The Cambridge United family lost a much-loved member with the death this week, at the age of 75, of Robin Hardy, captain of Bill Leivers’ side as it rose into the Football League in 1970.
A native of Worksop, Notts, Hardy was born on 18 January 1941. Having worked his way through the youth ranks as a half back at Sheffield Wednesday, he scored once in 30 first-team games while at Hillsborough.
After experiencing differences of opinion with Owls coach Jack Mansell, he joined Rotherham United in February 1965, but his troubles followed him when Mansell was appointed manager at Millmoor. Having endured a fractious season, Hardy asked for a transfer. Rotherham refused the request, so after 42 appearances and two goals for the Millers he hung up his boots and became landlord of a pub in his home town.
Rotherham placed him on the transfer list at £10,000 but, with Hardy’s refusal to return, granted him a free transfer at the end of 1966/67. Leivers was aware of the player through his coach Geoff Hudson, and knew of his ambition to return to football. When Hardy signed for United (after a replacement publican had been found), he had not kicked a ball in anger for two years.
After weeks of intensive training, he made his United debut as substitute on 1 November 1967 in an FA Cup fourth qualifying round replay against Lowestoft Town, After a 2-1 defeat, Leivers said: ‘I want a player who can get a grip in midfield, and in the brief time Robin Hardy was on the field it looked as if he could do the job.'
Given his first start in a 2-0 defeat at Dover three days later, he was an ever-present for the rest of the season in a powerful half-back line with Jackie Scurr and Gerry Baker. After a 2-0 win at Hillingdon, the local paper enthused: ‘Robin Hardy was the general at the back and he gave the type of performance Bill Leivers had promised he would.’ Leivers sometimes experimented with a sweeper system, and Hardy took on the role with great success as United finished in third place.
Appointed captain for 1968/69, he led by example as the U’s challenged for the league title, and in February Leivers commented: ‘Hardy is probably the best reader of the game in the side and is what I would describe as the complete professional footballer.’ He helped to make the defence all but impregnable, was the club's only ever-present in the league and received the supporters’ player of the year award as United won the Southern League and League Cup double.
He continued to lead the team in 1969/70, playing as sweeper, at centre back or in midfield as Leivers varied the tactics from game to game. Injuries restricted his starts, but at the end of the season United were champions again and were elected to the League.
For the 1970/71 season the players elected their captain and Colin Meldrum got the vote. It was a difficult first year in the League for United and he was in and out of the side as they finished 20th. At the end of term he was one of six players released on a free transfer. He had started 188 games, made three sub appearances and scored 11 times in amber and black. He had been booked just twice in his 13-year professional career.
United supporters remember not only a cultured, seemingly unflappable player but also a highly likeable man who was only too pleased to do favours for fans. He died suddenly on on Tuesday, January 18, leaving wife Marilyn and sons Troy and Carl.
Gerry proved just as popular in amber and black as he had been at King’s Lynn. The imposing, no-nonsense defender went on to make 259 full appearances and score 16 goals for the U’s, and teammate Tony Butcher was in no doubt of his importance to the team, especially in the Southern League and Cup Double year of 1968/69.
‘The fellow who really won United the Southern League was big centre back Gerry Baker,’ he wrote in his memoirs. ‘In the last ten games or so he was fantastic. He propped us up match after match and never put a foot wrong. We were struggling to win those matches, but the big fellow saw us through and I think they should have struck a special medal just for him!’
Born in South Hendley, West Yorkshire on 22 April 1939, Gerry began his football career on the Sheffield Wednesday ground staff, moving to Bradford Park Avenue in 1955 and turning professional two years later. He played in 16 Football League games before joining King’s Lynn in 1961, where he was made captain. He made the move from full back to centre half at the start of the 1964/65 season.
Roy Kirk was the United manager who provoked such puzzlement in King’s Lynn. Gerry was immediately appointed captain at the Abbey and formed a formidable centre-half combination with Jackie Scurr as Kirk experimented with a 4-2-4 formation. In the 1966/67 season, now under Bill Leivers’ management, he played in a club record 73 matches in the Southern League, the Eastern Professional Floodlit League and various cups.
Leivers felt his team should have won the league in 1967/68 (they finished third) but praised the progress of his players, especially ‘the transformation in the play of Gerry Baker’. The supporters agreed and made him their player of the year.
New signing Terry Eades began to ease Gerry out of the side and in October 1969 he was sold to Cambridge City. He captained the Lilywhites to promotion to the Southern League Premier in 1970 and the runners-up position the following season, before moving to Stevenage. Thereafter he took up the managerial reins at Great Shelford – where he still lives – and was instrumental in the club’s Cambs Invitation Cup win in 1980/81 and its 70s-to-90s domination of the Cambs League.
It's good to have you back, Gerry.
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