The Middleton and District Cricket League
The Middleton and District Cricket League was initiated in 1893, and Thornham joined one year later in 1894. The introduction of league cricket threatened a rude awakening for a club whose non-league exploits had drawn such admiration; for the first four seasons the Club finished in the “wooden-spoon” position. In fact, it was a good thing for Thornham that the league had amended its points system during the winter preceding their debut. Previously a point was deducted for every loss and one awarded for a win, with draws ignored. This would have seen Thornham end the season with a “minus-points” tally. However, the amended system awarded two points for a win, one for a draw, but did not penalise losses. The season has seemed to start well; despite a narrow loss away to Prestwich on opening day, the first home league game on Thornham resulted in victory over Chadderton. Club professional J.H. Shaw secured the points with an excellent all round performance with an innings of 44 and 7 wickets for 26. Early promise failed to materialise, however, and no more wins were forthcoming. This was the only year in which Thornham and Middleton were to play in the same league, as Middleton left to join the Central Lancashire League in 1895.
The 1895 season brought a similar lack of success on the pitch for Thornham, but handsome rewards for the Club’s outstanding performers. J. Fletcher won the batting averages, and was awarded with a handsome silver watch and chain. The perennial H.T. Jones gained a silver medal with a solid gold centre as his reward for winning the bowling averages. The words of Chairman Mr W. Smethurst, at the annual School House entertainment evening, in November 1895, echo down the years, and, indeed, could well have been delivered at any time in the history of our Club, whether nineteenth, twentieth or twenty-first century: 17 “ Thornham Cricket Club has been in existence for many years, and it is only by the hard work on the part of the members that the club has got itself into its present favourable position. We now have a good ground, but have to work through winter and summer months.” Such hard work by the dedicated members through winter and summer months is the reason this record is required! ‘Twas ever thus! However hard the work to clear the £100 debt incurred by the ground improvements, results in 1896 were depressing, with the season passing without a single victory. Two drawn games did see the Club pass totals of 200, and the 202 for 5 declared against Healey featured the first century by a Thornham batsman, with new professional Mr Teather scoring 103 not out. On the field, 1887 was little better, but fund-raising efforts were stunningly successful. A bazaar raised over £305 with well over £250 profit, wiping out the debt, and giving the Club substantial funds for such a small village. This enabled a very experienced professional - T.B. Pullen, late of Heywood CC – to be appointed, along with an enthusiastic and talented captain, E. Tweedale, and the fortunes of the Club were transformed. 1888 was a triumphant season, with only one of the eighteen games being lost, and Thornham were crowned Champions of the Middleton and District Cricket League for the first time. Such things as holidays, illness, injury and loss of form must have been unknown in those days, as the same eleven players featured in every game in that remarkable season. It is worth recording their names here: E. Tweedale (Capt.); H. Bolton, A.B. Canby, F. Fletcher, W. Heaton, G.R. Jones, H. T. Jones, R. Ogden, H. Rowlands, I. Seville, T.B. Pullen (Pro.)
In a very poor season of weather in 1899, the majority of matches were drawn, and Thornham could not repeat their victorious exploits, 18 finishing third, but the new century saw the Club on its victory trail again. In an exciting climax to the season Thornham won the Championship after needing to win their final game – at Whitworth – to overhaul Chadderton who had led the table for much of the season. It was again H.T. Jones who proved too powerful for the opposition batsmen, taking 5 for 19 as Whitworth were skittled for just 44. An eight wicket win proved emphatic enough to claim points and title. It is interesting to learn from Club records that an annual subscription for players at this time was six shillings (30p) which could be paid in monthly instalments - for the less well-to-do players - of sixpence (2½p). The professional commanded the princely sum of one pound fifteen shillings per week (£1.75). An essential source of income was the bar, which, although closed every Sunday, opened at 8a.m. on every other day! The Middleton and District Cricket League was a well organised competition of a good standard, and the league’s management were determined to uphold standards. In an era when we see the introduction of yellow and red cards to try to enforce discipline on club cricketers, it is worth remembering that the issue is not new. In August 1901, the league’s management committee met, as reported below: “A complaint was gone into against a player for the alleged use of improper language on two occasions to umpires during the last month, and after a patient hearing it was decided that he should be suspended for a week, as he had been cautioned before. The League Committee decided to call to the attention of the clubs on the league their determination to put a stop to the practice of umpires being insulted if their decisions do not meet with approval, and any future cases will be more severely dealt with.” Generations of umpires will have supported that hard line! Fortunately, perhaps, history protects the identity of the culprit. 19 The First XI dropped to third place again in 1901, a position matched by the Second XI, securing their own highest position in the “new” league to date. Third place was maintained in 1902, but 1903 saw a hat-trick of championships, as the First XI won the league once more, this time after a thrilling play-off with Westhulme, who had tied at the top of the table with Thornham. As soon as the title was clinched, the Club applied for admission to the Central Lancashire League, but before their application was considered, Thornham were invited to become founder members of a new league - the South Lancashire League, and so a new chapter began.