Matt Healey continues the series.

Matt Baker was born in Harrogate on the 18th December 1979. He was on the books of Leeds United as a schoolboy, he later joined Hull City as an apprentice and would then sign a professional contract at Boothferry Park.

On his release from Hull, he was snapped up by Hereford United in the Summer of 2000. Baker was initially signed to provide cover to first choice goalkeeper Scott Cooksey.

Normally Hereford would recruit from the Midlands, so it was a bit of a surprise that Hereford signed a player from up north. Baker told me “It’s a good question how they found out about me, I think a circular went round to clubs and Ron Jukes (Hereford Scout) was pretty up to date on these kind of things and he got in contact so I signed”

Baker would have to play the role of understudy in his first season. The Hereford number one was Scott Cooksey “Scott was a larger than life character, he had so much confidence, his ability to make decisions rubbed off on me”

Matt Baker – August 2000

Baker made his Hereford debut in a 1-1 draw away at Southport on the 27th March 2001, he followed it up playing a week later in a 1-0 defeat at home to Woking. These two games were sandwiched between the two legged FA Trophy Semi Final with Forest Green. Scott Cooksey would be rested so Baker got some game time.

Baker signed a new contract ahead of the 2001/2002 season, again he was expected to be understudy to Cooksey, but sadly for Cooksey a close season routine operation on an injured wrist went horrifically wrong and he would never play professional football again.

Cooksey told Your Herefordshire “Something wasn’t right near the end of the season when I was catching the ball, it was painful, I had an injection.

Cooksey added “Then a doctor suggested I had a routine operation to clear the damage, I got an infection in my wrist on the operating table, on hindsight I shouldn’t have had the operation, it destroyed the bone surface of the metacarpal bone in my wrist. I had extensive physio, it was still painful, I had to wear a cast, I got back training in early 2002, I had to see the specialist again, I was out of contract that summer, so I came to the decision to call it a day, it was a sorry end, I had a lot of support from everybody, but I miss it every single minute, I loved the place, Matt came in and did really well”

Baker would then become Hereford’s first choice goalkeeper. He made a name for himself by starring in a 1-0 win live on BBC1 against Wexham in the 1st round of the FA Cup on the 18th November 2001.

Baker told us “Everyone remembers the Wrexham game. I think it was a lunchtime kick off, we stayed in a hotel the day before, what got us there was that we were away at Dover in the previous round, it was a horrible day, freezing cold, we got told in the dressing room, that if we didn’t win we probably wouldn’t get paid next week, it was a nervy last 20 minutes, but we got through with a 1-0 win, we then drew Wrexham at home in the 1st round, the club then started to turn the corner, the TV money came in as we were live on BBC1, plus the gate receipts and extra advertising revenue from that mini cup run helped to improve the clubs finances”

Matt Baker 2001

Hereford beat Wrexham 1-0. Ian Wright scored early on and Baker produced a man of the match performance to secure the win and a trip to Swindon in the next round, sadly Hereford would bow out 3-2 in the 2nd round. In a lovely moment, Cooksey was one of the first to congratulate Baker after his man of the match performance which you can watch below.

Baker signed a two year contract at the end of the 2001/2002 season. The club had finished a disappointing 17th in the Nationwide Conference, but with a core of hungry young players, you could tell things were about to turn around for the club. One of the reasons for the success was the work of Graham Turner.

“I cant speak highly enough of Graham Turner, he was like Houdini, he would cut the grass on the pitch, he kept that club going by doing so many jobs, it was so sad to see the club go bust a few years after when he left, you could see how it took its toll on him, especially when the finances were poor, but he kept us all protected, we kept going though and it was great to see the club turn the corner, especially when Graham bought Richard O’Kelly in to the club and we started winning games”

Andy Tretton & Matt Baker – November 2002

Hereford finished a creditable 6th in the 2002/2003 season, it was a massive improvement on the 17th place position 12 months earlier. Baker was receiving interest from higher graded teams and spent a period on trial at Leyton Orient.

Hereford United 1-1 Forest Green – 28th December 2002

The 2003/2004 team was one of the best footballing sides ever seen at Edgar Street.

Hereford United May 2004
Back Row L2R – Steve Guinan, Matt Baker, Tom Smith, Chris MacKenzie, Michael Rose
Middle Row L2R – Simon Travis, Rob Betts, David Brown, Tony James, Mark Beesley, Daniel Carey-Bertram, Bertrand Cozic, Andy Tretton, Ryan Green
Front Row L2R – Danny Williams, Jamie Pitman, Rob Purdie, Andy Wells

“Baker told me “We weren’t just a team, we were great friends, all a similar age, this was our chance to get back into the football league, as we had all pretty much left higher graded clubs, the last eleven games of that season we won them all, we were away at Halifax, we were losing, but I knew we would win, Andy Tretton ran up for corner and told me he would go into Hereford folklore by scoring, which he did, we all had each others backs, its very rare to have that team spirit”

Chester City 0-0 Hereford United – October 2003

Hereford finished one point behind the champions Chester City, it would be a Play Off Semi Final against 5th place Aldershot Town who had finished the season 21 points behind the Bulls.

The game at Aldershot ended 1-1, but in the 2nd leg at Edgar Street it ended in heartbreak as the Bulls would lose 4-2 in a penalty shoot out after drawing 0-0 after Extra Time.

Defender Andy Tretton was controversially sent off early in the 1st half and despite playing around 100 minutes with 10 men the Bulls were knocked out in savage circumstances.

“It was horrible, we had been robbed, Andy Tretton got sent off, it was a terrible decision, we hung on, and it went to penalties where we lost”

That summer would see a mass exodus from Edgar Street. Steve Guinan would join Cheltenham, Michael Rose went to Yeovil, Ben Smith signed for Shrewsbury, popular coach Richard O’Kelly departed to Bournemouth, plus Baker joined Division Two (Now League One) Wrexham.

“I took a pay cut to leave Hereford, if we had got promoted then I would have definitely stayed, but I wanted to better myself and had the chance to move up two leagues”

Baker only spent only six months at the Racecourse Ground, before signing for MK Dons for whom he quickly became a fans favourite, and helped them survive relegation in his first season, and went on to make over 60 first team appearances. Two years later he signed for Conference side Weymouth  on a free transfer. However, due to severe financial troubles, at the Terras, he never made a first team appearance.

On 2 March 2007 he was loaned to Rushden & Diamonds where he finished the season as number one. On 20th July 2007 he joined Macclesfield Town on trial but despite again impressing was forced to retire from the game in August 2007 due to a reoccurrence of a knee injury.

Shortly afterwards he became a presenter for Dons World, the Milton Keynes Dons’ official web TV station, having started a degree in Sports Journalism & Broadcasting in 2006. He graduated with a degree from Staffordshire University in the summer of 2008 and now works as a sports journalist for The Sun newspaper and BBC local radio stations.

“Its a great story seeing Hereford come back as a phoenix club, it reminds me of the old Wimbledon and it would be great to see them back in the Football League”

*Photos supplied by MH Archive, Bulls News, Andy Tretton & Hereford Journal

**Words supplied by 2018 Audio Interview with Matt Baker and Wikipedia