As World War Two was at last drawing to its end Ashton in 1945 signed as professional Bill Lawton who for sometime had been an amateur at Werneth. Bill, later to marry actress Dora Bryan, remained as pro with Ashton for three years. In the early 1960s he was back at Reyner Lane for several seasons as an amateur. In 1948, after Bill Lawton had moved on, Fred Wharton was signed as paid man. Around this period a young Alan Wright was making his first visits to Reyner Lane. Together with his close friend Paul Bagley the pair attended every home match, be it first or second eleven. At this time there were no Sunday games, the first eleven played their remaining matches over two mid-week evenings. The second eleven only played on Saturdays and therefore had fewer games. Today Alan is a life member, trustee and former club secretary and is currently CLL secretary. Alan recalls those early days at Rayner Lane. “Paul and I used to have our own score books and we tried to keep up with one or other of the two scoreboards. The main one with the two scorers was in the corner near the railway signal box, with the other near to where the present changing accommodation now stands. After a few years I was appointed the first team scorer for the princely sum of five shillings, while Paul was appointed second team scorer. In those days the club hired an Ashton Corporation double decker bus to take the players and spectators to away matches and I was made responsible for collecting the fares.” Of those bus journeys Alan remembers the singing of professional Des Fitzmaurice, “Des had a fine baritone voice and he would lead the singing on the bus back to Ashton - particularly on the famous occasion when we went to the all powerful Rochdale and beat them for the first time for many years.”
Des Fitzmaurice became the club’s first ever overseas professional when he joined in 1949. At that time a number of club’s in the league were employing overseas professionals and Ashton decided to follow the trend. This was not an easy decision for the club to make and much discussion was given to the matter before they finally agreed. A short list of names had been drawn up and from this, one name that of Australian Des Fitzmaurice began to emerge as popular choice. On receiving a recommendation from Lindsey Hassett, Fitzmaurice’s team mate and captain in South Melbourne the club opened talks with the player. At this time the Australian press were describing Des Fitzmaurice “as ranking with the best medium pace right-arm bowlers in the country”. He played with South Melbourne in district cricket and obtained the greatest number of wickets there in 1946-7 and in 1947-8 was fourth in the bowling averages. Under Lindsey Hassett’s captaincy he won the South Melbourne bowling average on four occasions. Contract talks were concluded and Fitzmaurice agreed to join Ashton in March 1949 becoming the first overseas professional to turn out for the club.
Des Fitzmaurice was an instant success with the club and such was the impact made he was described as the best fast bowler in the Central Lancashire League. In that first season Fitzmaurice took over 100 wickets a figure which would have been considerably higher had it not been for the number of dropped catches.
Overall the 1950 season was a truly mediocre affair only highlighted by a triumphant Wood Cup performance. The team although having failed to record a league win by cup final day, had risen to the occasion magnificently to send both Heywood and Royton reeling out of the competition. To say Ashton were the underdogs in the final against Middleton would have been an understatement. Middleton with two league wins over Ashton held the league record at the time for winning the trophy (seven times) and was the hot favourite. The game took place at Werneth on Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th July with hundreds of Ashton supporters in attendance all hoping their side could produce an upset. Ashton introduced two newcomers E. D. Thomas a medium paced bowler and A. Clarke a batsman who had played for the Cricket Club Conference. In only his second ball Thomas was successful as Ashton’s biggest threat Edwin Kay edged a catch to Fitzmaurice in the slips. With Kay out for a duck, Fitzmaurice and Bradbury pinned down Middleton who never really recovered from the shock of losing Kay early, as four wickets went for 38 runs. Ashton were on top taking a further two wickets leaving Middleton at the end of the first evening’s play on 78 for 6. Full of confidence Ashton dismissed the last four batters on Wednesday for just 25 runs setting themselves a target of 104 to win. The club’s followers were in high spirits as Arthur Booth hit three fours off fast bowler Tyson’s first three deliveries. In the first ten minutes Booth made 20 runs before being caught brilliantly at backward point. The mood of the club supporters had soon changed as Bradbury was run out for 25, Fitzmaurice went for a duck and Coverdale was leg before to Tyson. These three wickets had Middleton’s hopes rising – but the determination of Watts and Powell turned the game round once more for Ashton. At 84 Watts was bowled for 20 but this was to be Middleton’s last success,
Taylor opened with a couple before settling down content to knock up the singles along with Powell. A boundary from Taylor brought Ashton’s 100. Two more singles for Powell followed by another from Taylor drew the sides’ level. Powell drew the cheers from the Ashton contingent as he drove the winning hit towards the pavilion.
