Published 16th November 2007, Lancashire Evening Post
There is something reassuring about Carl Baker, something instantly comforting about his presence.
Carl Baker and Morecambe, it seems, are growing up together.
Baker has readily established himself at Christie Park after a switch from Southport, becoming Morecambe’s record signing in July.
With six goals this term, the Shrimps leading scorer has emerged as one of the hottest properties outside the Championship as the Shrimps continue to establish themselves in the League.
“People say the pressure does things to you, and there was a bit of pressure when I signed, but I’ve just felt amazingly comfortable at Morecambe,” said the Shrimps midfielder.
“I’m living the dream, to be honest.
“Not long ago I was working nine to five in an office for Knowsley Town Council, and playing for a few quid at Prescot Cables.
“When I was a kid I’d collect the Panini stickers, and then it was just football, football, football.
“I got all the clubs, including Bradford City, who were in the Premiership then.
“Last month I got the winner against them, and I’m thinking: ‘This is surreal.’
“The whole experience of playing league football has not really sunk in yet.
“It is unbelievable really.
“My manager, Sammy McIlroy, is a Manchester United legend, and I’m getting up every morning with a smile on my face.
“I’ve got a little four-year-old lad, a great partner and everything seems perfect in my life right now.
“How many lads of 24 can go into train every day, get paid for it and then have the rest of the day to chill out after lunch.
“I’ve always had that belief, though, even when Liverpool let me go at 16.”
If you ask Carl Baker about his heroes, he quotes John Barnes, Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish and Steve Heighway.
Baker was spotted playing for Whiston Juniors, the amateur club that nurtured the prodigious talent of Steven Gerrard.
“Liverpool took me to Anfield when I was 10, so you can imagine how I felt, signing for the club I loved.
“I’d rush home from school, get my kit, and be off down to Melwood training ground for junior coaching.
“Sometimes you’d see Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman or Jamie Redknapp down there, and it would be like ‘wow’.
“My coach was Steve Heighway, a great bloke. He always looked out for me, and he was a winger too.
“When I left Liverpool he gave me his Ireland shirt from his debut. I’ll always treasure that. I think Steve saw something in me, and know he didn’t want Liverpool to release me.
“I remember his words the day I walked out of Anfield.
“He said – you’ll come back stronger, son; you will make it one day.
“Still, it was a big setback in my life, a big blow. Football can be a very brutal business, especially when you are told you’re not wanted.
It was certainly the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my career. It was agony because I didn’t seem to have a future in the game.
“When you’re 16 you don’t realise the implications, and I suppose I couldn’t take it all in.
“I’ve seen lads thrown on the scrapheap, and they are just lost to the game after that.
“I had to pick myself up and be a big character.”
After a short spell with Tranmere, he joined the rough and tumble of non-league.
He learned in a tough school, and added: “I found it very difficult coming out of an environment like Liverpool, because physically I wasn’t the strongest.
“I was very small, and everybody seemed to be twice as big and twice as strong in non-league.
“I got booted all over the place, but it made me stand up for myself.
“But then Liam Watson, at Southport, took a chance on me.
“Joining Southport was my big break.”
Watson, then the manager at Haig Avenue, paid Prescot Cables 2,000 for Baker.
“The best money I ever spent,” said the Burscough boss.
“I went to see him twice before I signed him, and he stood out like a beacon.
“He had genuine pace, and a frightening ability to beat two or three players at will.
“I was just surprised it had not happened quicker for him.
“Most of all, though, he has a fantastic attitude.
“I remember we beat Stalybridge 5-2, and Carl had a blinder.
“The next game, against Kettering, I left him out because I wanted to change formation.
“We won 5-0, but Carl didn’t complain.
“He just continued to work hard and try to improve.
“He has gone through a lot in his life and he should be proud.”
Baker has the confidence of youth, but he is a modest and likeable man.
Baker added: “For a manager to come in and buy me was incredible. He took a chance on me, and Liam was like a father figure. He taught me to never give up.
“He was a very astute coach who inspired me as a player.
“Every time I went out on to the pitch under Liam, I improved as a player. My confidence just grew and grew.
“I went through a bit of a wild stage, I suppose. At the time I was going through a bad patch at home and having a few family problems. I’d moved away and maybe I wasn’t looking after myself in the right way.
“I had a bad couple of months, and it was a really hard time for me off the pitch.
“I wasn’t thinking straight, but Liam spoke to me about the way he had tackled his career.
“He gave me some sound advice. I took a step back and realised, at 22, that if I wanted to do anything in football, I’d have to get the basics right.
“I made a conscious decision to change my lifestyle. I got a grip of myself.
“It is really important that you have the right diet and stay off the ale.”
Nowadays there seems to be a new purpose to his life, a burning desire to push his career onwards and upwards.
“When I look back I’ve seen lads lose their careers because they’ve made the wrong choices.
“Being relegated with Southport last season was a bad experience too. I was on a downer for weeks.
“If they had brought Peter Davenport in a bit earlier I’m sure Southport would have stopped up.
“I wasn’t happy at Southport when Paul Cook was there. We just didn’t get along, and that happens sometimes.
“He fined me a couple of weeks’ wages over an incident, which was why we had a fall-out.
“I was the longest-serving player at Southport, and I felt he tried to make an example out of me. I don’t think he ever got the best out of me.
“Peter Davenport was a totally different character, and all the lads seemed to respond.
“The results improved, but it was just too late.”
It is not in his nature to give up. He is a battler.
“I had great disappointment at Liverpool, but I hung on.
“I like to think I’m a strong character, but the rejection at Liverpool was extremely hard to take.
“I don’t even think about Liverpool anymore, though.
“That’s totally gone from my life. It another world now.
“I don’t look back and beat myself up about it.
“I take the positives from that experience, as you have to in football.
“It was all worth it.
“The other night I watched the tape of the Bradford City game.
“The emotion of scoring in the last minute was just sensational.
“It is like everything is on fast- forward when you’re in that
“It just goes by in a blur, you’re so pumped up and excited.
“I looked up and my family were in the stand.
“I was thrilled. My mum is a huge football fan.
“As a kid, we’d come in from Saturday afternoon football, and mum would know all the results and scorers. You could never catch her out.
“I’m proud for her that I’m playing as a professional. She made a lot of sacrifices for me.
“People talk about other clubs looking at me, but I don’t think about that.
“Yeovil wanted me to sign last summer, but I made the right choice coming to Morecambe.
“Sammy McIlroy has been great for me and I’m proud to be at Christie Park.”