Ilkeston, Derbyshire born right half Alf Baker played for various clubs in Derbyshire as an amateur, most notably Eastwood Rangers from 1915, and during the First World War he guested for Chesterfield, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town as well as serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
In May 1919 he turned professional and signed for First Division Arsenal – according to club legend (and Knighton’s biography), Arsenal manager Leslie Knighton signed Baker after meeting him at the pit where he worked, thus beating rivals for the player’s signature who were waiting at his home. He made his Football League debut for Arsenal against Newcastle United on 30th August 1919 (which was Arsenal’s first ever top flight game at Highbury and their first match on the resumption of peacetime football). Baker played 17 matches that season, but in 1920-21 he became a first team regular; he also had trials for England, though it would be another seven years before he won an England cap.
A utility player, “Doughy” (as he was nicknamed) played in every position for Arsenal, including as an emergency goalkeeper on several occasions, though usually played as right half. He was made club captain in 1924. In the 1924-25 season, Baker won two Football League representative caps and also played in the FA Charity Shield, which was a Professionals v Amateurs match; the Professionals won 3-1 at Highbury. However, when new manager Herbert Chapman arrived at the end of that season, he made Charlie Buchan captain instead of Baker; Baker continued to play regularly for Arsenal and they finished as League runners up in 1925-26, Baker scoring 7 goals in the campaign.
Described as “a great hearted player, he has been one of the best men Arsenal have had”, in 1927 Baker played in Arsenal’s first ever FA Cup Final, however Arsenal suffered an infamous shock 1-0 loss to Cardiff City after a mistake by Arsenal goalkeeper Dan Lewis. The following season, he was finally capped for England, appearing against Wales at Turf Moor on 28th November 1927 although England lost 2-1. It was his only international appearance.
Baker finally won a major medal when he played in Arsenal’s 1930 FA Cup Final triumph over Huddersfield Town; by now he had nearly reached the end of his career. He played only one more game for the club, also against Huddersfield, on 7th March 1931 in Arsenal’s first League Championship winning season, before retiring from the game aged 33 in the summer of 1931. In all, he played 351 matches for Arsenal, scoring 26 goals. Baker later worked for Arsenal as a scout.
His brother Jim Baker was also a footballer who played mainly for Leeds United. Another brother, Aaron, made two appearances for Leeds United in October 1927.