THE LANCASHIRE AND CHESHIRE CRICKET LEAGUE 1973-1994
While the small dressing rooms in front of the pavilion had been finished and landscaped, and a new wooden scorebox was already in preparation, the size of the ground still posed a stumbling block to the Club’s ambitions. An enlargement of the playing area would be required to make Thornham eligible for playing in the upper flight of the new league. The greatest frustration with this was the term of the Club’s lease. The “Trustees of Joseph Milne Deceased”, former owner of the Estate, had, via their solicitors, agreed to change the terms from an annual lease to a leasehold of 21 years, with rental reviews at 7 and 14 years. However, the benefits of such improved security of tenure were offset by a clause that gave the landlord the power to foreclose the lease at any time, with just six months’ notice. As a result, the Club was ineligible for any grant support, and an unattractive contender for longterm investment. This had been an issue since the 1920s, but now, at a time when real progress seemed tantalisingly within reach, efforts were redoubled to have the cancellation clause deleted, and the Committee turned to the legal department of the Lancashire Cricket Association for support. The advice from the LCA was not unduly hopeful: if the Trustees insisted on the “six-month termination notice”, that was their right. However, if the Club’s officials furnished themselves with details of the potential grants which improved security of tenure might secure, then met with the Trustees, they might, LCA suggested, gain a sympathetic hearing, “boosted if possible by some discreet press publicity”. Of course, for such a face-to-face contact to be made, it was essential to know exactly who the “Trustees of Joseph Milne Deceased” actually were and where they might be found, and this proved impossible.
The “discreet press publicity” came in the form of an article in the “Manchester Evening News” in November 1973: “Thornham, new members of the Lancashire and Cheshire League have a problem that must be unique in cricket. They do not know who their landlord is, and cannot go ahead with plans to improve their picturesque little ground … Somewhere lurks a man who owns a cricket ground, yet might not know it! Until he is found Thornham look like being stumped - and their ambitions to become a power in a league that has now formed two divisions with promotion and relegation will go unfulfilled.” The result was not quite what the Club had hoped for: an immediate and furious letter from the solicitors of “Trustees of Joseph Milne Deceased”, denouncing the “discreet press publicity” as “quite misleading and totally inaccurate”, but still no identification of just who the “Trustees of Joseph Milne Deceased” actually were! The letter concluded that “our client is fully aware of the position, and is not prepared under any circumstances to agree to the removal of the clause which would empower our client to terminate the lease on six months’ notice.” Undeterred, and with remarkable resolution, the committee formed a sub-committee to investigate the identity of the landlord, and discovered that the current Mr Milne was living in Southport.
He at last agreed to a meeting to discuss the rogue termination clause, but the wheels of the legal system grind slowly, and it would be several more years before any satisfaction would be achieved. With no immediate prospect of external financial support, it was literally left in the Club’s own hands to make the changes required. Throughout the winter of 1972-3, working parties each Sunday between 10a.m. and 4p.m. succeeded in cutting back the banking on the northern side of the ground, and levelling the additional playing area, to increase the pitch size. Landscaping of the bank continued throughout the season to provide an attractive location from which to watch the cricket. The spectre of failure was made all the more real, ironically by an unexpected windfall of £250, which came from the assets of Castleton Cricket Club. This club, formed just four years after Thornham, had hosted a first-class game between Lancashire and Kent, but had struggled over a long period and had dissolved, the famous ground being sold for industrial development. No doubt the £250 gained from the distribution of the club’s assets was a welcome injection of funding, but it would surely have been banked with a pang of regret.
