I’m going to tell a story that will make some of the Everton old timers cringe and guffaw. That’s fine though, football is down, only a handful of folks will probably read this, and my shame will be mostly covered in obscurity.
The first time I ever really paid any attention to Everton was during a manager mode of FIFA 09. To make matters worse, I was playing FIFA 09 on a Nintendo Wii, which, as fun as it was to shoot a football by swinging your arm, had a pretty limited version of the game. I was searching for young potential stars and I came across a very interesting 16-year-old named Jose Baxter. On that game, Jose starts out as a 68 (pretty good) with a potential rating of 89 (very, very good). So, for as long as I played that game, no matter which club I was playing with, my first move was to BUY JOSE BAXTER.
He was clinical. Get the ball to his feet in the box and it was a guaranteed goal. He shot the ball so hard that the keeper never had any chance of stopping it, and he was always going to put it on target. As naturally happens when you’re playing a video game, when you discover a young talented gem you immediately go check to see how they’re doing in real life.
Jose’s struggles in real life have been incredibly well documented. I’m not here to publish the latest ‘drugs and depression’ story on Baxter because first of all it’s already been done to death and second, at some point the player deserves to have his career be about more than that. I’ll drop some old Baxter articles from RBM in a couple of ‘related’ sections of this article and you can peruse them to your heart’s content, but here we’ll just update you on the football portion of his football career.
According to Transfermarkt, the highest fee anyone has ever paid for Jose Baxter is $451k by Sheffield United getting the player from Oldham Athletic. Baxter has scored thirteen goals and delivered six assists in just over 3000 minutes for the League One side in 2012-2013, and was off to a decent start the next year with two goals in the first four matches of the next season at the time of the move. In his first year at Oldham, he had more than twice as many goals as anyone else on the roster, and arguably kept them from relegation that year. At Sheffield, he scored 20 goals and had seven assists in about 6200 minutes over three seasons.
I think even Jose would tell you that he had more talent than ‘good League One player’ but let’s be very honest, success in football is often based almost too much on expectations. There are countless footballers who would love to hit those heights in their career.
By the time Baxter returned to Oldham in 2018-2019 they were in League Two, and he didn’t quite have the impact he had the first time around. Now, in our strange times, he’s waiting to get his season truly going at Memphis 901 FC in the second tier in the United States, a club owned by the legendary man himself, Tim Howard.
I don’t get to write about soccer in the US nearly often enough, and truth be told the second tier in the states (called USL) is one of my favorite leagues on earth. It’s split into two conferences, East and West, and they function essentially as separate leagues, not playing each other all year until their champions meet in the playoffs. Thirty-five teams compete in this tier and it’s a strange hodge podge of MLS B-teams (like Atlanta United 2), storied old US soccer clubs (like Charleston Battery), clubs on their way to MLS (like Sacramento Republic) and teams with failed MLS bids that are just trying to find their place in the closed US soccer universe (like my beloved North Carolina FC). Memphis 901, Jose’s new home, is relatively new to this eco-system, having just joined in 2019 and sporting a rather bizarre (if you ask me) crest that kind of looks like a bad neon sign in your local bar.
In addition to Baxter and Howard, Memphis also has Fulham youth product Keanu Marsh-Brown (in case you have him on your double barrel name Bingo card). The level of play in USL is widely varied, depending on a team’s resources, but my point of reference is the Airtricity League in the Republic of Ireland. In my matchgoing experience, in USL on average you’re looking at a less tactically sophisticated version of the top flight in Ireland.
It’s a place where someone of Baxter’s experience and know-how should really be able to shine, and I look forward to finally getting to see it in action when this virus nightmare is over. I wish Jose nothing but the best, after all I owe him for introducing me to Everton Football Club.