Ross Jack looks back on a remarkable career

ICT Head of Youth Development Ross Jack looked back on a 50-year career as a player, coach, scout, mentor, analyst and manager when he was guest speaker at a recent meeting of the ICT Football Memories Group.

Ross made an early impression as a goal scorer, helping Avoch Primary School win trophies and he was still a pupil at Fortrose Academy when Ross County signed him in 1974 and gave him his Highland League debut at the age of 15.  Indeed, Ross must be the youngest player in County’s history to score a competitive goal, still being 15 when he fired home at Peterhead.

Such was his promise that County manager Ian MacNeill recommended him to English top flight side, Everton, whose manager Billy Bingham, the former Northern Ireland winger, immediately offered him a full-time contract.

Ross made a scoring debut for all the Everton youth teams and was given his first team debut on 6 March 1979 at Ayresome Park, home of Middlesbrough.

Ross recalls: “We won 2-1 and I was lucky enough to score.  Playing alongside me was England internationalist Bob Latchford, who notched the other Everton goal.  It was a great thrill to play in the Premier League for one of the top sides at that time.”

Ross was hoping for regular starts in the first team but when that did not materialise he jumped at the chance of a move to Norwich City, where he had the foresight to begin taking his coaching badges which paid rich dividends later in his career.

Next stop was Cardiff City, where former Ross County midfielder Johnnie Buchanan took him under his wing for 6 weeks or so, but  an injury prevented Ross from making an impression at Ninian Park and his next move was to Lincoln City.

On 11 May, 1985 Ross was playing for Lincoln against Bradford City at Valley Parade, Bradford, in the final game of the season that had started in a celebratory atmosphere with Bradford receiving the Third Division championship trophy.

However, just before half time Ross noticed smoke coming from the packed main stand and the players were swiftly ushered off the pitch as the blaze quickly caught hold and engulfed the antiquated wooden structure.   56 fans were killed and 265 injured in the horrific fire, which started when a discarded cigarette slipped through a gap in the floorboards and on to piles of litter.   The disaster led to the introduction of major new safety measures at football grounds following the public inquiry, chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell.  This included a ban of new wooden grandstands at all UK sports grounds and the closure of other wooden stands deemed unsafe and the banning of smoking in other wooden stands.

Ross said: “The chilling images of that day will live with me forever. It was a tragic incident that shattered the players, management and supporters of both clubs.  The memories had a major bearing on my decision to move back to Scotland to continue my career.”

At the start of season 1985/86. Ross signed for Archie Knox at Dundee.  Things did not work out there but much better was to follow in October 1987 when he joined Dunfermline Athletic for £15,000.

He enjoyed working with manager Jim Leishman and playing alongside fellow striker John Watson, who remains a close friend, not least because of their mutual love of trout fishing.

Ross scored 59 goals in 144 games for the Pars.  The highlight of his time there was helping them gain promotion to the Premier League in 1988/89 by winning the First Division title.   A fans’ favourite, Ross finished that season as Dunfermline’s top goalscorer with 18 goals, an achievement that saw him voted by his fellow players as the top player in the First Division and the Supporters’ Player of the Year award.

A great honour was recently being inducted into the Dunfermline Hall of Fame.

Ross said: “I just took to this club, they took to me.  As soon as I got one or two goals, the crowd got behind me and I felt top of the world. My time there was the highlight of my playing career.”

In July 1991, Ross was transferred to Kilmarnock for a fee of £45,000.  He scored his 100th senior goal while playing at Rugby Park.  He spent two seasons there before playing to Montrose, where he was assistant manager, Ayr United and Sligo Rovers.

At the end of a 20-year playing career, Ross went into coaching and gained the prestigious UEFA Pro Licence which opened the door to jobs with the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Institute of Sport.

In football management, he was assistant manager of Ross County and manager of Elgin City, Turriff United and Rothes, where he led the team to a North of Scotland and a Highland League Cup success.

He is now focusing on ensuring that there is a conveyor belt of young talent coming through the ICT Youth Academy, where his management duties include coaching the Under 13 team.

He concluded:  “I’ve so many fond memories of my lifetime in football.  It has taken me to so many interesting places and I can honestly say I have no regrets about the decisions I have made along the way.

Ross Jack (right) is pictured celebrating his 100th senior goal while with Kilmarnock. Also in the  photo is Jim Stewart, who was the opposing team’s goalkeeper on the occasion of the landmark goal.

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