Boro midfielder Trevor Putney was one of the first players Baird met at Ayresome Park, with the East Anglian telling Baird “The place was unreal and things happened at Middlesbrough that he’d never experienced before”.
Making his debut at Ayresome Park in a 2-0 win against former club Portsmouth, Baird recalls “At half- time I began to understand what Putney meant. Slaven and Rioch had a disagreement and they started fighting. They were going at it hammer and tongs. Putney was sat at the side of me and whispered, ‘I told you, they’re fucking mental up here.”
Baird partnered with Boro legend Bernie Slaven up front who says “Bairdy was the best centre-forward I ever played with at Middlesbrough. He was generally a quiet character who was a fantastic player. He displayed some nice touches and would run all day. On top of that, he certainly could handle himself.”
IAN BAIRD: DERBY DAY HERO...
Mention the name Ian Baird to most Middlesbrough fans over a certain age, and the first thing to come to mind will be the two goals he scored in Boro’s 4-1 win against Newcastle United in May 1990.
This decisive win is probably the club’s most famous and important victory over their Northeast rivals in history and cemented Ian Baird’s name in Boro Folklore.
Two goals from Baird, along with a brace from Boro legend Bernie Slaven, ensured Middlesbrough’s survival in the old Second Division, with some nervy last day drama, which also stopped neighbours Newcastle from gaining promotion to the top flight.
The road to Ayresome Park was a long one for Ian Baird, with the club enquiring about the striker’s services as early as 1985 under manager Willie Maddren, until eventually signing for Bruce Riochs Boro side in January 1990.
Rotherham-born Baird grew up in Hampshire, signing for local club Southampton as a youngster; eighteen year old Baird turned professional in 1982.
Coming through the ranks at Southampton with Danny Wallace, George Lawrence and Martin Foyle amongst others, the standard was high. With Scottish International Joe Jordan occupying the centre forward spot, the talented Baird was always going to find it difficult to break into the first team.
Describing himself as a “cocky youngster”, Baird was taken under the wing of striker Jordan, who perhaps saw an image of himself in the youngster. Jordan advised Ian to keep on the straight and narrow and to keep his head down following some off-field incidents and disciplinary problems.
Southampton and England Goalkeeper Peter Shilton remembers a young Ian Baird “who was very confident” and “played the game like a man”. “He had no fear, he gave his all whenever he got a chance and he never let the side down”. This quote epitomizes Ian Baird the footballer.
After knuckling down – yet still failing to establish himself in Lawrie McMenemy’s first division side, the Six-foot Yorkshireman was sent out on loan to Cardiff City where he played twelve matches, scoring six goals in the 1983-84 season. He would also appear five times for Jack Charlton’s Newcastle on loan, scoring once against Leeds United in 1984.
Following Leeds’ failed attempts to sign Reading striker and future Chelsea legend Kerry Dixon, manager Eddie Gray signed Baird for £75,000 in March 1985. After three seasons in and around the Saints first team, 22 appearances, and five goals, Baird headed to Yorkshire on a 2-year contract worth £300p/w.
With his “never say die” attitude, 100% commitment and obvious talent, it didn’t take long for the Leeds fans to take to their new forward and ‘Bairdy’ was soon a fan’s favourite.
Along with his pace, power, aggression and a keen eye for goal, Baird was idolised on the terraces. By the end of the 1987-88 season, Baird had helped Leeds to an FA Cup semi-final and Play-off final and was chasing an improved contact.
After scoring 37 goals in 101 appearances, Baird more than doubled his money signing for Portsmouth for £285,000 – turning down Glasgow Giants Celtic, West Ham United, QPR, and Aberdeen who failed to match Pompey’s offer.
Baird endured a miserable time at Fratton Park, the club was in a mess financially, and with his links to bitter rivals Southampton, the Pompey fans never took to him – he even received death threats from Saints fans. After scoring only one goal in 22 games, Baird was sold back to Leeds in March 1988 for a cut price £120,000.
Baird's second spell at Elland Road saw him start where he left off and was voted Player Of The Year in 1989. With Leeds challenging for promotion during 1989-90, Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson brought in striker Lee Chapman in January to help the promotion push – which upset the Leeds hitman who asked for an immediate transfer.
