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Alfred Gibson, 1911: Nick Ross

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-06-29 16:27:56

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— Alfred Gibson | 10/08/1911 —

To the present generation of footballers the name of "Nick" Ross has merely reminiscent sound, like that of a Greek god to a fourth form schoolboy. Like the Greek gods, too, his personality is enshrined in the inevitable myth and fable that cluster round the names of the heroes of the past. As we look back now on that wonderful man perched on the Olympian heights of a fabled past, the present generation of footballers take on the aspect of pigmies. So much for the magnifying influences of Time! The perspective of years always magnifies the great and belittles the little. A MAKER OF FOOTBALL.
Yet Nick Ross is no myth, nor are the stories told about his prowess all fables. Twenty years ago not to know the redoubtable Nick was to argue oneself unknown. He was not only a great personality; he was in some respects the maker of modern English football. If one talked about the game one discoursed it in terms of Nick Ross. If one desired to praise a player one was bound to compare him with the paragon of footballers, who was the life and soul of the great Preston North End team. It may be, of course, that there have been other footballers, that there may be even now a player fit to mention in the same breath with Nicholas J. Ross, but one does not care to spoil a pretty legend by suggesting any such thing. Nick, I am convinced, has earned a niche amongst the immortals of all time, and if in the topmost galaxy of footballing heroes we may in time collect a few peers, there is no manner of doubt that he can never have a superior. ONE OF THE OLD INVINCIBLES.
Now, who was Nick Ross? Where did he come from? What did he do? Nick was born in Edinburgh in 1862, so that had he been alive he would not yet have been fifty years of age. He was only twenty when he was made captain of the Heart of Midlothian Club, but while he was merely a great player there, it was not till he came to England that he developed his genius. and his name became a household word. He came to England when he had reached his majority, and it was not unnatural that he should have gravitated to Preston, where he found work, and afterwards made the reputation of the famous North End team. He, of course, began his career as an amateur, but when professionalism became legalised he threw in his lot with the paid player, and remained a professional till he retired from the game. But the difference between Nick Ross and many of the paid players of to-day was marked by at least one consideration. LIVED AND DIED FOR THE GAME.
Nick was a footballer first and last, a man who played for the sheer love of the game, a man to whom the pecuniary consideration was a secondary matter. It might be said with truth that he lived for the game, and there can be little doubt that he died for it — his very zeal, his overflowing energy, spent itself all too quickly, by the superhuman efforts he made in every game he took part in. Like Archie Hunter, he played the game as long as he could stand on his feet, so to speak, and when he ceased to play his vitality seemed to fade away and his end was not far off. But to see Nick in his prime was to see the personification of skill, grit, and will power. His energy was like a consuming fire. And his energy was nervous rather than muscular. He was not a big man in any sense of the word. To see him in his ordinary clothes one would not have looked at him a second time, but to rest one's eyes on him on the field of play was to be fascinated by his every action. It was as a full-back that Nick was generally known, but he was one of those football geniuses who could play anywhere on the field. He played at back, doubtless, because he was more successful in defence than anyone else, but we know from experience that he was also a tremendous centre-forward. Indeed, when he left North End and joined Everton he frequently in an emergency vacated his place at back, and took up the position of a forward for the purpose of winning or drawing a game. A MATCH-WINNINO MAN.
It was, however, as a full-back and as a match-winning captain that he made his reputation. He was always worth several men to his side. It was not merely that he tackled, kicked, and "placed" the ball to perfection — that was only a portion of his game. He controlled, engineered, and dominated the play as no one else ever did before or since. He was at once the instigator of the attack and the life and soul of the defence. He was an ever-present Nemesis to opposing forwards, and a sword of Damocles hovering on the heads of opposing half-backs. He was one of those men — like Ernest Needham — who was all over the field and never out of his place. His chief virtue lay in the fact that he used his brains, and was always at least one move ahead of his opponents. Ross was probably the best full- back that ever lived, because he could not only do everything he ought to do, not merely that he knew everything that a full-back ought to know, but because he had the faculty of winning matches as well as the gift of saving them. He possessed that indefinable something, that magic quality, that distinguishes the genius from the merely great player. DOMINATED THE SIDE.
The eye of Ross ranged over all the field. He saw everything before it happened. He was able to perceive at a glance the strength and the weakness of the opposition. He made it his business to smash up the "strength" and to play on to the weakness of his opponents. He seemed to absorb all his own side into his personality, and Preston North End became dominated by the spirit of one man. It is said that opposing forwards feared Ross, that in facing him they lost their courage. Yet Ross was not a rough player. His moderate physique would not allow even an undue use of his weight. He had to depend upon his skill and his determination to get him out of tight places. Rarely indeed did he forget the rules of the game, and even then only in a moment of unusual excitement. It has been brought up against him that once in a Cup-tie he trod on the heel of an opponent in the act of shooting for goal. That may be true or it may not. If, however, that is the most that can be said about a man whose career extended over fifteen years, how fair a player must that man have been! THE SCIENCE OF ANTICIPATION.
It was strange at times to see forwards of undoubted cleverness suddenly lose their skill and become hopeless duffers when opposed to Ross. He reduced many a fine player to impotence by his consummate knowledge of the game. If an outside man tried to dash past he might do so, but he would leave the ball behind in Nick's keeping; if he tried to pass the ball, Ross would anticipate the movement, intercept, and send the sphere sailing gaily in the opposite direction. And Nick would always find time to come to the assistance of a hard-pressed partner, or if the half-backs were unsteady he would stiffen them up, or were the forwards shaky he would nip in amongst them, and by some startling offensive movement turn the whole tide of battle. A PEN PICTURE.
In actual play, especially in a Cup-tie, he seemed like a man possessed; yet in spite of all his fine, all his dash, all his activity, he remained cool at the critical moment, collected in a scrimmage, calm in the wild whirl that often sends twenty-two men crazy with excitement. He had the dual temperament of fire and water. His flame never danced or flickered: it glowed steadily, and lit up the whole scene. He could tell if the rush of opposing forwards spelled danger or was only a flash in the pan. He possessed the instinct of knowing when a goal was to be scored! He owed little or nothing to superior physical gifts. He was neither big nor strong, but he was fast. As an athlete many a man has surpassed him; as a footballer only a very few have touched the same transcendent note. It was in instinct and intuition that he differed from ordinary players. He knew the psychological moment for winning a game. For pressing home an advantage he had no equal. In defence he simply defied the fates and the laws of chance. He could never see his side losing. To Ross it seemed unnatural to be on the losing side. He lived for football, and he dreamed of football. He was the first great specialist in the game, and it is to him and his little band of Preston comrades that we owe all that is good in the modern game. Nick Ross was one of those great men of whom we say in despair: Take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again!