On the playing front, the entrance to the new league saw the welcome return to his parent club of Paul Rocca, as professional for the 1973 season, though his tenure in this role would last only one season due to a change in his work commitments. Paul would continue as an amateur, and would play a leading part in the recruitment of a professional for the 1974 season. Wilson Hartley accepted the invitation to become professional for 1974, but tendered his resignation shortly before the start of the season, leaving Thornham to appeal to the league for further time to make an appointment. The availability of a former West Indian Test fast bowler might seem to be a very tempting proposition, but the candidate came with a somewhat chequered history. Roy Gilchrist could have had a much longer Test career, but had fallen out with captain Gerry Alexander over a barrage of beamers unleashed from 18 yards at India’s batsmen, and had been sent home from a tour of the subcontinent, never to play again. He had later faced disciplinary action in the Lancashire League for extracting a stump and pursuing a batsman with it. The judge who sentenced Gilchrist to probation for attacking his own wife, said in sentencing, “I hate to think that English sport has sunk so far that brutes will be tolerated because they are good at games”. Thornham’s committee concurred and decided that they would definitely not appoint Gilchrist to the vacant position, despite the imminence of the season’s start. In the most radical example of “player power” yet seen in the Club, the Players’ Meeting requested a meeting with the committee, requesting a review of their decision. At the last meeting before the 37 opening of the 1974 season, the committee recorded their change of heart, but in terms dripping with anxiety about their new employee: “That Mr R Gilchrist be appointed to fill the position of Club Professional for 1974 on a match to match basis, subject to good conduct on the club premises and the premises of other clubs in the L&CCL.” His fee would “not exceed £138”.
Aside from the focus on the professional, the outstanding statistic in the 1974 season was a new Club record for an amateur batsman, set by Dr. W “Bill” Lawler, with an innings of 127. With a return of 87 wickets, a tally that remained a record for a Thornham professional in the Lancashire and Cheshire League, the appointment of Gilchrist proved a success. Fears over his temperament proved sufficiently groundless in his first season at the Club for him to be offered an extension - on the same terms and conditions - for 1975, but still the longed-for promotion proved elusive. The honeymoon period was probably bound to be reasonably short-lived, and the Committee disciplined their professional during the 1975 season for failing to turn up when selected to represent the league side. The search for a dependable professional - both on and off the field - began again. This period also saw a commendable level of forethought in developing young homegrown talent, with the junior side being re-entered to the North Western Junior League and an authoritative sub-committee appointed to oversee the development of under-18 cricketers in the Club. It would be this initiative, as much as the employment of high-profile professionals, that would satisfy the appetite for Division One cricket, but not just yet. The search began for a commanding presence to spearhead Thornham’s push for promotion, and would lead the Club to dealings with the very heart of power in Whitehall. The suggested target was Azmat Rana, a promising Pakistani batsman, who had accompanied the touring side in 1971 and would later represent the Test side against Australia. He had agreed terms with Thornham for 1976 at a fee of £8 per game, but the sticking point proved to be the provision of a work permit. The Department for Employment (Overseas Labour) responded to the Club’s application for a permit by pointing out the requirement that “remuneration is sufficient for the overseas worker to support himself without recourse to other means, such as additional employment”.
Their experience suggested that a figure of £900 would be required, far in excess of the £8 per match agreed. Appeals were made to MPs and Home Secretary Jim Callaghan, but in the end a more pragmatic solution was found. A Benefit Match would be held during the 1976 season featuring a Thornham XI taking on a Pakistan XI, including names such as Javed Miandad, Wasim Raja, Shafiq Ahmed and Mudassar Nazar. A complimentary ticket, saving the 10p admission fee, was reserved for Mr. Callaghan, but sadly remained unused. It is interesting to compare the agreed match fee with the £5 per match received by Frank Watson fifty years before! Rana performed well but the First XI continued to languish in the Second Division, despite the performance of its star batsman Terry Grimshaw, who convincingly topped the league batting averages with 664 runs at the impressive average of 44.3. It was decided that Rana should be retained for another year, and agreed that his flight from Lahore to Heathrow would be paid - and subtracted from his £350 fee. The local MP - Cyril Smith - secured a letter admitting Rana to the country despite his not having a work permit, and the First XI Captain, Brian Kilburn accompanied Terry Higgins, the Treasurer, to Heathrow to meet the flight. Frustration followed, as the permission letter was not recognised, and Rana was detained by Immigration Services. Despite frantic representations on his behalf, he remained detained until 5 May, when he requested to be deported back to Pakistan, leaving the Club red- 39 faced with frustration and embarrassment, and without a professional for the 1977 season.
