Preston North End are shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden passing of former player and matchday host George Ross on Saturday evening aged 73.
Preston North End’s well-respected Scottish football scout, Jimmy Scott, had travelled north from his Dundee base to watch the promising teenager. Ironically, George said that he had to play as an emergency centre forward that afternoon, and he scored three goals!
He must have impressed because he was invited to travel south, to Preston, for a two-week trial. George, still only 15 years of age, travelled by train and arrived in Preston on the 15th September 1958, staying in ‘digs’ in Lowthorpe Road near the Deepdale ground, with Johnny Fullam .
It must have been daunting for the proud young Scotsman, going to a Club steeped in tradition. North End at the time of his arrival were just two points off the top of the old first division, with a game in hand.
Not only did the team boast top-class footballers such as Tom Finney, Tommy Thompson and Fred Else, but at full back was an idol, former Scotland captain, Willie Cunningham.
George’s two-week trial period was extended and at the end of it he was rewarded with a position on the ‘groundstaff’, (the forerunner of todays’ apprentice professional).
He, along with the other youngsters was under the influential guidance of George Bargh, a former Preston North End player turned coach. Twelve months on, and the Club’s youth team excelled, reaching the Final of the FA Youth Cup.
The team had overcome the might of Manchester United in the semi-finals and were worthy of their place in the two-legged final against a talented Chelsea side. By now George was playing right full back alongside other future first team players such as Peter Thompson, Alan Spavin, Dave Wilson and John Barton.
Although they lost the Final the youth team squad were rewarded with an overseas trip to Switzerland during May 1960. On the youth team squad’s return, George and Peter Thompson were selected to join the first team squad on their continental tour. It was on this tour that George can boast about playing on the same pitch as Sir Tom Finney, albeit for just a few minutes.
Not bad for a young lad who did not have a passport a few weeks earlier. George looked a good prospect and was therefore offered a full professional contract on his 17th birthday. He was elevated very quickly from youth team to first team status, making his league debut on Boxing Day 1960 versus Nottingham Forest.
The following season George became a regular in North End’s defensive set up, playing in 51 league and cup games, most of which were at left full back alongside PNE stalwart, Willie Cunningham. During October/November 1962 George had a spell at wing half and actually scored on consecutive Saturdays against Charlton Athletic and Stoke City.
It wasn’t until mid-May 1963 that George eventually took over the No.2 shirt from Willie Cunningham, having close on 100 appearances already under his belt.
George was a first choice regular for a decade and can truthfully say that he played for Preston North End in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s!
Although he suffered two relegation seasons with the Club, he won a well-earned third division championship medal for the 1970/71 season under Alan Ball’s management.
Another highlight of his career was obviously being part of the team that valiantly took West Ham United to the wire in the 1964 FA cup Final at Wembley. George always says that he 'did not walk out of that famous tunnel at Wembley, he floated out'.
He was awarded a well-earned testimonial game after giving 15 years sterling service to the Club, having made 441 league and cup appearances. Take into consideration the abandoned games, Lancashire Cup games, friendlies and testimonials it tots up to over 450 games.
But, as is life in football, he was eventually released and he signed for nearby Southport who made him captain of the team for the 1973/74 season. After Southport, George had a taste of football in America, with Washington Diplomats before returning home and joining Telford on a part time basis. George ended his career with Morecambe FC.
George went on to become been chairman of the Preston North End Former Players Association at their inception in January 1998 and held this role for over 15 years.
He continued to be part of the set up at Deepdale and was a matchday host in the corporate lounges, giving ground tours to thousands of fans over many years and entertaining countless guests in lounges of his tales of playing for the Club, always humble, but also passionate about Preston North End.
George was awarded a 'Life Achievement Award' by the Club at the 2009 Player of the Year Awards ceremony and it could not have gone to a more deserving person. He was an extremely popular member of the staff at Deepdale and had time for anyone who wished to chat football with him. He truly was a Club legend.
The Club would like to give its condolences to his wife Pat and all George’s family and friends at this sad time.