For the start of the 1951 season Ashton lost the services of Arthur Booth and John Bradbury. Booth was to join Lancashire, (though he would later return) while Bradbury became club professional at English Steel. To offset the loss of these players the club re-signed Percy Sharples who had played a major part in Ashton’s most successful season ever in 1940. Denis Wolstencroft a pace bowler from Denton St. Lawrence also joined along with Tim Wood who brought with him a big reputation from minor counties appearances.
The new season would also see an introduction of a third XI to play competitive games on Tuesday evenings against local clubs. Ashton was also taking more interest in their junior section and a roster of 28 members was drawn up to help professional Des Fitzmaurice run the coaching sessions. At the season’s half way stage of the team occupied second place in the league with 23 points from 12 games. In the previous campaign at the same stage they had 6 points from 6 drawn games and were bottom of the table. Continuing to play some impressive cricket for the remainder of the season the side kept up its challenge at the top eventually finishing as runners–up.
In May 1953 after four seasons with Ashton, Des Fitzmaurice was offered new terms of £500 plus a benefit match to remain as professional for a further season. However, he declined this offer and instead presented his own terms for a two year contract plus an extra £90 for passage home to Australia. The issue was not resolved until September when the club agreed terms with the player who then remained with them until 1955.
During the 1954 season Ashton set a record which they would rather forget. This event occurred on May 30th and 31st during a Wood Cup tie at Reyner Lane against Rochdale. As the game was being played during mid-week evenings with an early start of 6.30pm, Ashton had difficulties in fielding a full strength side due to the work commitments of the players. Amongst those brought in as replacements was a young local lad George Mottram. George would later become a firm fixture in the first XI and one of the club’s most popular players. Today as the club celebrates 150 years he has the distinction of being the club president. While still at school he was selected to play for the Lancashire Schoolboys and was making a breakthrough with Ashton’s 2nd XI. Despite his young age the club had no worries about pitching him in against Rochdale. The visitors went in to bat on the Monday and Ashton’s outfielders proceeded to produce a brand of fielding not seen for many a year taking some excellent catches. S. Moodey excelled closed to wicket claiming four. Together the teenage Mottram and professional Fitzmaurice performed an acrobatic fete to dismiss one bemused batsman. ‘Fitz’ had a delivery hit for what looked a certain four before Mottram arrived to get a hand to the ball knocking it down and back towards the bowler. Taking a flying leap ‘Fitz’ caught the ball within inches of the ground. In the game’s last over the professional took three wickets to finish with six for 24 as Rochdale were all out for 79 runs. Few clubs had dismissed Rochdale for such a low score and the home followers were fully confident of victory. However what then followed left everyone connected with Ashton totally shell-shocked and embarrassed. Rochdale whittled through the Ashton attack taking the first five wickets without a run being recorded. George Mottram recalled, “The team batting had been poor, we were none for five wickets overnight. Henry Cockburn and I were there overnight still both on none. “When I arrived at the ground the following night about 5.45pm Henry was already there and fully kitted-out pacing up and down like an expectant father”. Upon asking what was wrong George received a somewhat surprising reply, “’I’ve walked out onto the Wembley pitch in front of thousands of people, but out there now it’s just you and me, I’ve never been so terrified in my life’”. George continued, “I reminded him that we couldn’t do any worse than those who had gone before us.”
The young Mottram was right as his partnership with Cockburn produced Ashton’s highest stand of five runs before Henry was dismissed for three. At this point Ashton was never going to win the game; some were saying it would take a miracle to even reach double figures. As if as consolation the latter was assured when Norman Harris the last man in nicked a single to become only the fourth Ashton player to break his duck. Ashton’s ten ruins came from Mottram (5), Cockburn (3), H. Ashton (1) and N. Harris (1) setting a lowest ever score for the Wood Cup and an unwanted place in the history books.
Some of those who took part in Ashton's Wood Cup success in 1950
D Fitzmaurice; J Coverdale; A Watts