Jim Baker

Jim Baker is considered by many as Ireland’s greatest ever bowler. He has an impressive haul of medals ranging from four World medals, a Commonwealth Games medal to many British and Irish title-winning medals. However, in his early schooldays at Boys’ Model, Belfast, Jim was rally interested in football. He was already playing the short mat version of bowls at Helen’s Bay Church, and other pupils at school knew Jim was already having success at bowls. Ernie Davis at the Boys’ Model knew Jim had a talent for bowling and allowed Jim to practice at the Cliftonville club during games time. Those practice sessions helped Jim to eventually perfect his delivery and he developed a routine of playing certain shots.

Jim developed his outdoor game firstly at Carr’s Glen and then at the Cliftonville club. According to Jim everyone was helpful and supportive and Jim gained an inner confidence about playing and not being overly concerned about tactics. In those early years the bowls had greater bias than now and the quality of the greens was often higher since there were often full-time greenkeepers. Jim was helped to ‘learn the ropes’ by internationals such as Jimmy Donnelly and Syd Thompson. When picked for the PGL team Jim was not overawed and he set his sights at being the ultimate – a world champion.

In international matches Jim enjoyed playing against David Bryant in the English team. At that time bowlers for international matches had to make sacrifices and often use up holiday leave to get time off for international matches. After winning the British Isles title, Jim qualified for the world stage in 1982 and lost in the final of the world event – however this loss gave him great encouragement for the future.

1984 turned out to be a great year for Jim when he won the World Indoor Singles Championship and also, in Aberdeen, the World Triples Championship with Sammy Allen and Stan Espie from Northern Ireland. This was the first time that anyone from Ireland had won a world title in bowls and his victory gained greater international recognition for Irish bowls.

Locally in September 1985, a new facility for indoor bowling was opened in Newtownabbey – the Jim Baker Stadium. Jim felt that ‘everything fell into place’ when he won the World Singles in 1984 and he went on to gain World Fours title-winning medals in 1988 and 2004. Nowadays Jim plays for Ballymena and has been IBA Team manger. He believes the game of bowls has changed a lot with increased emphasis on professionalism, on diets and on dedication. Jim Baker, with his numerous large tournament wins in bowls, feels sure that an Ulster Sports Museum is a fantastic idea which could provide a suitable focal point to celebrate the past and to encourage young people in their sporting activities.