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Alan Ross: sport and literature

Published 16 July 2012

Manuscripts and publications written by Alan Ross

Our Summer of Sport continues

If you've visited any of our various "Summer of Sport" exhibitions, you'll have noted that the autobiographical manuscripts of poet, writer and editor Alan Ross are essential reading.

Ross' keen interest in sport began at an early age - as a boy he skipped school to go and watch the tennis at Wimbledon, and was unlucky enough to be spotted by his headmaster in a photograph of the crowd published in the following day's newspaper.

In 1940 Ross began his studies at St John's College, Oxford, alongside Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. He represented the university at both squash and cricket, appearing in the annual fixture against Cambridge at Lord's in 1941, also playing a one-day match for Northamptonshire. Later that year he dropped out of university to join the Royal Navy, where he served in Arctic convoys.

After the War, Ross reluctantly abandoned his ambition to become a county cricketer, but maintained his love of sport - he recounts watching Charlton Athletic with poet Roy Fuller and Julian Symons, brother of Baron Corvo's biographer, AJA Symons.

After rejecting the offer of the University of Leeds' first Gregory Fellowship in Poetry in 1950, Ross took a job as a sports writer for the Observer, becoming the paper's cricket correspondent in 1953. In this role, he "tried to give the cricket a wider context, relating it to landscape, climate, politics and local life."

Ross was a regular contributor to the London Magazine throughout the 1950s, and was its editor from 1961 until his death in 2001. On taking up his editorship, he announced that the magazine would from then on be a review of the arts movement as a whole rather than concentrating solely on literature. He saw the magazine through lean times as well as good, always retaining the quality and quirkiness that made it unique.

In his youth, Ross struggled to reconcile his twin passions for literature and sport, noting: "I had neither the confidence nor the wit to realise that these things were not mutually exclusive. I did not think it likely that there would be others in thrall equally to Auden and to cricket." He was later proven wrong when he became president of the village cricket club in Clayton, Sussex, where Julian Symons and John Betjeman served as occasional umpires.

Leeds University Library's Special Collections holds manuscripts of several of Ross' published works, including two volumes of autobiography, Blindfold Games and Coastwise Lights, in addition to the archives of the London Magazine.