TRIBUTES have been paid to a Carlisle United and Carlisle City legend who has died at the age of 88.

Ron ‘Ginger’ Thompson - who played 406 times for the Blues between 1951 and 1964 - died on Friday of bowel cancer.

The man of many positions had suffered from Alzheimer’s for the past two decades, before being diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago.

The frailty of a man who often described himself as “the fittest man in Carlisle” during his younger years, made operating on him impossible.

On Friday - with his wife Elsie by his side - he passed away peacefully.

“He left us a long time ago mentally because of his Alzheimer’s, but we will miss his driving ambition and competitiveness that he has given to all kids and grandkids,” explained 63-year-old son Steve.

“He never lost his sense of humour. The nurses looking after him would say, ‘Is there anything else you want Ron?’, he would reply, ‘A kiss’.”

It was that driving ambition and competitiveness that led to him cementing himself in the Carlisle United history books, featuring in the top few appearance makers in Carlisle’s history and their record-holder for outfield players in the Football League.

Growing up in Raffles, Ginger went to Brook Street School, where he captained their football team, before leaving school at the age of 14.

From there he went to do an apprenticeship at Corbetts on Corporation Road and was a regular for Raffles Rovers, until the then Carlisle manager Bill Shankly, advertised for a new ‘A’ Team.

Ginger was among 300 players who turned up for a trial, but it was Thompson that caught the eye of a manager who went on to become one of the greatest ever.

When the Scottish gaffer left for Grimsby in 1951, he tried to persuade Ginger to join him.

“When he went to Grimsby, he tried to get me to go with him, but I was 19 and my mother wouldn’t let me,” Ginger told our sister paper the News & Star back in 2012.

Another reason Ginger never left is that he was, to start with, a part-time player, working for a local engineers at the same time.

He later was employed on a full-time contract for nine months for Carlisle United, before reverting back to part-time as he grew restless with his new-found spare time.

The tough-tackling ‘half back’ was part of the 1963/64 promotion side widely regarded as one of the best to ever put on the Blues jersey, racking up more than 100 goals in the season.

It was shortly after that campaign - in 1964 - that Ginger injured his Achilles and his career with his boyhood club was at an end.

He went on to play for Gretna and Penrith, before embarking on his next adventure.

“He took those professional values from his playing days to Carlisle City,” explained son Steve.

“At the time there were half a dozen amateur teams, but they were all not quite run well. They [Ginger and friend George Walker] saw the need for a well run amateur team.

“They started bringing in the best players they could find and made the best amateur team in Carlisle.”

They set up Carlisle City in 1975, with the club continuing to go from strength to strength.

Barry Twizzel, who captained Carlisle City for several years under Ginger, has fond memories of the time.

“He brought professionalism to the local boys. He was well respected and he knew what he was doing,” explained Barry, who is now 73.

“He brought a lot of good players who were not good enough to be professional, but were good players, like Billie Gill.

“Everything was great with Ginger. He did train us too hard, we were all tired out, but we were bouncing on the Saturday.

“Some of the lads could’ve gone further. He had everything that local football didn’t. We would stop off at Hexham on the way to an away game and he would get his Subbuteo board out and told us what we had to do.

“We didn’t get paid, we didn’t want any money, we just loved to play football.”

His training sessions were notoriously difficult.

“He worked us hard on the training field, but it paid off on a Saturday,” continued Barry.

“Everybody loved it. We all turned up and did our best. I never saw him shout at players and referees, he was calm. Great memories. I am very sad he has passed away.”

Carlisle City players were subject to a gruelling training regime under the Botcherby born player-turned-coach.

“We would start at Gilford Park, we’d run up to the top of the river, cross the bridge and back,” said Barry.

“It would take some lads 35 minutes, but for me it took about an hour.

“Then we started doing circuits, sprints and jogs, for about 15 minutes. When we were tired we got a football out and did what the modern footballers do now, we had one guy in the middle and four or five around him.

“We did that for about 15 minutes, before we played a game of five-a-side. We did two hours’ hard training, two nights a week.

“All of us enjoyed playing for the man.”