On the positive side, communication was received from the solicitors of the Club’s landlord, Mr J.P. Milne, informing the committee that “our client … is prepared to make a gesture by offering the Club a Lease for a period of 10 years at a nominal rent of £5 per annum.” The resilience and determination of the Club’s officers had been rewarded, and secured the prospect of being able to develop the ground and facilities at a time when the playing strength was making the First XI competitive in its division. Up to this point there had not been a league structure for a Club Third XI. Instead, Thornham fielded a “Sunday XI” playing between eight and twelve games a season. The team did, however, compete in a Sunday League Cup, and in 1976, it was this competition that brought the Club its first honours since the senior teams had moved to the LCCL. Sensibly, the Club’s management deemed it important to increase the competitive cricket available, in order to provide a forum in which the rising numbers of promising young players could develop their skills and push for inclusion in the First or Second XIs. Application was made to the Manchester and District Cricket League for the Third XI to be admitted. Trying to schedule league fixtures around the demands of the L&CL fixtures would be testing, but the development was necessary to provide opportunities for the numbers of playing members now at the Club.
So began a 37-year history of competition in the league, that would see Thornham amass a number of league honours with the NMCL. This development was fundamental to the development of the strength of the two senior sides, as young players could be “blooded” in a competitive environment, under the watchful eye of the “mature” end of the playing membership, and were ready then to step up once the opportunity arose. The Sunday Friendly XI would continue to function for a few years, playing fixtures against clubs such as Woodhouses, Greenmount, Longsight and Irlam British Steel, but the pressure of fixtures with three teams in league competition rendered to unfeasible for such arrangements to persist. George Solmon was appointed as professional for 1978 and 1979, but still the important promotion lay beyond reach. However, the junior section was proving highly effective, and a rich crop of young players was maturing. Most notable among the promising youngsters of this 41 period were John Whitehead, an elegant and mature right handed opening bat, Phillip Sutcliffe, a hard-hitting left hander, both of whom attracted the interest of the county at colts and Under-19 levels, and Paul Bradbury, another talented left-hand bat. These were making an impact on the Second XI, playing in the First Division of their section, still under the shrewd guidance of Tony Crook, and were ready to step up to the greater challenge of First XI cricket. Brian Wakefield, a renowned and skilful coach, whose reputation was appreciated across the local leagues, was appointed Club Coach. His coaching skills would complement his huge contributions as a reliable middle-order bat and a highly effective bowler of medium pace swing. Also joining the Club was Neil Bradbury, another very useful “catch”, who had played professionally for Dukinfield, and could be relied on for three to four hundred runs and thirty wickets in a season.
By 1980, the balance of experience, age and skills of the First XI, under the shrewd captaincy of Tony Sutcliffe, and the arrival of a new professional - talented Oldham C.C. all-rounder Gerry McMahon - and his brother, Kevin, both of whom had played Minor Counties cricket, made a formidable force. Surprisingly, the side sported four spin bowlers (though the professional usually opened the bowling with leftarm medium pace offerings), at first sight a risk on a small ground like Thornham. This team was consistently able to bowl rivals out, restrict the most determined run chase, or chase down totals, losing only two games all season. They secured the Second Division Championship, two points ahead of rivals Dukinfield (who lost four times), and fulfilling the ambitions nurtured since joining the Lancashire and Cheshire League. Three of Thornham’s batsmen featured in the top four of the league batting averages: John Whitehead won the batting award, with 680 runs at an average of 40; Phill Sutcliffe was in third spot, averaging 38 for his 533 runs; Wakefield proved the star performer in the league-winning season, however, with 588 runs at an average of 35 which secured him fourth place in the batting averages, but also second in the league bowling averages with 47 wickets at 10.1 apiece. Gerry McMahon’s 52 wickets cost an average of 13.5 apiece.
