On this day (24 February) in 1899 the great Jimmy Ross signed for Manchester City. Ross was one of football’s leading names and earliest heroes when he played for the famous Preston side that won the League and Cup double of 1889. He had scored an incredible eight goals when Preston beat Hyde 26-0 in the record breaking F.A. Cup tie of 15th October 1887 – a game in which the referee is reputed to have lost his watch and allowed play to last two hours! (you can read about that game here: https://gjfootballarchive.com/2021/02/22/hyde-v-preston-a-record-breaking-day/ ).
In addition, he was the Football League’s top scorer in 1890 (24 goals), and was quite a character.
He signed for Manchester City from Burnley for a reported £50 after previously captaining Liverpool to promotion. He had also played for the Football League.
At City he was influential from the start. He netted an incredible seven goals in the final nine games of the 1898-99 season (his first nine games at City too!) brought the Division Two title for the first time – this was the first national success of either of Manchester’s professional clubs.
Years later the legendary Billy Meredith, looking back on his City days, remembered Ross with great affection: “I must confess that Ross will always be my favourite hero. He was good at everything he put his hand to and what he didn’t know about football wasn’t worth knowing. At billiards and card games he was an expert. Though he must have been thirty-four at least when he joined us, he was able to win seventy yards handicaps with ease and did so. He could talk like a lawyer and on and off the pitch his comic sayings had us in stitches.”
Today many of the heroes of football’s earliest years as a professional sport are forgotten and in Manchester’s case people often talk about Meredith as if he was the first and only hero in the city. But Jimmy Ross was a major figure and he was absolutely essential in City’s early development. Without him they may not have achieved that first Second Division title success. He helped develop Meredith into a star and should never be forgotten.
The leading sports newspaper of the day, the Athletic News, often praised Ross. When the club was making its first steps in the top flight the newspaper talked of City’s right sided players and stressed the importance of Ross and of course Meredith: “For real brilliance the right wing took the biscuit….In fact, there are few, if any, better men at outside right (Meredith). His partner, the veteran Ross, of whom it is predicted every season that he has had his day, is in reality taking a second lease of footballing life, despite the paucity of head-covering, and as a wing the two will cause some trouble”.
At one point a newspaper article claimed that Meredith was absolutely brilliant when he was being well served by Ross but when the going got tough, Meredith disappeared. It seems that at this stage in the Welshman’s career he needed the experienced Jimmy Ross more than Ross needed him. One article claimed that Meredith: “doesn’t like donkey-work and if his partner is off, Meredith is off too.”
By the end of the 1901-02 season it looked as if Ross and Meredith, despite Ross’ age, would go on forever. Sadly, tragedy struck in 1902. Ross died on 12th June that year after an illness described as “an acute skin disease and a raging fever.”
Ross’ last appearance was appropriately against Preston North End in the First Round of the F.A. Cup in January 1902. Ross died of an infectious skin condition. City helped his mother, whom he was looking after at the time of his death, financially. They also arranged the funeral.
Ross helped Meredith develop and over time the legend of Meredith grew, while Ross’ name has slowly faded. This is a major shame as Ross’ influence on Preston, Liverpool and City’s development is immense. Ross helped City establish their name at a time when Meredith was not quite the finished article. So many players have been described as legends in the decades that have followed. Many of them become forgotten over time, but it is important that once in a while we pause and remember those players.
Today let’s think about Jimmy Ross and remember him as one of the men who made Manchester City.
Why not now read about the game when Ross played for Preston against Hyde? It already appears on my blog here:
Hyde v Preston – A Record Breaking Day