Champions Central Lancashire League - 1933
From left (standing) D Howarth; J Taylor; WA Hopkin; F Perry; W Price; A Hardy; J Kenyon; FE Thornhill
Seated: J Currie; JB Robinson; AL Taylor (capt); H Pownall; S Burton
Front: CV Fenton; J Holroyd (Pro)
Ashton’s debut match in the Central Lancashire League was a home defeat against Heywood but overall this first season proved to be more successful than many thought it would be. Throughout the campaign the side remained unbeaten away from Reyner Lane which helped them to finish in a respectable fourth place in the league table. The highlight of the season was perhaps the victory over the then league leaders and eventual champions Castleton Moor on their own ground. At the time Ashton had the distinction of being the only club to have taken four points out of the prospective champions with whom they had already played out an even draw when they first met at Ashton earlier in the season. The win at Castleton Moor was sweeter for the Ashton side as it took revenge for Castleton Moor’s win over them in the Wood Cup. Incidentally, the Wood Cup trophy was originally donated to the league by Alderman John Henry Wood in 1921. At that time Alderman Wood was the Mayor of Middleton and captain of his town team. The trophy, to be played for each season in a knockout basis between the clubs, is today still part of the cricketing calendar. It was Sydney F. Barnes the England and Staffordshire County bowler who played the biggest part in the rout of Ashton by Castleton Moor in the 1928 Wood Cup by taking eight wickets for 39 runs. However, in the league encounters between the two clubs Barnes took only two wickets for 54 runs at Reyner Lane and three for 56 at Castleton Moor. Barnes’ record against Ashton was 13 wickets for 140 runs, an average of just over 11 per wicket. No other club had punished Barnes’ bowling as freely as Ashton did. Ashton’s league win at Castleton Moor saw them passing the home side’s total of 154 with four wickets in hand. It was one of the greatest finishes of the season for with time an important factor in the decision Ashton reached their target with just one over remaining.
The Ashton Club began to settle in the league and continued to make steady progress. In 1933 they signed Jack Holroyd as their professional and that same season they became champions for the very first time.
Holroyd had formerly been on the ground staff at Old Trafford and in his five seasons with Ashton proved his worth. The first season was the only one in which Holroyd failed to reach 100 wickets. In 1936 he was the only bowler in the CLL to pass the 100 mark. The victorious 1933 season had not started very promisingly and it was not until the fourth game that the club notched up its first win. The form of the young players was extremely important in reaching the top spot as several senior players the likes of H. Pownall, Arthur L. Taylor and Jack Holroyd all missed a number of games. Holroyd being called up for Lancashire on three occasions. When one also takes into consideration that Herbert Mottram did not occupy his usual place as opening batsman and a loss of form from Sid Burton saw him missing several games the youngsters and the team as a whole did exceptionally well to finish top of the league. One disappointment during the season was the club’s early exit from the Wood Cup at the hands of Milnrow a defeat made harder to swallow as it was largely down to the exceptional playing of their professional, Ashton man, William Dennis. The Rochdale district club had also beaten Ashton when they first met in the league. However, Ashton gained retribution when they took the championship by beating Milnrow on their own ground by 41 runs. With the departure of Holroyd to Stockport for the 1938 season Ashton’s new paid man was former Worcestershire County right-hand batsman George Wilfred Brook. Brook’s tenure was curtailed with the outbreak of the Second World War though the final pre-war season of 1939 had drawn to a close with an Ashton club record. John Bradbury’s excellent 150 runs against Royton became the highest individual score recorded by an Ashton player since the club had joined the Central Lancashire League. This record would remain unequalled until 2006.
In 1940 the club experienced its most successful season ever. Playing excellent cricket throughout the whole of the season the team won everything in sight. Thrilling crowds everywhere, especially Reyner Lane, the club won the League Championship, the Wood Cup, The Aggregate Cup and the Second Division Championship. Ashton became the first club to win all four trophies and during the course of the season a number of league records were broken. A.L. Taylor, P. Sharples and J. Bradbury all scored 500 runs, while Sharples also became the first bowler in the league to take 50 wickets. N. Oldfield headed the league batting average with an average of 61.00 and Sharples was the first player to hit three consecutive sixes in the Wood Cup. In the Wood Cup final Ashton defeated Royton by 252 runs to 230 over four evenings of exciting and flamboyant cricket with Bradbury notching up 116 and Sharples 71.
It was a tremendous season and in the words of the then club chairman W. L. Hall ‘there was no need for a team selection committee as the team picked itself’. Throughout the war years the Central Lancashire League remained a very strong and despite the ongoing conflict several clubs including Ashton still managed to field forceful and talented sides. After lifting the Wood Cup in 1940 the club failed to win other honours during the rest of the decade. However, with their style of play and the many characters within the team over the oncoming years they certainly won many admirers. Amongst the ranks at this time was spin bowler Percy Sharples who with his bow-legs looked quite comical as he made his short run up - which never consisted of more than a half dozen paces. His rocking backwards and forwards movements before releasing the ball more often than not had the batsman baffled. He not only took many wickets but was also more than useful with the bat. Wickets and runs were all that mattered to Percy, an amusing character who gave his all for the game and the club. Big Alf Wedgwood was yet another bowler who proved to be more than a capable batsman; this Ashton police sergeant certainly knew how to deliver a ball with speed. Harold Torkington a local dentist was also a mainstay of the tennis section, although an excellent stroke player, in effect he never made a run for the club. Due to a problem with his leg – it could never bend – he instead had the use of a runner. The always formidable looking J. P. Botham was a wicket keeper to whom cricket was a serious business. There were of course many others who either because of their sheer presence and personality or their cricketing skills – or both – have put their names into the club history. A. L. Taylor, Cyril Edge, N. Oldfield and Henry Cockburn to name a few.
Henry Cockburn who resided on Ladbrooke Road, Ashton was restricted in his turnouts for the cricket club - this obviously due to the fact that he also played football for Manchester United and England. In 1948 he picked up a cup winners medal when United beat Blackpool at Wembley in the FA Cup and in 1949 he was a member of the United side which won the first division championship. He was also capped 13 times for England. After leaving Manchester United he played for Bury and a number of lower league clubs. On retiring from the game he joined Oldham Athletic as a trainer before moving to Huddersfield Town. He continued to turn out for Ashton Cricket Club especially so when his footballing days were finally over.