LANCASHIRE COUNTY LEAGUE 1994-2015 PART 2

The new Millennium saw renewed optimism, with the return of Phill Sutcliffe, as captain of the First XI, and Ian Walker remaining as an amateur. A disrupted season, and a slump in team spirit, saw little progress in term of league positions, despite Walker topping 1000 runs for the season and Sutcliffe averaging 34 for his 844 runs, and the end of the season saw both leave. The issues of recruitment that would dog the Club over the next decade were starting to be laid bare. The successful Second XI - winning their third championship - comprised players nearing the end of their careers, and was not seeing sufficient numbers of young players graduating to senior cricket. It was very much “against the run of play”, then, that Thornham found themselves contesting another Walkden Cup final in 2001. Once again, however, victory eluded them, and Roe Green secured the cup. Returning to the Club as professional for the 2002 season was slow-leftarm bowler Nigel Doyle, who had left the Club to join Milnrow, having progressed through the junior teams and played a part in both the 1986 cup final and the championship winning side in 1987. Strong performances by batsmen Steve Grey (707 runs), Kevin Dufeu (694), Andy Field (443) and Ian Walker, John Willman and Danny Scott, all of whom topped 300, ensured there were totals to defend, and Doyle had a very good season, with 86 wickets (best 8-39), achieving five-wicket tallies in no less than nine games. Andy Field also played a solid part with 44 wickets. The dominance of spin bowling is demonstrated by the fact that of Bernard Nolan’s very impressive 39 victims behind the stumps, twenty were stumpings. The First XI’s league ranking of seventh place was their best for five years - and the high water mark for the remainder of their LCCL existence. The Second XI gained their fourth and final league title in this year also, largely due to the effectiveness of Ian Heywood, who became the Club’s record amateur wicket-taker for a single league season with 76. Only professional J. H. Shaw, in 1893 had surpassed this, but that was in an era before the Club participated in league cricket. Heywood would hold this record for fifteen years before being overtaken - by his own son Christopher! Ian Heywood features in the league’s roll of honour, having taken five wickets or more in an innings on 20 occasions. This could well have been considerably more, had he not found himself drafted so often into the First XI, where he served with distinction, but which undoubtedly denied him longer spells of bowling, and many wickets. The issue of rampant unavailability became a huge headache for the Club, to the extent where the crammed “unavailable list” was displayed at the Annual General Meetings, by Chairman Tony Crook. It was extremely rare for sides fielded at weekends to match those selected on the previous Monday, causing immense frustration to captains and instability in teams. Furthermore, batsmen in good form in the Second Team may be drafted at late notice into the First XI, only to find themselves batting down the order and losing the chance to build successful seasons. Similarly, bowlers may find themselves denied the chance to build on successful performances and the chance to feature in the league’s averages at the end of the season. A good example of this is Jim Clarke, who took 23 Second XI wickets and 17 First XI - a 40- wicket season which should have seen him in the averages, had they all been in the same side. It is a tribute to the captaincy of Dave Emerson and, latterly, Jim Clarke himself, that the Third XI maintained its league position for so long, punching above its weight, often with a makeshift side complemented by last-minute recruits to compensate for cry-offs among the higher teams. The ever-present threat hanging over even long-established clubs was brought starkly home with the dissolution of Longsight CC in 2004. Established in 1848 - twenty years earlier than Thornham - the ground had hosted a game played by the first Australian touring side, in 1878. Recently, it had fallen into a sorry state of disrepair, and ceased to function. To maintain numbers in the league, Stand CC were admitted, but the fate of long-time rival Longsight was a worrying sign, particularly when our own Club was struggling on the field, and failing to attract “new blood”.

