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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 20:27 GMT 21:27 UK
Baxter: a God-given genius
Jim Baxter scores against England in 1963
Jim Baxter scores against England in 1963
BBC Scotland football correspondent Chick Young pays tribute to his friend and football legend Jim Baxter, who has died at the age of 61.

They have taken the word legend and applied it to workmanlike journeymen who will be forgotten 10 minutes after they have hung up their boots.

It should be kept for guys like James Curran Baxter.

He started his working life digging for coal: in the end, he mined pure gold.

Jim delivered not in the colliery but rather on the playing fields of Europe, where he graced the beautiful game with artistry that was seldom seen before and hardly at all since.

As it happens, I knew him well, the player who became a football prince in Kirkcaldy and then king in Glasgow. Ibrox was his palace.

Finest player

He is gone, but in the lifetime of those who saw him play, he will not be forgotten.

You cannot have a debate about who was the finest player this country ever produced and not mention his name.

Baxter played 254 times for Rangers
Baxter played 254 times for Rangers
It may have been Law, it may have been Johnstone or Dalglish, it may have been Morton or Steele. But there will always be an argument for Slim Jim.

He was some man. In every way.

Just 10 days before he died, I conducted the final interview at his home on the south side of Glasgow.

The cancer had taken so much of its toll that I knew I would never see him again.

The way he shook my hand at the end of the interview made me believe he knew that too.

No regrets

He was much in pain, mentally as well as physically. How much mental strength does it take to handle the knowledge that you have just days to live?

And yet he conducted the interview - for a soon to be released video about his life - with a smile on his face as he recalled the adventures of six incredible decades.

He admitted mistakes .... but he had no regrets. As you prepare to meet your maker, that is a courageous stance to take.

Slim Jim was special because he was a man of the people, a working-class bloke from Fife who achieved what every kid in this country who has ever kicked a ball in a public park dreamed about.

He went to Wembley in 1967 and toyed with the Auld Enemy on its lush turf.

Watched awestruck

When they finally close the book on the history of Scottish football, the vision of him playing keepy-uppie in the 3-2 victory over the then world champions will remain the sweetest and most enduring moment of all.

And yet he ripped apart their arrogance not once, but twice. In 1963, he scored twice in a 2-1 victory, a triumph achieved with just 10 men after Eric Caldow broke his leg.

Jim Baxter became a publican
Jim Baxter became a publican
I was just 12 as I watched awestruck, but little I have seen since in our game has made me glow more with pride.

Of course there was the self-destruct button, which apparently comes as standard with most football geniuses.

Except Jim never quite accepted that he did self destruct. His only concession was the gambling.

There was a time in his life when he would have bet on two flies climbing up a wall ... and too often he backed the one that had just had a dodgy pie.

Life for him was a party and someone once said that, for Baxter, there weren't enough nights in the week and the truth is that, from one perspective, he was lucky to make 62.

Worshipped by people

But it was the cancer that got him in the end and that was nothing to do with his lifestyle.

A few years ago, he roped me into becoming chairman of his testimonial committee, a group of worthies that included - yours truly excepted - some pretty eminent businessmen, accountants and lawyers and general high flyers.

A quarter of a century after he stopped playing, the support for him was incredible.

Grown men were still in awe.

The truth is that, if Jim stumbled a little from the straight and narrow now and then, he should be forgiven because he was worshipped by people who forgot that he was just really one of the boys.

Old adversary

His talent to play the game of football was a God-given gift, but he always remembered that, when all was said and done, he was in the entertainment business.

His motto in life was that the party's never over. It took a long time for him to be proved wrong, although who knows...

Even now he could be bending the ear of Bobby Moore, another taken ridiculously long before his time.

I can just see Jim, with his arm around his old adversary, saying: "Do you mind that day at Wembley back in 67..."

God bless them both.

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