Ross is the man in the middle

Former Bairn, Mariner and Falkirk High pupil Jack Ross is standing up for players' rights
Former Bairn, Mariner and Falkirk High pupil Jack Ross is standing up for players' rights

You don’t have to be a striker to join the footballers’ trade union - midfielders and goalkeepers are equally welcome.

And it’s former Falkirk and Camelon defender Jack Ross who is a key figure behind the scenes at PFA Scotland.

The players’ union, once fronted by Tony Higgins and now re-named under Fraser Wishart’s stewardship has come to the fore in recent years with a series of high-profile issues including the most recent wage debacle at Heart of Midlothain and administration at Dundee FC.

Perhaps it’s because football is often quoted as being a business primarily nowadays and a sport secondary, but don’t forget, another high-profile strike happened on the Bairns’ doorsteps when players walked out over expenses and met in the Park Hotel in 1972.

This week, in another Falkirk hotel - the Cladhan - union official Ross met Senior Bairns (the supporters club) for a question and answer session that ranged from the influx of foreign players to Scottish teams, to gambling and drug awareness schemes run by the union which is increasingly at the forefront of Scottish football stories.

“I think (the growing union identity) is a combination of both the support we offer and the current climate,” Ross told The Falkirk Herald after his grilling.

“When there are hard times and maybe a crisis that’s when people tend to look for support. But likewise, we have to do more to make players more aware of the assistance we provide.

“We have made huge strides in the profile of the union and before you do that you have to have substance behind it - and I think we have that.

“The guys, like me, behind us are all ex-players and we have guys like Stuart Lovell who’s an ex-player with a good career, but he’s very capable a clever guy and a good players’ man.”

That’s how Ross describes himself - ‘a players’ player’ a go-to guy in times of need or advice. The union is ‘to give players a voice’, rather than doing their talking with their feet in both senses of the phrase.

“Personally it’s really interesting seeing all the politics and administrative side of the game - plus it’s a job that still has involvement with the game.

“We’re all football guys behind the scenes. Tony Higgins is involved with FIFPro and that’s an eye-opener seeing how things work on a European level.”

The players’ union stood strong in Spain at the beginning of the season with another case of unpaid wages.

“Guys like Puyol and Casillas stood shoulder to shoulder with the guys at the smaller clubs who were affected and they’ve changed the way their TV money is pooled.”

More locally, issues at Hearts have been resolved. But with Scottish football in recent years, the need for advice is never far away. That’s what Ross insists the players’ union offers, and more, for the pro’s £13 per month.

“A lot of us go above and beyond the call of duty, but that’s what we’re here to do - to help the players.

“We deal with a huge variety of issues from tiny cases to big issues - we get the calls from players and act as a sounding board, but I don’t think people are aware of the educational side of things that we do either. We do a lot more than protect players’ interests.”

That consists of awareness programmes on drink, drugs and gambling while Craig Flannigan provides educational opportunities and development.

“It’s all about helping them in their career and preparing for after it with employment and educational opportunities.

“A lot of people don’t want to think about it, and I understand that, but our message is when things are going well it’s the hardest time to think about things going wrong, but times can change very quickly.

“There are many more players looking at training and work because they realise they have to prepare for not just not playing any more but also being without a club, because there are a lot of good players currently unattached for a variety of circumstances - the demand for clubs far outweighs the number of players.”

The variety keeps the former full-back on his toes.

“When a major issue comes to us - like the situation at Hearts - that’s on top of the educational schemes and the general work we’re doing - it has all to be dealt with. But I enjoy it. I was never quite a shop steward when I was a player, but I was a players’ player. It’s in my nature.

“I am, hopefully, sensible enough to see things from both perspectives, but I think some people have to stick up for the players - now and again - they can get a bit of a hard time!”

It’s not just the impending crises of Scottish football Ross is juggling. He is still involved with the club game at Dumbarton where he coaches the under-19s team (pictured left).

And he’s been attending Falkirk games recently and will be appearing at the club’s sold out Big Breakfast prior to the Communities League Cup semi-final with Celtic.