The obituaries written for Jim Baxter last week were forgivably incomplete. In tributes expressed at his funeral in Glasgow Cathedral yesterday, the sentiments were similarly fragrant. For two reasons, Baxter deserved the sweetest send-off. The first is because he was a brilliant footballer, a statement that brooks no argument. The second is because the principle of honouring the dead is universally applied.

But Baxter's tragic story deserves a fuller airing. His life had streams of tragedy running through it, both as a footballer and as a man. For every heroic bar-stool story recounted last week, the pain and suffering never quite departed him. Through the long self-indulgent hours, week after week, year after year, Baxter first did in his family and then wrecked his own career. He was prone by a whim to say anything to anyone but when I met him last year he seemed momentarily snared to regret. ''Has it all been worth it?'' he asked himself. ''Ach, maybe not.''

At 61, he died cruelly young. As did his football career. Those who whispered quietly last week that they could hardly equate the substance of Baxter's career with the vast tracts of newspaper eulogies were touching a discomfiting truth. It is incredible to think that, at the point of his greatest hour, the famous keepie-uppie humiliation of England in 1967, Baxter was effectively months from the end of his career.

His football life died in its prime. He played on until December, 1969, but his career was comatose from the day he signed for Nottingham Forest in December of 1967. Forest had finished First Division runners-up to Manchester United the season before Baxter arrived, but with him they duly tumbled. He was 28 years old and had already completed the 350-odd decent games that were to remain the sum of his career. Twenty-eight years old, like death at 61, is a painfully inadequate period.

Some have argued that Baxter's career really finished when he left Rangers in May 1965, but the evidence for this is too unruly. His glory at Wembley in 1967, for instance, came when he was still with Sunderland, so he couldn't have been too washed up.

But his life with Sunderland was bleak. He was with a struggling team. His wife, Jean, was starting to bear him children, but Baxter found himself unable to stop concluding that all he wanted was booze and some nightlife. There is a picture of Slim Jim during this period at Roker Park looking anything but buoyant. In his three seasons on Wearside Sunderland finished fifteenth, nineteenth, and eighteenth in the First Division. It is impossible to imagine Baxter, the showman, the lazy conjuring-artist, enjoying any of this struggle.

Late in 1967 a man called

Tony Wood was already sealing his fate. Wood was the exuberant chairman of Nottingham Forest, a man who couldn't stop his ambition and self-aggrandisement over-reaching him. On the night of November 14, 1967, Wood, the Forest team, and some English journalists including Tony Pritchett, then the football reporter on the Nottingham Evening Post, were returning on a flight from Zurich where Forest had just been dumped from the UEFA Cup.

''I can remember that flight as if it was last week,'' Pritchett told me yesterday. ''Mr Wood quite often got above himself and he had grandiose plans for Forest. They'd been a good team back then, finishing second to Manchester United in the league, but Wood wanted Forest to take that step further. On the flight from Zurich he turned to me and said: 'You know, Tony, I'm going to make major signings for Forest. And one of them will be Jim Baxter.' ''

Baxter signed for Forest in December 1967, but his life and career were already turning disastrous. It was upon this date, half a season after his Wembley coronation, that his career effectively ended. By this point, Baxter's wife had borne him his first son, but suffering and cruelty invaded the family through Slim Jim's inability to venture home at night. ''I'd leave the house on a Sunday morning and sometimes not be seen again unti the Thursday night,'' a moderately remorseful Baxter told me last year, a remark that explained his wife and children's decision, having been abandoned, to finally abandon him.

He played 49 games for Nottingham Forest. He had cost the club #100,000, but the move petered out amid empty beer glasses and a swelling girth. Tony Pritchett, looking back to these days covering Forest for the Evening Post, says Baxter was ''probably the worst transfer in Forest's history''. Wood and his Forest directors quickly realised they had made a mistake.

''Jim's time at the City Ground was dreadful - always unfit, always unshaven, always never really looking like an athlete at all,'' says Pritchett. ''It is a tragedy, really, that hand on heart I could call this character a nothing player. I can remember very clearly covering his debut for the Post. We'd bought Jim for #100,000 and in the first 10 minutes he did two or three little tricks. By half-time, though, he was clearly spent.

''The Forest manager at the time was Johnny Carey, once of Manchester United. Johnny did well with Forest, but he didn't have it in his nature to stand up to Tony Wood. Mr Wood personally negotiated the Baxter move and I can remember Johnny saying to me: ''I can't believe we've paid #100,000 for Jim!' It very quickly became apparent the transfer was a mistake.

''Jim became a taciturn devil. Previously, he'd been the media's friend, a bubbly character who would chat with anyone, but at Forest he didn't say a word. He knew he was short-changing the club. Off the park his life was on the slide. Forest would regularly get phone calls from the police saying: 'We've got your Jim Baxter down here.' It was sad, given the player that Jim once was; a tragedy I thought.''

The Evening Post every Monday offered a Star Player award, a prize which Baxter, Forest's most expensive signing, failed to win in 49 attempts. He was still only 29 when he limped away from Forest in May 1969, his career having effectively been finished for 18 months, to come home to Rangers for one last hurrah. But Baxter's final tour at Ibrox was a brief, unhappy sojourn.

Baxter famously said that, knowing he was still young, his intention was to visit a health farm and finally get back into shape. The hot smells of Glasgow's pubs and casinos, though, put paid to the notion. The records show he struggled through the first five months of that season until Willie Waddell ended the charade that had become his play. His final game for Rangers was in December of that year.

Baxter simultaneously endured a broken life and career. It is sobering to think that, even in May 1972, the point of Rangers' European Cup-Winners' Cup win, a fit and healthy Baxter, still only 32, could have been effortlessly orchestrating that triumph in Barcelona. But he brought joy to so many so briefly.

At Glasgow Cathedral yesterday, Ralph Brand, Baxter's old team-mate, struggled not to break down while recalling his great friend. Brand isn't alone in remembering Baxter with a grievous sense of loss.

Baxter's funeral -

Main section, Pages 1, 6