 

Another era ended with the retirement from his role as Chairman of Dr Tony Crook. Tony had originally joined the Club as a tennis member, and became drawn to the cricket section, leading the Second XI for many years. It was his team that had ushered in the Centenary Year with a league win. Within the Committee, Tony served the Club with great distinction and dedication as Secretary and Chairman. The quality of the square, and the excellent wickets produced at Thornham owed everything to his cherished ministrations, and hours of work throughout the year. As Chair of the Lancashire Cricket Board for many years, he had been at the forefront of discussions over the direction of cricket in the county. Tony was the Chairman of the Lancashire County League from its inception in 1994 to 2007, and remained President of the league for the remainder of its existence. With an unparalleled knowledge of the Club, Tony was also its historian, producing the Centenary Souvenir Book. He brokered the sponsorship of the Club – and the league - by 65 local brewer John Willie Lees, which led, largely through his influence at the top table of the league, to the long-standing sponsorship of the Lees Lancashire County League. Having stepped down as Chairman, Tony became President of Thornham and was later invited, with his dear wife Barbara, to be a Life Vice-President. Together, they have spent countless hours following the teams, irrespective of the quality or success on display, missing only those games which coincide with his sailing holiday. An accomplished yachtsman, it is an appropriate metaphor to employ in asserting that no individual has played a bigger part than Dr Tony Crook in anticipating the prevailing political and sporting winds, and steering Thornham Cricket through some troubled waters, enabling it to reach the age of 150 in such robust good health. With the departure of Nigel Doyle, a new professional was recruited in the shape of opening bowler Chris Warren. While his enthusiasm could not be faulted, he had a very disappointing couple of seasons, and could not lift the performance of a mediocre team, although the highlight of the season must be the victory over the champions-elect, Prestwich CC, in 2004. An individual highlight was a new amateur batting record set by Stephen Schofield, in scoring 140 against Glossop. Only two games were won in the entire 2005 season! It seemed that the Club must take radical steps to attract new players, and retain those already playing at Thornham, if the fate of Longsight were not to be repeated. Recruitment of professionals was becoming more problematic, given the limited resources of a village club without an extensive social side to generate income. Gifted “amateurs” approached with offers were often receiving far higher payments already than the Club could put on the table!

The focus of the Committee centred on generating income, both to supplement meagre bar takings which were suffering through the number of games lost to the wet weather, and to develop facilities which might entice new blood. The “temporary” changing rooms had served the Club well, but despite frequent patching-up, were increasingly ramshackle and insecure. Practice facilities had now migrated to the square, but that only gave rise to further complications when junior 66 games were scheduled, or essential ground-work was necessary. Conditions of remaining in the league itself were introduced also, committing the Club to acquiring roll-on covers. Fortunately the will was strong among the Club’s administrators, and Dave Harrop organised the most successful Sportsman’s Dinner for many years to bring in £2500 profit in 2005. Additional revenue was generated by the sale of advertising boards along the boundary. A decision was made to enlist the help, for 2006, of a former Woodhouses player, Dave Hardman, to complete a bid for Lottery funding and run a Development Dinner - a format he had been successful with in his home club - to fund new “allweather” net lanes.

 

As an active member of the local Rochdale Cricket Development Group, Thornham had been identified as a “Focus Club” by Lancashire Cricket Board. Effectively this meant that the LCB would support attempts to gain funding, but more hurdles were being placing on the way. Cricket, like other sports, had forced to confront the uncomfortable truth that for too long the aura of trust and deference enjoyed by coaches, umpires and captains had allowed a tiny minority to exploit young people. All those involved with junior players now had to be subjected to a check of their Criminal Records. However laudable the motive, this had the unintended consequence of making many who had been active with junior cricket give up. The impact was obvious among umpires too; a large number of very experienced umpires inferred that they were somehow under suspicion of wrongdoing and retired, leaving a further recruitment crisis across the league. The bid for funding for the nets was successful, but it was made clear that any further support from the National Lottery funds, allocated to Awards for All” and Sport England, would be dependent on a club achieving the newly-introduced quality mark, “Clubmark”.

 

The new net lanes opened in April 2007, a huge asset to Thornham, but the changing rooms and pavilion were in need of replacement. Work began to evidence the fact that Thornham was a “safe, efficient and childfriendly” club - the prerequisites of Clubmark status. The quality mark 67 certificate was awarded in 2007, paving the way for a further application for funding to be made to Sport England; however, it was plain the even with their support there would be a large shortfall, and any grant would be dependent on some element of “matched funding”, so renewed fundraising efforts were essential if the Club were even to start to address its ambitions.

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