(Reuters) - The Scottish footballer Jim Baxter, who died of cancer at the age of 61 on April 14, 2001, is remembered as one of the greatest talents never to have featured in a World Cup.
Had the Glasgow Rangers wing-half performed on the greatest stage or followed many of his compatriots of that era to the English first division at the peak of his career, he would surely be recalled as a great well beyond his homeland.
Yet Baxter was certainly appreciated by those who were fortunate enough to see him in an era of much-reduced international exposure.
His light touch, technique, glorious passing and supreme confidence on the ball led former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to describe him as arguably the best player to play in Scottish football.
“He had immense skill, balance, confidence, grace and ability to pass and hold the ball. He was just a fantastic footballer,” said Ferguson.
Yet like Northern Ireland’s George Best, another great talent who missed out on the World Cup, Baxter is also recalled as a player whose hard-drinking lifestyle shortened his career and perhaps stopped him achieving the heights which he deserved.
Born in Fife in September 1939, the young Baxter worked as a miner before signing for Raith Rovers in 1957 at the age of 18.
After 62 games with his local club, Rangers paid a then Scottish record transfer fee to sign him and he quickly became a crowd favourite at Ibrox.
In his first season he led the club to the Scottish title and the runners-up spot in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the Rangers fans adored the way he approached the game.
His appeal stretched far and wide, however, when he scored twice in a 2-1 win over England at Wembley in 1963.
An expected big move south of the border did not immediately follow, with many suspecting his fondness for the pub was behind the reluctance of some English clubs to recruit the player known as “Slim Jim”.
Baxter eventually got his move in 1965 when he joined Sunderland, but it was in the national team’s colours that he produced his most memorable moment.
Scotland defeated World Cup winners England in the Home Championships of 1967, with Baxter rubbing in their superiority by playing ‘keepie up’ with the ball, delighting the travelling fans and enraging the home support.
After a brief spell with Nottingham Forest, Baxter was given a free transfer back to Rangers but he managed just 14 games before retiring at 30.
Two liver transplants followed his ill-advised decision to become a pub landlord, but like Best, he did not publicly show much regret at his approach to life.
“Perhaps I did enjoy myself too much, but what’s too much?,” he said. “Moderation, as far as I’m concerned, is for moderate people.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis
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