The first season in the top division started superbly and Thornham topped the league in June, but the rest of the season failed to match that lofty expectation, and they slipped to finish seventh - still a highly commendable effort for their first season in the top flight. Brian Wakefield once again featured in league batting and bowling averages, 43 and both Gerry McMahon (915) and John Whitehead (911) topped nine hundred runs for the season. In the Second XI, ‘Juggy’ Sabharwal was a consistent performer – featuring in the league averages for several years in a row, and playing an important role in the First XI in the early ‘80s. Juggy was accompanied to all games by his wife Myra, though it is fair to say that she lacked a knowledge of the finer points of the game – and suffered a low boredom threshold. On several occasions she would notice that Juggy had been removed from the attack, and demand that he leave the field to take her home! On one famous occasion, she was conspicuously absent from the boundary at Irlam British Steel CC, and it was only as the game ended that the reason became obvious: finding some Dulux paint in the boot of the car – Juggy had just painted his garage door – Myra decided to give the car a “touch up”, and had painted the entire vehicle lime green! The ever-patient Juggy drove away that evening with windscreen wipers smearing paint across the screen, and leaving a lime green rectangle on the car park! It seemed that another addition – in the shape of pace bowler Ian Mansfield – would equip the Club for a realistic tilt at the First Division title in 1982, but preparations were hit by a double departure.
The perennial problem in a club like Thornham, surrounded by clubs with a higher profile, such as the Central Lancashire League sides of Middleton, Rochdale, Littleborough, Milnrow, Oldham and Werneth, is the lure of such venues for promising young players. It is hard to estimate what could have been secured by the Club over our history if we had been able to keep hold of these rising stars. Certainly, in the wake of two very successful seasons, Whitehead was tempted by the CLL club Norden and another product of the junior coaches’ efforts was lost permanently to Thornham. His loss was compounded by the departure of the highly influential Brian Wakefield who joined Rochdale CC. Ian Mansfield proved as effective as expected, with 53 wickets (at 15.8), but any hopes of serious contention for the title were further hit by Neil Bradbury being taken ill. He would become a very successful Second XI player for several years after his recovery, but a very distinguished First XI career, across several clubs, was brought to a premature end. Thornham finished twelfth, and narrowly avoided relegation. Gerry McMahon moved on, and the new professional was Cebert “Bert” Glasgow, who had also served with distinction at clubs such as Royton C.C. He proved an excellent addition for team spirit but a frustratingly inconsistent batsman, capable of breath-taking stroke-play, but always susceptible to a rush of blood. Along with Glasgow, a very significant new arrival to Thornham made the move from the Central Lancashire League in 1983. Jim Carnegie had built a superb reputation at Middleton C.C. as a talented and effective opening bat, as well as a knowledgeable and supportive team member. Given the names gracing the opening attacks of several CLL clubs of that era, an opening bat who had proved himself against, among others, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Franklin Stephenson and Curtley Ambrose, was a catch indeed for our little club. And so it proved. Carnegie would become a legend of the Lancashire and Cheshire League - and its successor - and proved the outstanding batsman in the history of Thornham Cricket Club. Another addition to the playing staff in 1983 was the returning Roy Gilchrist. Sadly a shadow of his former self, and already displaying the early symptoms of the Parkinson’s Disease that would claim his life in 2001, Gilchrist could now only generate pace through a distinctly suspect action. However, there remained glimpses of the skill that could, with a different temperament, have seen him a giant of the international scene. Dispatched for a straight four back over his head by a Romiley tail-ender, his yell of “Do you know who I am?” seemed a truly pathetic retort. The answer - “An old bloke who can’t bowl!” - prompted anxiety among Gilchrist’s team-mates, aware of his former propensity to overstep and aim high. His actual response - an 45 immaculate leg-cutter which demolished off and middle stump - had class all over it.
