A welcome return for our series sees us turn to an all time legend. To profile the Cumbrians record appearance maker requires a deftness of touch and a spry mind. Happily, London Branch stalwart Dave Brown remembers the great man well.
I was lucky that I started to support Carlisle during the 63/64 season. This was the season that we suddenly woke up after more than 30 years of very average performances as a Football League club and scored 116 goals (I think) with Hughie McIlmoyle scoring 43 of those. The year after, we went up as champions of Division 3 into Division 2 for the first time in our history.
There are so many players that could be my Favourite Blue – Chris Balderstone for his silky skills and thunderbolt shots, Hughie McIlmoyle for that famous “Hang” where he could get to the ball in the area and wait while the centre half fell away before putting the ball in the net, wingers galore from Geordie Mac to Eric Welsh, great defenders like Stan Harland, Bobby Parker or John Gorman; classy inside forwards (the midfielders just behind the forwards) like Willie Carlin or Stan Bowles but there is only one for me – Alan Ross – the holder of Carlisle’s appearance record.
As a young boy he was my hero from the first time that I saw him playing.
Recently arrived from Luton Town, he was a slim rangy player that had once played as a forward (and once did for Carlisle in a reserve game) rather than the more muscular goalkeepers that were common at the time. That wasn’t to say he was intimated by the then ferocious centre forwards that saw bundling a keeper into the net “ball and all” as a key scoring strategy. Ross always stood strong against them and on one occasion, having been fouled continually by Bobby Gould during a game against Coventry, decked him with a left hook. Coventry got the penalty, Ross was sent off and unfortunately we lost. Coventry went on to win the second division and Carlisle came 3rd.
I was also there at St James Park when Carlisle beat Newcastle 1-0 in the FA Cup 3rd round. Tommy Murray scored in the 11th minute in front of 10,000 Blues in a crowd of 56,000. We went mad and the mighty Newcastle threw everything they could at Carlisle to get back into the game. Eventually Wyn Davies dived in a manner which Didier Drogba would have approved of but a penalty was given. Alan Ross, the ultimate shot stopper, dived full length across his goal to tip the ball around the post.
Apart from being a brilliant goalkeeper, Alan was also a great character – on one occasion he was getting bored as he hadn’t touched the ball in 60 minutes. He borrowed a newspaper off a fan and leant against the post reading it. Maybe that was his one weakness – he could occasionally take his mind off the game and struggle to respond to meet a quick attack.
He played for Carlisle from the 4th division to the first – not too many players in the last 50 years could claim the same for any club, and his appearance record is surely unbeatable. It could have been even more if one of the managers hadn’t decided to alternate his keepers with Ross and Joe Dean taking turn, many years before England did the same with Clemence and Shilton.
Ross should have been Scotland’s number one keeper but even though he was in the squad a couple of times he never got the cap that he would have loved – his favourite song was “Flower of Scotland” although years later he claimed to my then girlfriend, and now wife of 35 years, that it was “Amazing Grace” when he awarded her top spot for singing it in a talent competition he was judging at Pirelli’s social club.
And that is the nub of why he was my Favourite Blue. He was a man of the people, a loyal Blue and totally dedicated to Carlisle – the club and the city. At the time he arrived in Carlisle, the club owned houses throughout town. Most kids I knew at school had a Carlisle player or two living nearby and most would be happy to kick a football around with their neighbours.
Alan would regularly pop across the road to have a chat with my Dad, a fellow Scot, and always had time to chat with me as a 10 year old. He even took my brother and I to a couple of games to sit with him in the stands when he was injured - you can imagine the kudos that gave me at school next day.
Above all Alan Ross was a warm, passionate human being with a great love for Carlisle and also happened to be Carlisle’s best ever goalkeeper. He is rightly remembered as a club legend and he will always be my Favourite Blue.
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