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FOOTBALL: If Baxter is to be remembered for one thing let it be that moment of sheer genius against England.

Byline: DES KANE

IT was the moment that defined Jim Baxter's illustrious playing career.

The outrageously talented Scot scooped up the ball from Wembley's lush turf and played keepy-uppy with it.

It was an act of sheer impudence - and didn't we just love it .

Baxter's football odyssey took him from Raith Rovers to Rangers, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest and Ibrox again - but it is that one act of genius for which he will be best remembered.

It only took a few seconds but, oh, what a few seconds they were.

The year was 1967 and the opposition came, unforgettably, in the form of World Champions England at their spiritual home of Wembley.

Even with players such as Baxter, Denis Law and Billy Bremner in their midst no one, certainly not the arrogant English, gave the Scots an earthly of upsetting the odds.

This was to be England - crowned kings of football less than 12 months earlier - hammering home the message to the Auld Enemy that they were the new rulers of the game.

However, Alf Ramsay's all- conquering side - boasting the likes of Bobby Moore and the Charlton brothers - had reckoned without one thing: Slim Jim hadn't read the script.

Baxter, you see, was never content to play second fiddle to anyone on a football pitch and certainly not the English.

While his working class integrity shone through off the park, Baxter's single-minded approach made him an all-time great on it.

He had, in typical Baxter fashion, scored both goals in a 2-1 win over England at Wembley in 1961 but his achievements six years later elevated him to legendary status.

Indeed, his performance was so great, Pele was moved to comment: "I wish Jim Baxter was Brazilian."

As England tried to pull back a 3-1 deficit in the second-half, Baxter ensured Wembley became the hosts' own graveyard. And how Scottish fans lapped it up.

The memory of him playing keepy-uppy like he was in his own back yard was a sensational moment that remains with every Scots supporter even 34 years on.

While England now constantly show TV replays of Geoff Hurst's winner that brought them the 1966 World Cup, we cling to the black- and-white vision of Baxter teasing an irate Alan Ball with his box of tricks. Oh, how sweet those memories are.

That carefree moment in a 3-2 Scottish victory was one Baxter was to be constantly reminded of throughout his life.

To this day in pubs and clubs up and down the country it remains a hot topic of conversation.

He never got tired of talking about the day Scotland became the unofficial champions of the world.

"The victory in 1967 will be remembered as the day we humbled the World Champions," Baxter later recalled.

"It's by far the most talked-about game I ever played in. I certainly can't get tired talking about it!

"Rumours said I actually sat on the ball that afternoon. It was such a great story, I never denied them."

Jim was to go on to establish himself as a Rangers legend, but his heroics with Scotland ensured he was always respected by both sides of the Old Firm. He is one of the few to enjoy such an accolade.

Raised in Hill O'Beath on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath, the young snake- hipped Baxter's upbringing taught him the values of honesty and decency that would stand him in good stead.

Starting out at Raith Rovers, Baxter rose to prominence quickly by clinching a move to Rangers in 1960 as a rough-cut 19-year-old.

He later enjoyed a brief spell down south playing for Sunderland and Nottingham Forest, but his name will always be synonymous with his real love, Rangers, and the golden era at Ibrox under Scott Symon.

That was when Baxter was in his element, helping Rangers win the Championship, League Cup and Scottish Cup in the halcyon period of the sixties.

Of course there were the booze binges off the park - the self-destructive streak associated with all the game's great characters such as George Best. But that shouldn't detract from Baxter..

You have to remember that underneath the bravado was, most importantly of all, a decent man.

Being such undoubtedly mattered more to Baxter than the 20-odd caps or any gongs he picked up along the way.

Indeed, I remember speaking to Baxter last year after a leading London-based football magazine included him in their all-time top 100 British players but excluded Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law.

Despite his well-publicised health problems, Jim's response underlined the type of character he was.

Always willing to focus on others he told me: "I can't believe they've left out Kenny or Denis. That's jist no' right."

What wasn't right was the end of Baxter's career at the premature age of 30. The know- it-alls will infer that he blew up early because of his off-field antics. To a certain extent that is true but they didn't know the real man.

Baxter disliked training immensely and was hardly the model professional, but you have ask: Without the drink would Baxter have been half as effective?

He was a law unto himself but then again nobody knew his limitations better than Baxter.

"I was never one for training but nobody could say anything." he once said. "Rangers knew I was doing the job for them where it mattered - on the field."

As it was, Baxter's career was cut short in his prime.

He remembered meeting up with the legendary Dave Mackay on one outing with Scotland, realising his off- field behaviour was signalling the death knell for his career.

"Dave told me he was sharp to training while I was still in my bed. He said: `Jim, you should be training now while you can because the day will come when you'll want to train and can't.' He was so right."

We will all cling to the memory of Baxter's keepy-uppy as we mourn his untimely passing.

One thing's certain Scottish football is all the poorer for his death.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 15, 2001
Words:1003
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