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Carl Baker and Stockport


The Hitman
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In an age when football is a multi-million pound global business I often struggle to relate to the game and its protagonists, who have become remote celebrity figures with little in common with the people who pay handsomely to watch them.

 

But every now and again a story comes along that unlocks something emotional locked away deep inside me, the sort that really makes me feel as though I can empathise with a footballer once more.

 

This is one of them.

 

 

League One Stockport drew 2-2 at Yeovil on Saturday. It was a result which took both teams on to six points so far in the season and was in many ways unremarkable.

 

What made it significant was that both the Stockport goals were scored by Hatters forward Carl Baker, taking his tally to nine goals for the season and making him the highest scorer in the country this season.

 

Just days earlier Stockport manager Gary Ablett had the unenviable task of breaking the news to Baker that the player's elder brother Michael had lost his battle against leukaemia.

 

Baker was under no pressure to play on Saturday but called Ablett on Thursday evening to say that he wanted to be part of the team.

 

After putting Stockport in front with his 22nd minute penalty he raced to the dugout and collected a T-shirt he had prepared in advance. It said 'For u Mike' and Baker held it aloft while all of his team-mates, goalkeeper included, rushed to join him.

 

At the end of the game Baker was sent over to the away supporters by Ablett. A couple of hundred had made the long trek south to Huish Park and they presented the striker with a card that everyone in the away end had signed.

 

Baker was hugged by many of them and I'm told that it was a genuinely emotional moment. For me, it is an example of what football is really all about.

 

Baker's brother had been in attendance at Stockport's last home game and I could only imagine how difficult it must have been for Carl to retain his focus and concentration for last Saturday's match.

 

Perhaps it provided a distraction for Carl, who has been in brilliant form this season; a real bag of tricks playing just behind the main striker. Perhaps he felt that if he played he might score and would then have the opportunity to make a public demonstration of his feelings for his older brother.

 

To make matters even worse, Baker's younger brother also has leukaemia and it is obviously an extremely difficult time for the whole family.

 

I'm told that Baker is a typical scouser, a little bit cheeky, a very bubbly character and fun to be around. Now 26, he came into the professional game relatively late having joined Morecambe in 2007.

 

It means that he appreciates every single day he spends as a professional player. In my experience professionals who have previously worked in a 'normal' job often have a greater appreciation of the privilege of being paid to play the game.

 

Stockport brought him to Edgeley Park in July 2008 for a figure in the region of £200,000 - a lot of money in the lower leagues. He is clearly at the right club.

 

The Hatters are currently in administration but they have gone above and beyond what could be expected to raise the profile of Leukaemia Research.

 

The club's players wore a cerise pink and black striped shirt for their pre-season friendlies. It has a historical connection as they are the colours Stockport wore in 1900, but the Leukaemia Research logo was featured on them.

 

The shirts are now being auctioned off to raise money for the charity and are fetching £200 a piece. The players and staff at the club have pitched in to buy one for £500.

 

With Stockport in administration they aren't a particularly attractive proposition for business investment so every unused advertising board at Edgeley Park is currently filled with one for Leukaemia Research.

 

When a board is eventually sold the club, despite their financial travails, are donating 30% of the fee to Leukaemia Research.

 

The club decided to raise money for the charity as a Baker and several other staff at the club have relations suffering from blood cancer diseases. As someone at Stockport told me: "We might have done a lot wrong at the club but we have got this just about right."

 

I couldn't agree more. Thousands of words are written every weekend about the latest flare-up in the Premier League, the hottest transfer rumour or the latest takeover talk.

 

But I cannot help but feel that Baker's courage, his bond with the Hatters supporters and Stockport's willingness to embrace such a worthy cause chimes with what made me first fall in love with football.

 

And I wish all of them well.

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