He restricted his verbal response to the simple, “I’m the old bloke who just bowled you, boy!” That class saw him, even in his fading years, capture 43 wickets (averaging 23 apiece) in the 1983 season. One game in the 1983 season inspired what might – perhaps kindly – be referred to as journalistic licence. Former England captain Mike Atherton cites in his autobiography an instance when he was struck on the head by Gilchrist “on a spiteful Thornham wicket”. Those of us who played in that 1983 game remember how a precociously talented youngster remained unmoved by bowling, reputation or the increasing frustration of his own team mates, who vainly urged him to accelerate in the pursuit of a moderate Thornham total - on a characteristically benign pitch. Alongside Gilchrist’s actual contribution, Ian Mansfield’s took 51 wickets (at 17 each), and the Club’s new line-up batsmen performed exceptionally. Three featured in the league batting averages, headed by Carnegie who finished a painful 6 runs away from a thousand in his first season at the Club – the last game being rained off! His average was 58. Phill Sutcliffe was ninth in the averages with 579 ( average 41), and Russell Davies, another newcomer for 1983, averaged 35 for his 530 runs. Glasgow scored 650 runs (31) and the First XI once again proved themselves as serious contenders, finishing the season in second place behind Unsworth, having only lost three games all season. Further progress on the field went hand in hand with another change to the Thornham landscape.
The little changing rooms which nestled in front of the pavilion were always scarcely adequate, but as personal kit collections expanded, requiring “coffins” to transport it, they became utterly unfit for purpose. Fortunately, one of the Club’s stalwart members, Peter Grey, was alert to the opportunity of acquiring a “temporary” building which was being decommissioned by his employer - Granada T.V. in Manchester. This would make a useful “stop gap”, 46 providing larger changing rooms, as well as a tea room and shower area - a “first” for the Club - until the long-discussed new pavilion was built. The logistical problems of transport and crane hire solved, the “temporary” building was in place for the start of the 1984 season. It would stay in place - with substantial annual patching up - for the next thirty years! If the actual wicket was less “spiteful” than might be claimed in print, the same could not be said for the practice tracks. Practice sessions began with a communal effort to erect poles and guy ropes, and unroll coconut matting on the batting lanes. They continued with batsmen struggling to negotiate the awkward bounce: poor preparation for playing on such an excellent wicket as Thornham’s. A permanent practice wicket was prepared by digging out the end and filling the box cavity with compressed pea gravel, over which a length of “Astro-turf” was laid. This proved an excellent solution in the short-term; however, it was located in the wettest corner of the pitch and eventually developed a mossy patina and a somewhat undulating surface requiring nimble footwork and a keen eye. Consistency proved erratic, and the hopes engendered by their secondplace in 1983 were not sustained in the following season. Indeed, relegation threatened, and it was only the points system which allowed a single point if the chasing team were not bowled out, irrespective of the total they achieved, that saved the First XI. That system would soon – quite justifiably – be reformed, demanding a chasing team to earn a point only if they achieved 75 per cent of their target. Had that reform been sooner, the Club would undoubtedly have been doomed to Second Division cricket, and potentially a very different future.
A change of philosophy was called for, and the Committee put its trust in youth in the appointment of professionals. Contact was made with the Lancashire Cricket Federation, in order to sign young professionals, seeking their engagement in that position. The reasoning was that the Club would benefit from a couple of seasons of highly promising talent, 47 and the player himself would have a chance to establish a reputation which could catch the eye of wealthier clubs elsewhere. It proved an inspired and inspirational move, the brainchild of Dr Tony Crook, for whom 1986 would be the last season as Second XI captain, after 20 years. The first of these “young guns” appointed was Gary Bolton, a bowler of real pace who could also be relied on to make quick runs on occasion. An improvement in league standing – to sixth in 1985 – justified the appointment. Previous years had shown that even with the emphasis on youth, experience was vital. Another new arrival at Thornham, former Sussex player Andrew Henderson, provided just that. He had played Minor Counties cricket for Buckinghamshire from 1964 and joined Sussex in 1968, representing the county for the next four years including an appearance for the first eleven. Henderson became a very influential figure in the First XI and Committee, his wide experience proving a real asset. He joined the ever-present Carnegie and Sutcliffe in the league averages in his first season.