TIME ON TEESSIDE...
After hearing of Baird’s transfer request, Bruce Rioch immediately snapped him up for £500,000, with the striker eventually signing for relegation-threatened Middlesbrough in January 1990.
Following Baird’s debut, Boro endured a seven game winless streak. In March 1990, manager Bruce Rioch left the club with assistant Colin Todd, taking over to carry on the fight against relegation.
Newcastle arrived on Teesside on the back of a nine game unbeaten run, with manager Colin Todd looking to curtail the Geordies free-flowing football, he ordered the touchlines of the Ayresome Park pitch to be narrowed.
With a second half goal for Leeds at Dean Court scored by none other than Lee Chapman, Baird describes Ayresome Park as “going mental” as the news spread.
Boros onslaught soon began with Bernie Slaven scoring Boro’s first goal on 60 mins to put Boro 1-0 up in front of the Holgate end, he then set Baird up for a tap in for Boros second six minutes later.
Newcastle managed to pull one back to make it 2-1, only for Baird to score a brilliant goal on 75 minutes, with a rising shot smashed into the top corner from the edge of the box, Slaven then made it 4-1 when he scored a last minute tap in.
With news coming through Baird’s old teammates had secured promotion by winning at Bournemouth, this sending them down, Boro had stayed up on the final day, also stopping rivals Newcastle from going up.
Baird is also remembered fondly by Boro fans during the 4-1 win for his famous ‘Donkey ears sign’ at Newcastle defender Kevin Scott after the defender clattered Baird in the final minutes in front of the packed Holgate End. Baird picked himself up and gave Scott the “donkey ears sign” – who wasn’t too pleased.
Having scored five goals in 19 games for Boro helping keep them up, Baird had also appeared in enough games for Leeds United to be given a Championship medal. In his autobiography, Baird remembers “I was obviously pleased with my performance and the two goals, and I was ecstatic that we had stayed up. But I couldn’t help but let my mind wander, and think what could have been as my old club was winning the league.”
Boro fared better in the 1990-91 season under Colin Todd, having strengthened in the transfer market, bringing in Baird’s former Leeds teammate John Hendrie, ex-Liverpool favourite John Wark and future Boro stalwart Robbie Mustoe from Oxford United.
Ian Baird, who always wore the number nine shirt when starting for Boro, again partnered Bernie Slaven up front. With John Hendrie and Stuart Ripley supplying the crosses, the Strikeforce scored 30 league goals between them with Baird also scoring a hat-trick away to Oxford United in a 5-2 in November 1990.
Finishing 7th and reaching the play-offs, the combative Baird was a near ever present, playing 51 games league and cup, scoring 15 goals as Boro lost to Notts County over two legs in the play-off semi-finals. He was named Middlesbrough’s Player of the Year for the 1990-91 season.
With manager Colin Todd departing at the end of the season, it came as a big surprise to Boro fans that Baird was sold by incoming boss Lennie Lawrence in the summer of 1991 to Hearts for £350,000.
After scoring 21 goals in 70 starts for Middlesbrough, fans favourite Ian Baird departed Teesside to team up with former teammate and Hearts manager Joe Jordan, where he scored 15 goals in 64 appearances between 1991-93.
Spells at Bristol City, Plymouth Argyle, Brighton Hove Albion and Instant-Dict FC of Hong Kong followed. Baird also went on to manage Instant-Dict FC and the Hong Kong national team in 1999, and Havant and Waterlooville and Eastleigh.
The all out physical Ian Baird was without a doubt one of the toughest players ever seen in a Boro shirt. To say he was an old fashioned number nine doesn’t do him justice, he was a far more accomplished player than that. Baird was good with both feet, excellent in the air, along with his nonstop running and clever link up play along with a keen eye for goal, he was a fans favourite at Ayresome Park.
Remembered for some fantastic goals and committed performances, Ian Baird is still revered on Teesside today, his goals against Newcastle and “Donkey ears” are still talked about to this day. His name not forgotten amongst Boro fans still grateful for his Derby day heroics.
Middlesbrough FC: 1990-1991