to look up to him and respect him. I remember going into his office on one occasion because I had a problem I wanted to discuss with him.

"But you know what? We sat there talking about football and when I finally left the office I realised I hadn't even got round to mentioning the real reason I'd gone in to see him – and I never did!"

Baxter was the youngest member of the team assembled at minimal cost by Ramsey and which stunned the football world by winning the Second Division and First Division titles in successive seasons.

Almost 16,000 fans attended his testimonial match in May 1970, but within a year he was packing his bags after an angry bust-up with Robson.

Punches were thrown as Baxter and team-mate Tommy Carroll clashed with the Town boss, who had coach Cyril Lea in his corner.

There was no way back after that and Robson later wrote in his autobiography: "I couldn't back down. The rest of the players were watching and gauging my reaction."

The rebel pair were suspended for 14 days and Baxter was placed on the transfer list. During the ban, when he was north of the border for a break, he was informed the club had accepted Hull's offer of £12,500.

Thirty one years on, Baxter insists he bears no grudge against Robson and added: "I never really think about that incident. Life moves on.

"That sort of thing can happen in any job. If I'm honest I still don't respect him and I still think I was right.

"But if I met him now I would just say 'You're doing well at Newcastle'. If I was still bitter I would ignore him.

"I could have done without that incident. I would have been happy to stay at Ipswich for the rest of my career and I wasn't pushed out because I was lacking ability."

Nine months before Robson's arrival as manager, Baxter had skippered Town to the Second Division title and he continued as club captain, even though the relationship between the pair was strained throughout their two years together.

Not surprisingly, Baxter prefers to recall the heady days of the early 60s when he combined a football career with his national service.

It may be difficult for today's young fans to imagine, but Baxter was stationed with the Royal Engineers in Aldershot as he also helped to steer Town to unimaginable success.

"I only saw Alf and the rest of the lads on match days," he said. "I did my own training and there was no problem – I was very fit in the Army.

"There was nothing to do, so I trained and trained some more. I put in far more hours than the other players and I reckon I was probably fitter than them. There was no problem from that point of view."

Baxter, spotted in Scottish junior football, was a wing-half in his early days before switching to the centre of the defence. He excelled in both roles.

"In the Army I played a lot of basketball and that was a big help," he added. "When it comes to heading the ball it's all about timing.

"I was only 5ft 8ins and people were always remarking that I seemed small to be a centre-half. But I never had a problem and I used to enjoy facing the big centre-forwards."

Baxter was 21, and three months into his national service, when he was called upon to make his Ipswich debut in an East Anglian derby against arch-rivals Norwich at Portman Road.

He turned out in the unaccustomed role of left-back on December 27 1960, replacing fellow countryman Ken Malcolm, and Town romped to a 4-1 victory en route to claiming the Second Division championship.

"Before that game Ken pulled me aside and said he had some advice for me," Baxter remembered. "He said 'Their right-winger's a flyer – hit him early doors' and that's what I did."

He stood in for injured right-half Reg Pickett through to the end of the season and in the unforgettable 1961-62 campaign he was only absent on two occasions.

There will be plenty for Baxter and his former colleagues to discuss when they get together tomorrow. The event will also double as the regular reunion that consistently pulls in dozens of ex-Ipswich players.

Five years ago Baxter had to have a leg amputated. "I'm diabetic and I had bad circulation," he explained in matter-of-fact fashion, "but it's just one of those things.

"In life, no matter what happens, you just have to get on with it. It was the same when I fell out with Robson and left Ipswich.

"My attitude is that you have to move on and make the most of it. I still get about okay and play a lot of golf."

Then, as if to illustrate the point, he added: "My handicap is 13."