A striker who brought last-game-of-the-season smiles to the faces of Middlesbrough fans earned only notoriety in Brighton & Hove Albion’s final game at the Goldstone Ground.
Journeyman hard man forward Ian Baird earned his place in Teesside folklore by scoring two goals in an end-of-season clash that not only kept Boro up but prevented north east neighbours Newcastle from getting automatic promotion to the elite.
But Brighton fans witnessed Baird, captain at the time, being sent off just 18 minutes into the 1997 game against Doncaster Rovers which thankfully nonetheless ended up in victory courtesy of Stuart Storer’s memorable winner.
The dismissal meant, though, that Baird would not be able to play in what has since been recognised as the most important game in the club’s history: away to Hereford United.
Perhaps we should not have been surprised. Baird was sent off 11 times in his career and he later told portsmouth.co.uk: “It was just a natural thing really. Sometimes my enthusiasm got the better of me. There were plenty of times I chinned someone or got into trouble.
“The most stupid one was when me and Darren Moore had a fight. He was playing for Doncaster and I was playing for Brighton in the last game at their old Goldstone Ground.
“He came through the back of me, there was a bit of afters and I ended up trying to give him a right hook and there was a bit of a ruck.
“We had a bit of rough and tumble and I was just lucky he didn’t chase me up the tunnel because he’s huge!”
To be fair, Baird had a reasonable goalscoring record at Brighton, netting 14 in 41 games following a £35,000 move from Plymouth Argyle.
Brighton was his 10th and last league club and over the 17 years of his league career he commanded a total of £1.7m in transfer fees, the £500,000 Boro paid Leeds being the highest.
At the start of the 1989-90 campaign, Baird scored the winner for Leeds against Newcastle at Elland Road and then, following his £500,000 January move to Teesside, scored twice in a 4-1 win over United on the final day of the season at Ayresome Park.
Those goals – along with a Bernie Slaven brace – helped prevent Boro going down and meant Newcastle missed out on automatic promotion (they then lost the play-off semi-final to Sunderland).
Years later Baird told chroniclelive.co.uk, ahead of the writing of his autobiography: “Yeah, I enjoyed that. That was some game, given what was at stake. And I loved playing for Boro. We had a great team eventually and Bernie Slaven and myself were a pretty decent partnership.”
Interviewed by Stuart Whittingham in 2013 for borobrickroad.co.uk, Baird explained how he moved to Boro because ex-Albion winger Howard Wilkinson, then manager of Leeds, signed Lee Chapman.
“I felt a little aggrieved and basically I spat the dummy out and asked for a move,” he said. “He (Wilkinson) said that he didn’t want me to go but I insisted and within 24 hours I was speaking to Bruce Rioch and Colin Todd and I was on my way to Middlesbrough.”
Undoubtedly his most successful playing years came at Leeds and the Yorkshire Evening Post spoke of “the powerhouse striker’s fearless commitment, no-holds-barred approach and goalscoring ability”.
The blurb introducing his autobiography Bairdy’s Gonna Get Ya! (written by Leeds fan Marc Bracha) says “he’s best remembered for his spells at Leeds, where goals, endless running, will to win and fearless approach ensured he was adored by the fans”.
Now Baird is head coach at Sutton United.
- Pictures: Autobiography front cover; Sutton United website.