THE SOUTH LANCASHIRE LEAGUE PART ONE
After the halcyon days of the Middleton and District League, Thornham met a new set of adversaries in the South Lancashire League. Rhodes, Oldham, Newton Heath and Castleton Moor were unable to gain admission to the new league and these formed, with others the Lancashire Cricket Council. Thornham’s new opponents include names so familiar from later years in the Lancashire and Cheshire, Lancashire County and Greater Manchester Cricket Leagues: Prestwich, Stand, Swinton and Unsworth, along with Eccles, Horwich, Clifton and South East Lancashire. The bowler who had performed such heroics for the Club, H.T. Jones, was now Thornham’s Chairman, and he remarked, at the February meeting before the inaugural season: “The South Lancashire League will be a league which will command a good class of cricket. I advise all members to work well together and endeavour to steer the club to the top of the new league with a view to entering the Central Lancashire League ultimately.” This ambition was never to be realised, and it is interesting to speculate how the history of the Club might have been shaped if it had. During all the years in the league, the Club’s First XI never managed to win a single trophy, although the Second XI did win the Second Division Championship on two occasions. How different it appeared at the start! After further ground improvements over the winter, high scoring innings became more commonplace.
In April and May the First XI amassed scores exceeding 200 on five occasions, and played some scintillating cricket, which saw them comfortably on top of the table. J.W. Jones 21 became the first Thornham amateur batsman to score a century with 121 not out in a victory over Horwich when set an unlikely run chase against the clock. By August Thornham were seven points clear, and confidently submitted their anticipated application to the Central Lancashire League. Such over-confidence was brought back firmly to earth: from July onwards, not one more game was won, and indeed, the Club did not pass three figures for the remainder of the season, eventually being caught by Eccles. The destination of the 1904 Championship was decided in a play-off with Eccles on 17 September at the home of Stand CC. Had Thornham repeated even a shadow of their early season form with the bat, the title could still have been clinched, but it was not to be: dismissed for 77, Thornham succeeded in reducing Eccles to 78 for 9. So near, but so far. The early promise of 1904 was not to be repeated. The Club’s playing staff was now in a state of flux, with the consistency of successful teams a dim and distant memory. However, some very notable performers did come to prominence during this lean period. J.W Jones was just 22 when he was elected First XI captain, having graduated from the junior team. He had left to join Royton, but returned to play for Thornham during the school holiday of Rugby School where he was appointed coach and professional. For many years, Jones held the record for the highest individual score in league cricket with his 121 not out. Another new face in the side was W. (”Bill”) Daniel, a vastly experienced performer who had played at both Castleton Moor and Rochdale, among other clubs. He became the first recorded amateur to take 50 league wickets for the Club, with 52 at the enviable average of 9.5 apiece. His best figures of that 1907 season saw him take 8 for 8 in a ten over spell against old adversaries Rhodes. He surpassed this in 1909, with 9 for 27, including a hat-trick, against Fairfield. This was a rare gem among another disappointing season, although hints of the potential of the side came in a night game against Middleton who put out nine of their regular Central Lancashire League First XI; chasing 200 Thornham knocked off the total for the loss of just one wicket, with 22 Daniel ending up on 76 not out. Outside the field of play, the life of the Club continued to prosper. A Sports and Gala Day was initiated in 1909 and became an annual feature, attracting crowds form Middleton, Castleton and further afield. Mainly an athletic event, it included side-shows, refreshments and dancing after the sporting events, and brought in invaluable funds, so that by 1910 the Club’s debts had been cleared, despite £1000 being spent on enlarging the playing area and improving facilities, and the Club invested in a vastly experienced professional to try to inject some success in its league position. Tom Cassley, who had played for many years at Middleton, was the man brought in, and he and Bill Daniel continued to shine, though the First XI frequently used only these two bowlers, to the extent that in the season from 1911 to 1914 no other bowler achieved ten wickets in a season.
Still the Club’s ambitions to improve facilities drove on the committee, and in February 1914, the Thornham began work on a new pavilion. The Chairman, Mr T. Cocker explained what this would be like, as reported in the “Middleton Guardian”: “The front would be 42 feet 9 inches; the width was 20 feet. It would consist of a visitors’ dressing-room 12 feet square, two other rooms 12 feet square, a table room 6 feet by 12 feet, a concourse which would be 8 feet across from the dressing-room to the front. A veranda would also be built at the front.” Fired by these ambitions, special fund-raising efforts were held and the sum of £210 quickly raised, allowing the dream to become a reality. The Committee and players proudly gathered in front of their new asset to be photographed for posterity. Within a couple of months the country was embroiled in a World War, and those players and officials were sent off to other fields, cut with trenches and pocked with shell holes; many of them would not set foot on Thornham’s turf again.