There was once again an air of real promise about the Club, and 1986 was so nearly the year when this was realised. Another improvement in league position – to fifth – was effected, but for the first time in many years, the First XI achieved a place in a cup final. Their path to the final of the Walkden Cup proved nail-biting; after early round victories over Second Division opponents Romiley and Bollington, a semi-final against high-flying Longsight was as close as possible. The scores were tied, but Thornham won having lost fewer wickets. Phill Sutcliffe led out his team – at home – in the final against Denton. A century from the redoubtable Ian Herbert put the game beyond Thornham’s reach, and they fell thirty runs short of their 251 target. Yet another Thornham batsman topped the league batting averages for 1986. Graham Littlewood had started the season in the Second XI, but had scored so freely that he was promoted and scored a further 499 runs for the First Team, averaging 38.4. The start of 1987 marked another sad landmark in local cricket, with the demise of old rivals and partners Castleton Moor C.C. The club had been struggling financially for some years, and had embraced a groundshare with rugby club Mayfield. However, rather than a lifeline, the move turned out a stranglehold, as cricket-centred members found themselves ouste from the committee, and the interests of the cricket section proving a somewhat poor relation. The ground which had been 49 graced by England legend Sydney Barnes, who captured 189 wickets for the Test side, and claimed 583 wickets in just five seasons at Partington Street, would see no more cricket. The disappointment of the club’s demise brought a bonus for Thornham which would be appreciated to the present day, in the arrival of two stalwart members: David Harrop and Ian Heywood. The CLL’s loss would be Thornham’s gain. Both competitive and talented players, they would show their mettle as captains and administrators highly influential in the development and success of their adopted club, both establishing records on the field of play. Gary Bolton moved on at the end of his two-year “shift”, and the next young professional appointed was Darren Rayton. Darren had played alongside Gary Bolton as a junior at Leyland CC, and had developed into a bowler of genuine pace. He was, by his own admission, a lifelong “number 11” bat, but he was an excellent strike bowler. Ian Mansfield and Rayton proved a highly effective opening partnership, supported very ably on occasions by the newly-arrived Ian Heywood. Slow bowlers Nigel Doyle, Kevin McMahon and Andy Henderson, now captain, gave the bowling attack balance, and the consistency of Jim Carnegie and Phill Sutcliffe was supported by the new middle order of former-CLL players David Marsh (Werneth), John Gillibrand (Middleton), and the home-grown talent of John Willman to create a very competitive team. Willman took second place in the league averages for the season with 445 runs, at an average of 40.5. Losing only two games all season, they edged ahead of Stalybridge, and clinched their maiden First Division championship. In what effectively became the title decider, Thornham dismissed Stalybridge for just 88 while defending a vulnerable-looking 110 all out! Despite the Club not winning a succession of trophies and championships over the years in the First Division, it is worth noting how many of its batsmen featured in the upper reaches of the league’s end-of-season batting awards. Jim Carnegie and Phill Sutcliffe featured every year, with Carnegie winning the league batting award in 1983. Graham Littlewood followed suit in 1986, with John Willman in second place in 1987. Mike Lee, a wicket-keeper/batsman from Middleton CC also featured as runner-up in 1988 with 479 runs averaging 36.9, and Colin Wroe was in first place in 1989. This is a testament to the array of batting talent that graced Thornham through this period, but also to the quality of the playing surface on which half their games were played.
