With the reflex of a scalded cat, this Cowley worker was a top goalkeeper

Witney Gazette: Keith Baker making a timley interception in 1972. Keith Baker making a timley interception in 1972.

KEITH Baker, who has died aged 57, was a talented footballer, prize-winning golfer and, above all, a devoted family man.

Oxford Crematorium was packed on Monday as family, friends and former teammates paid tribute to the popular sportsman.

Mr Baker, who had terminal cancer, chose the music for the funeral as well as the time – a 3pm ‘kick-off’.

His career as a goalkeeper took him to Oxford United, Grimsby, Millwall, Witney, Aylesbury, Banbury, Buckingham – and to Wembley.

It was once said that he had “remarkable agility, his handling is clean, his positional sense at times is uncanny and he has the reflexes of a scalded cat”.

One-time Witney Town boss Trevor Stokes also praised him, saying: “Keith was like an extra defender and so brave with it. He used to race off his line when a forward broke through and there was only ever one winner.”

He was born at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford on October 15, 1956.

The young Keith Baker excelled at sport at Headington Secondary School and played in the Oxford Boys’ team which reached the English Schools’ Trophy final in 1972, losing the two-match tie on aggregate to Chelmsford before a packed Manor Ground at Headington.

He also played for England Schoolboys before a crowd of 67,000 at Wembley. He took home a piece of Wembley turf as a souvenir and it is now growing in his parents’ garden.

After leaving school, he signed as an apprentice for Oxford United. Competition kept him out of the first team and he eventually went on loan to Grimsby and Millwall.

Hopes of a permanent deal at Grimsby fell through, and there was further disappointment when he was one of six Oxford United players given free transfers at the end of the 1975-6 season to avert a cash crisis.

He then joined Witney, helping them to win the Southern League championship.

He was described as the best goalkeeper the club had ever had, by two of his predecessors in goal, Aubrey Oakey and Tom Litt. Later, he joined Aylesbury, Banbury and Buckingham.

His career was not without controversy. He was well known for his volatile temperament and would often chance his arm by telling officials, in a loud voice, what he thought of their decisions. He would also get into arguments with opposition fans behind his goal.

In 1979, however, he showed a different side of his character. After Witney had lost 2-0 at home to Wellingborough, he sprang a surprise when he offered to buy everyone within earshot a drink.

His wife Christina had just given birth to their 7lb 9oz daughter, Louise Christina, and he was “wetting the baby’s head”.

After retiring from football, he joined Southfield Golf Club and won a number of awards, including the prestigious President’s Cup. He also landed two holes in one.

Mr Baker worked at the Cowley car plant for 33 years and later had jobs at Lincoln College and Christ Church. He died at his home in Iffley on December 19 surrounded by his family.

He leaves his wife Christina, daughters Louise and Katie, grand-daughter Eve, sons-in-law Mark and Dave, parents Iris and Guy, sisters Marilyn and Karen and brother Maurice.

Witney Gazette:

Keith Baker with granddaughter Eve

In a tribute read at the funeral, they said: “Keith guided our family with his strength, courage, experience and, above all, his love. He was the most amazing husband and father anyone could wish for.”

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