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Jimmy Ross, the younger brother of Nick Ross, was born in Edinburgh on 28th March, 1866. He played football for St Bernard's before joining Preston North End in 1883. A talented inside forward he developed a good partnership with centre-forward John Goodall. Ross scored seven goals in one game against Hyde and six against Reading.
In March, 1888, William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa, circulated a letter suggesting that "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season."
In April, 1888 the Football League was formed. It consisted of six clubs from Lancashire (Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers).
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. Preston North End won the first championship without losing a single match. Ross scored 21 goals that season. He repeated the feat the following season when Preston retained the title. This team became known as the "Invincibles".
Ross also scored in Preston North End victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1889 FA Cup Final. All told he scored over 250 goals in only 220 appearances for the club.
In 1894 Ross joined Liverpool and over the next two seasons the man they called the "Little Demon" scored 37 goals in 73 games. He also enjoyed success at his next club, Burnley, where he scored 29 goals in 51 games, and helped them gain promotion to the First Division.
Ross was upset by the decision of the Football League to impose a maximum wage of £4 a week. At the time, most players were only part-time professionals and still had other jobs. These players did not receive as much as £4 a week and therefore the matter did not greatly concern them. However, a minority of players, were so good they were able to obtain as much as £10 a week. This proposal posed a serious threat to the income of James Ross.
Some of these top players joined together to form a trade union. This included Jimmy Ross and Bob Holmes of Preston North End, John Devey of Aston Villa, John Somerville of Bolton Wanderers, Hugh McNeill of Sunderland, Harry Woods of Wolverhampton Wanderers and John Cameron of Everton.
In February 1898, these players announced the formation of Association Footballers' Union (AFU). The secretary of the AFU, John Cameron, announced that the union had 250 members. Cameron pointed out that their main objective was that they "wanted any negotiations regarding transfers to be between the interested club and the player concerned - not between club and club with the player excluded". Bob Holmes was elected President of the AFU.
Jimmy Ross joined Manchester City in 1898 where he played alongside Billy Meredith. However, nearing the end of his career, he scored only 21 goals in 67 games. Ill-health forced him to retire from the game at the end of the 1900-01 season.
Jimmy Ross died aged 36 on 12th June, 1902.
Ross had always stuck by the Union and his sudden death in 1902 came as a shock to everyone at Manchester City. His lack of provision for a wife and children after a career at the very top of the game suggested something fundamentally wrong at the heart of football.