Colin Wroe was another import from the CLL, and took over the captaincy when Andrew Henderson succumbed to injury during the 1989 season. Despite his own personal successes – he scored 935 runs, including a high score of 120, and averaged 44.5 over the season – it was a season the promised much only to end in disappointment. Darren Rayton had departed, his 118 wickets over two seasons earning him a 51 paid position with Blackpool CC, and his place had been taken by Manoj Parekh, a prodigious spinner of the ball with a wicked repertoire of variations, who could also contribute more than usefully with the bat. Outside the league forum, Thornham had its most successful season in national competitions, in the Cockspur Cup – the National Cricket Association knock-out trophy, peaking with a superb win away to Northern CC. The defeat stunned the opposition, and caused a ripple of trepidation in our next opponents, Netherfield CC in Kendal. From an original 500 clubs, Thornham were now in the last 64, and one game from the Regional Final. Fixture clashes meant that the tie would be played on a Friday, but the Club managed to field a virtually fullstrength team. The match programme notes give a flavour of how our arrival was anticipated. “’Who are Thornham? Where are they from?’ everyone has asked since we knew our opponents. They were league champions in 1987 and Walkden Cup runners-up in 1986...Having beaten Northern from the Liverpool Competition away in the quarter finals, they must not be underestimated.” Netherfield did not underestimate Thornham, raising their game to defeat their visitors, mainly due to a chanceless hundred from Minor Counties star Graham Clarke. As the league season drew to an end, it seemed that runners-up spot was the best Thornham could hope for, despite pushing league leaders Denton Saint Lawrence very close. All DSL had to do was dispatch bottom club Swinton to make Thornham’s result away to Denton West academic. Thornham bowled out West for 188 and had just begun their reply when the incredible news came through: Swinton had bowled DSL out for a low score and easily defeated them. If Thornham overhaul that score, they would snatch the title. A demoralised Denton Saint Lawrence team came to watch the “last rites”. Drama ensued, as Ian 52 Fairfax took 3 for 13 in his first ten overs. With Wroe, Carnegie, Sutcliffe and professional Parekh all gone, DSL rejoiced. However, Ian Heywood and Stephen Grey steadied the ship with a partnership of 81, before Grey fell. Another partnership of 32 between Heywood and Kevin McMahon steered the visitors to within 30 of their target. Then, cruelly, in the gathering gloom of a windy September evening, a batting collapse saw Thornham lose their last five wickets for 20 runs, to fall just 10 short of a famous victory, and hand the title to the jubilant DSL squad. The League had inaugurated a new competition in 1989: the “Hough Shield” would be competed for by those teams who were knocked out of the Walkden Cup in the first round. Understandably, entry into contention was an unsought-for privilege, but once in, it represented an avenue to salvage further competition – and some success – from the disappointment. Thornham won the Hough Shield in 1990, defeating Stand in the final, with Manoj Parekh and Ian Heywood sharing the wickets. It marked a successful consolation prize for Thornham, and the culmination of two good seasons for Parekh, who took 132 wickets and scored 804 runs as professional.
While the First XI had to content themselves with fifth place aside from the shield success, the Second XI accomplished a feat they had not achieved since centenary year 22 years before: they won the First Division of their league. The excitement went right to the finale, as it had with the First XI in 1989, as contenders Stalybridge traded blow for blow. After the last game, the points tally of each was identical, but Thornham had more outright wins, and the title was theirs. A new captain arrived – back – in 1991, when Paul Rocca returned to his “home club.” The new professional was a left-hand bat, and medium-pace bowler, called Mark Fallon. He made his mark in the season opener in 1991 with four wickets in four overs to bowl out reigning champions Longsight. He then contributed 65 runs to a second wicket partnership with Kevin McMahon to secure a convincing win. Bizarrely McMahon’s 102 not out was one of only two centuries scored by amateurs in the whole 1991 season, and constituted the highest individual amateur innings in the league for that year. Fallon himself would leave a lasting mark on the Club’s record book before he ended his two-year tenure. Despite their promising start there was no repeat of the dramas and successes of the previous season for the senior sides. However, the Club’s juniors had been catching the eye, particularly at Under-13 level. The contested an eight-a-side form of the game, batting in pairs for a fixed four overs, and losing runs from a starting tally of 200 for every wicket.
