Anfield, Liverpool born Benjamin Howard Baker (usually known as B Howard Baker though opinion is divided as to whether Howard was his first name or a double barrelled surname) was a renowned athlete and goalkeeper. Howard Baker was an athlete of considerable ability and won various high jump championships including the AAA 6 times between 1910 and 1921, holding the British record in 1921. He also represented Great Britain at both the 1912 and 1920 Olympic Games. In 1912, he finished eleventh in the high jump and 16th in the standing high jump.
Eight years later in 1920 he finished sixth in the high jump and eighth in the triple jump event. At the Northern Counties Championships, Baker won the discus in 1920 (104′ 2¼”), the 120 yard hurdles (18 seconds) in 1921, the high jump from 1911-14, 1919-21. He won the Long Jump (21′ 7½”) in the 1920 Northern Olympic Trials. He was also an international class water polo player and a champion tennis player winning the Welsh Covered Courts doubles. He also played cricket for Liverpool CC.
In football, as a centre half, he represented Lancashire and had trials for England amateurs in that position. Having started his career with Marlborough Old Boys in 1911 and Liverpool Balmoral in 1912 he had been on the books of Blackburn Rovers in 1913-14 and Preston North End in 1914-15 before the First World War without getting into either of their first teams. An ankle injury sustained on military duty forced him to switch to goalkeeping.
After the War he joined Liverpool playing at reserve team level. At Anfield, his route to the first team was barred by the great Elisha Scott. Weeks after impressing for the Reds in a reserve derby fixture, Baker was signed by Everton in November 1920. He made his Football League debut for Everton in a 1-0 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in February 1921. The Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury reported: “Let it at once be said that the well-known amateur made a highly successful first appearance.” In his second appearance, in a defeat to Tottenham, it was noted that: “He was heartily cheered for several brilliant saves.” But he never made another appearance for The Toffees, thereafter joining Chelsea in October 1921, making his debut straight away in a defeat at Newcastle United and spending five seasons at Stamford Bridge where he became a regular in the first team and indeed scored a penalty for them in their 1-0 home win over Bradford City in November 1921, but he was dropped from spot-kick duties after a miss against Arsenal later in the season.
He was picked to play for England in May 1921 on a tour match against Belgium, keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over Belgium at Stade Oscar Bossaert. and he was picked again in October 1925 for a Home Championship match, keeping a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw against Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast. He played once for The Football League in a 5-1 victory over The Irish League at Anfield in October 1925. He also won 10 England Amateur International caps between January 1921 and March 1929 and kept goal twice for The Amateurs against The Professionals in the FA Charity Shield, playing first in their sensational 6-1 victory at White Hart Lane in October 1925 and then in their 3-0 defeat at The Den in October 1929.
He made 93 first team appearances for Chelsea and, already aged 34, rejoined Everton in August 1926 in the midsts of an injury crisis, playing a further 11 matches for The Toffees between August and October, when he lost his place between the Everton sticks to Arthur Davies. He became the first goalkeeper to captain Everton leading his side in a goalless draw against West Bromwich Albion on 15th September. A rare highlight in a troubled season, Everton finishing 20th and narrowly avoiding relegation, was a 1-0 Merseyside derby victory towards the end of September. The Liverpool Post and Mercury observed of his performance in that match: “Baker did his work well in the Everton goal. He was several times under severe pressure, but he was confident all through.”
He made a farewell Goodison Park appearance in March 1929, playing for Corinthians against Everton in a friendly match. The hosts won with virtually the last kick of the match but, according to The Daily Courier, the erstwhile Evertonian excelled: “The champions might have scored several goals had it not been for the brilliance of Howard-Baker, who effected some remarkable saves, though luck was with him on more than one occasion. It was judgement, however, that enabled him to negotiate shots from Troup and Critchley in particular.” In April 1929 he played a single Second Division match for Oldham Athletic in a 2-0 defeat at Clapton Orient.
Throughout his time with professional clubs, Baker had a parallel goalkeeping career with amateur institutions, firstly with Northern Nomads from 1917 to 1918 and subsequently with the famous London-based outfit, The Corinthians from 1919 to 1933, being one of their two highest ever appearance makers. Interestingly he is also one of very few players to have more than one image in the Pinnace cigarette card series issued between 1920 and 1922! It’s fair to say with some degree of certainty that Baker ranks alongside C.B. Fry and fellow Merseysider Max Woosnam as one of Britain’s greatest sporting all-rounders.
NB the photograph, published in 1924, appears to be the same as that published by Pinnace in 1921. It’s likely to be from a match at Stamford Bridge in late 1921.