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The new league proved a very different proposition for the First and Second XIs. While the senior team struggled to make a significant impact, the early days of the league proved the most fruitful period in league cricket for a Thornham side, with the Second XI dominating the table in a dominant position over a number of seasons. Off the field, 1995 saw a very welcome opportunity arise quite unexpectedly, when the Club was informed that the “Trustees of Joseph Milne Deceased” wished to sell their interest in the estate in which the ground was located. The price, while substantial, was below any anticipation the Committee could have held, and as such it was an opportunity far too good to miss. An appeal for donations raised part of the purchase price, and a one-year levy upon subscriptions was implemented. After years of trying to improve the security of tenure, the dream was realised: Thornham owned its own ground. At last, the Club would be eligible to apply for financial support and grant aid to improve its facilities. The return of Philip Sutcliffe raised hopes of a promising start for the First XI in the new league, but despite some prolific scoring from him, the side performed below par. 1995 was a glorious summer in terms of weather, and the Club records reflect the excellent batting wickets that resulted. Sutcliffe topped 1000 runs for the season, with 1157, while Jim Carnegie, who had now stepped down to the Second XI, recorded 1156. Yet further promise was added by the arrival of Ian Walker, a star of the England indoor cricket team, in the same season. A very capable wicket-keeper, it would be his considerable talents as a medium-pace bowler and stylish opening bat that would be important to Thornham. His haul of 8 Roe Green Wickets for just 34 in 1995 remains the best First XI return for any Thornham amateur bowler during the Club’s time in the Lancashire County League. It was not surprising that he was voted 59 “Players’ Player” for 1996, an honour in which he succeeded Sutcliffe, who had won the award in 1995. On paper, this was becoming a very threatening team, with Walker and Sutcliffe now alongside John Willman - a very classy right-hand bat who had graduated from the junior sides, and remained an admirable “one-club” man.


Tragedy struck the Club in 1996, with the sudden death of one of its most passionate members. Tony Cox was a first-rate administrator and fund-raiser, as well as a keen and able middle-order batsman. He ran the fund-raising “Lucky 60” Club, ran frequent and successful race nights, and introduced the monthly “First Saturday Quiz”, which is still a feature of winter weekends. Feeling unwell while batting in a Third XI game, Tony retired ill. Refusing the offer to take him to hospital, he asked to be taken home, where, moments later, and with his beloved family around him, he suffered a massive heart attack. A commemorative bench to Tony records his last innings: “26 not out”; he would have derived a certain satisfaction from the “not out” Aside from such ill tidings, 1996 saw a Thornham team topping its league for the first time in over a decade, when the Second XI clinched their first title. Life in the new league had begun well for the team, finishing in the top three in both previous years, and this was just reward for a talented team, with considerable ability and even more experience, very ably led by David Harrop, who ranks as the Club’s most successful captain ever. During his seven year tenure as captain of the Second XI, the side never finished outside the top three in the table, won three championships and were runners-up on a further two occasions. The reliable Jim Carnegie was more than capably supported by left-hander Tim Walsh, and Harrop himself. On the bowling front, Adrian Smith, Ian Heywood, Peter Foy, Jim Clarke and Bob Singh all played major roles in the successful run of seasons under Harrop’s captaincy. Smith, who had proved highly useful as a First XI opening bowler after his arrival in 1989, announced his arrival in the Lancashire County League in 1994 by demolishing 60 Dukinfield with 9 wickets for just 18 runs, and had he stayed at the Club, there would surely have been further championships. Jim Carnegie was the highest run scorer in the league for each of the seasons from 1994-1997, with 1156, 892 and 1281 runs respectively, and that mantle then passed to Tim Walsh with 705 runs in 1998. Little wonder that in the first eight years of the league, the honour of Players’ Player for the Second Division was won five times by Thornham players, with Jim Carnegie and Tim Walsh both gaining the honour twice, and Dave Harrop himself in 1999.  On the bowling front in the First XI Ian Walker was teamed with the very experienced Dave Sandiford, who had played frequently for Unsworth and Prestwich against Thornham.


The 1997 season saw this attack strengthened even further by the arrival as professional of Barry Hamilton, a combative and effective strike bowler. The senior team proved a force to be reckoned with in both league and cup that season, reaching the Walkden Cup final, only to be edged out by Glossop. Hamilton finished the season with 92 wickets, a club record, including a devastating spell at Woodbank when he claimed 9 for 36. Once again, Phill Sutcliffe led the way with the batting, with 993 - the highest amateur total in the league - ably supported by John Willman who scored 792 runs. Despite the loss in the Cup Final, this season probably represented the “high point” in the Club’s fortunes over the LCCL years; admittedly the Second XI only finished as runners-up in the league, but the improved performance of the First XI saw not only a runners-up spot in the cup, but also in the Saville-Whittle Trophy for the aggregate points tally of both senior sides. For the Third XI too, there was success, in winning the Third Division Championship of the North Manchester League, and reaching the John Murray Cup Final. Unfortunately, in an echo of the First XI’s fortunes, the team lost in the final. The promise of the 1997 season was to be short-lived as far as the First XI was concerned. Phill Sutcliffe departed, along with Barry Hamilton, his brother Mike and Dave Sandiford. John Willman, who had scored so well in 1997, was troubled with injury, and had a disappointing season. Ian Walker, now professional, scored 948 runs, including eight scores of over fifty, and took 42 wickets, but, again, injury made it a disappointing season against his high standards. From fourth place, the team dropped to twelfth in 1998. In the Third XI, another landmark was achieved with a Club record for that team being scored by Danny Scott. At Fothergill and Harvey CC, Scott scored 154 not out. A new First XI captain, Alan Whiston, brought slightly better fortune, 62 supported by Ian Walker who took 70 wickets in 1999, but it was the Second and Third XIs who achieved the honours, both winning their divisions, and the Third XI, under Dave Emerson’s leadership, losing in the Cup Final to Swinton. They would now be competing in the second tier of the North Manchester League.


Discussions were held over the potential amalgamation of the Lancashire County League with the Saddleworth and Central Lancashire Leagues, in order to achieve the goals pursued by the Lancashire Cricket Board; namely to establish a “Premier” league. Despite many hours devoted to these negotiations, it was clear that many problems would arise from such a merger, and it would be nearly two decades before the wholesale restructuring would be achieved. The energies of the Club Committee were focused nearer home, with a more determined effort to capitalise on the ownership of the ground by pursuing funding from sources such as the recently established National Lottery Fund. Several clubs locally were seeking similar funding, and even employing bid writers, but without any guarantee of success.

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