Belfast Telegraph

Baird calls time on illustrious career and eyes off field role

History maker: Chris Baird tackles England ace Wayne Rooney in September, 2005 when David Healy’s strike sealed a famous 1-0 win
History maker: Chris Baird tackles England ace Wayne Rooney in September, 2005 when David Healy’s strike sealed a famous 1-0 win

By Graham Luney

Chris Baird says he hopes to find another role within football after bringing the curtain down on his distinguished 18 years as a professional.

Northern Ireland fans in particular are hailing the Rasharkin man for his commitment to the cause, with the Euro 2016 adventure which included qualification for the knockout stages the highlights of his 79 caps.

He made his debut for his country against Italy in 2003 and announced his retirement from international football in August 2016, just months after helping to write the Euro 2016 fairytale in France.

Baird played in nine of the 10 qualification games that booked the squad's ticket to France and he played his final game for Northern Ireland in the tournament, starting in the opening match against Poland in Nice.

One of Baird's greatest assets was his versatility as he could perform at right-back, centre back and as a defensive midfielder, and during his 13 years with Northern Ireland he demonstrated his prowess in each role.

As a defensive midfielder, he was a crucial piece in Michael O'Neill's jigsaw for the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

Baird said yesterday that while his professional career is at an end, he hopefully has unfinished business with football.

"Looking to the future, I want to stay involved in the game in some capacity and I will now look at all the options to see what I can do next after hanging up my boots," he stated.

The former Ballymena United youth player admitted it was a hard decision to call time on his career. "It has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make to retire from the game I love and that has given me so much," he added.

"Qualifying and going with Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 is undoubtedly one of the highlights of my career and I am sure it is still talked about by all of the GAWA (Green And White Army)."

Baird played for Southampton, Fulham, Reading, Burnley and West Bromwich Albion as well as Derby County.

He was part of the Southampton squad that reached the FA Cup final in 2003 and also featured in the Fulham team that made it to the Europa League final seven years later.

He added: "Playing in an FA Cup final with Southampton was something I always dreamed of and to reach the Europa League final with Fulham was something that will live with me forever."

The 36-year-old, who played under former Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez at Fulham, has been without a club since leaving Championship side Derby last season.

The Cottagers stated: "He departed the club after six years of service in the summer, but returned for a spell on loan in 2015/16, featuring seven times to help Fulham pull clear of relegation trouble in the Championship.

"Baird ended his career having represented the club 165 times with distinction, while he also won 79 caps for Northern Ireland, who he helped reach Euro 2016.

"Everyone at Fulham would like to thank Bairdy for his efforts over the years, and we wish him a very happy retirement."

Belfast Telegraph


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