Under the management of John Evans, the team had matured into a formidable group, and they had won the Manchester Evening News Cup in 1991. They retained this trophy in 1992, finishing their innings with 284 for three wickets, a net score of 260. They took four Denton wickets, and restricted their opponents to 266 (net 234), giving them a victory by 24 runs. Five of the team were selected to represent the league’s representative side in their age group. While it marks a very pleasing success in the Club’s story, the fact that such promising players did not progress into long-term members of adult teams is a disturbing truth. The Hough Shield presented one of the most spectacular highlights of 1992 – or of many other seasons – as the First XI reached another final. It was not the final itself – a 4 wicket defeat to Denton West CC – that would live in the memory, but the semi-final against East Levenshulme. Jim Carnegie scored 115, which would have ordinarily been the outstanding statistic of the game. However, it was eclipsed on this occasion by the first (and to date only) double century in the Club’s history. Joining Carnegie in the eleventh over, with the score on 67 for 1, professional Mark Fallon began cautiously, amassing just 19 runs off the first forty balls faced. Fortunately, Carnegie was in expansive form, and Thornham established a run-rate of 5 an over after the first 20 overs. Fallon cut loose then, and the pair shared a partnership of 180 before Carnegie fell in the 39th over. The next partnership, with John Willman was worth 70, in five overs, with Willman contributing just 10 runs. The next five overs, with Fallon joined by Steve Grey, yielded 52 runs, and Fallon was out – stumped – with still four overs remaining: a magnificent innings. 56 Mark Fallon’s mammoth score came off just 127 balls, and featured nineteen sixes and nine fours! The last 181 runs, therefore, came in just 87 balls, and he moved from 150 to 200 in just 16 deliveries. Unsurprisingly, Thornham won the game, with East Levenshulme all out, in 28.5 overs, for 95, chasing 379. Thornham arrived at 125 years of age in 1993, and on August Bank Holiday Monday, a celebratory match was held to mark the milestone. An “President’s” XI contested this with a Thornham XI. The All Stars featured Chris Zinzan Harris, the New Zealand all-rounder. Harris’s forte is in the short format game, and he became the first New Zealander to play in 250 one-day internationals, during which he scored 4300 runs at an average of 29. Other members of the President’s XI included former TCC professionals Gerry McMahon, Mark Fallon, Manoj Parekh, Paul Rocca and Nigel Doyle, as well as local league legends David Schofield and Mo Bux. A large crowd was entertained with a demonstration of Harris’s aggressive approach, though bowler Ian Heywood was less impressed at being deposited through his own windscreen - having just moved his car behind the pavilion for safekeeping! Harris scored 160, including 14 sixes, and was ably supported by McMahon (59) and Fallon (a rapid 64, reminding spectators of his demolition of East Levenshulme). Between the two teams over six hundred runs were scored in just 81.4 overs, on a beautiful day. Jim Carnegie carried his Hough Shield form into the league season, with three further scores of over one hundred in his league and cup aggregate (excluding the Hough Shield) of 742. His average was 46.4 which topped the league batting averages. Twice in the season, he scored 125 not out (against Denton Saint Lawrence and Longsight). While Thornham continued to proceed, the days of the league in which it played were now numbered.
The two-division format of the Lancashire and Cheshire League had be seen as a powerful “draw” to joining the league in 1972. By the early nineties, however, the structure posed a problem, set against the increasing pressures on league cricket clubs. Finances were thin, and fund-raising always seemed to be targeting the same people. Clubs were attracted by wealthy benefactors or sponsors, and the phenomenon of the “shamateur” was becoming more commonplace. Clubs relegated to the lower tier of the league found themselves stripped of players who would not tolerate “below-par” facilities and playing surfaces, and whose increased mobility gave them the freedom to choose to move on. This led to a vicious cycle that found those clubs doomed to be stuck in the second division. Stalybridge CC had tendered their resignation in 1991, and had started the 1993 season in the Cheshire County League.
Decisive action was required to stem further attrition and safeguard the quality of cricket among those fortunate enough to be in the upper echelons of the league. The product of these discussions was a new league, of fourteen clubs, to be established for the start of the 1994 season - “The Lancashire County League”. Despite an undistinguished recent history in the L&CL, Thornham were fortunate to have a place at this top table and their first and second teams would join the new league. Stability would be underwritten by having each club agree to a five-year “loyalty” commitment. An increasingly rigorous ground inspection process would drive member clubs to plan a process of continuous facilities improvement, attracting and retaining the highest quality players, an Thornham’s 125th anniversary year saw the disbanding of the league in which it had been a fixture for twenty years