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In 1988 Roy Cavanagh produced an excellent history of the Bolton Association called Cotton Town Cricket to mark the centenary of the BDCA. The brief history below is gleaned from the story therein and due acknowledgement is made to Roy for all his excellent research.
The Lancashire area, and Bolton in particular, was already a hot bed of cricket in the Victorian era with Bolton and Eagley leading lights from the early 19th century. A Mr Richardson of Great Lever was credited with the scheme to form a cricket association in Bolton, and the historic formation of the BDCA came about at a meeting held at the Coffee Tavern on Bradshawgate. 10 senior clubs and over 30 junior clubs were represented and the move approved with enthusiasm. A full list of all the founder members can be found HERE, and in 1889 competition began.
Ten senior clubs contested the Cross Cup with the smaller junior clubs competing in their own competition (the league competition was start the following year). The first Cross Cup final was held at Farnworth on August 17th and 2500 spectators saw Darcy Lever beat Little Lever by 23 runs. Tonge were to have the honour of being the first league champions in 1890, but surprisingly the following year again only the Cross Cup was held. By 1892 the league programme was re-established and has continued unbroken ever since. At junior level this was replicated with no fewer than 5 sections A-E organised with the winners of these playing off for the Isherwood Trophy. Although on the whole scores in this era were low, the first century was recorded as early as 1893 when George Holt made 128 for Westhoughton v Great Lever. Interest in cricket in Bolton continued to boom to the extent that by 1905 the Association had grown to such an extent that it comprised of 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions (comprising a total of 12 sections) with no less than 65 clubs who between them fielded a total of 110 teams.
Undoubtedly the first 30 years of the Association could as Roy points out be truly called our Golden Age with interest in cricket and the league in particular at a remarkable level. Two clubs dominated this era winning 29 trophies between them - roughly half of those on offer! During these 30 years Tonge won 8 league titles and the Cross Cup 7 times whilst Farnworth were equally prolific with 8 league titles and the Cross Cup 6 times.
One other point to note from this era was that in 1905 Adlington became the first of the current member clubs to play in the 1st division having sucessfully gained promotion via a "Test Match" which saw the top team in division 2a play the bottom 1st division team. As long as the club could satisfy ground and changing room facility criteria the lower club could gain promotion.
FROM GOLDEN AGE TO TROUBLED WATERS
The 10 years following World War 1 were to be troubled times for the BDCA which led eventually to a breakaway movement in 1929.
After the war Egerton and Hindley were added to the 1st division to make 14 clubs - a decision which caused much regret due to the number of night matches and the overlap caused with the football season. A contentious AGM in 1920 (it needed 3 sessions to complete the meeting) eventually decided that rather than relegate 3 clubs (Kearsley having won the test match that year) to get back to 12 clubs, two First Division leagues would be set up to be known as East & West. The titles though were misleading as the former 1st division remained as a 12 club league (East) whilst 5 new applicants plus seven 2nd division teams became the West section. The East was considered the premier league and yet in the title playoff Egerton of the West section prevailed, and in the Cross Cup Final no fewer than 6000 spectators saw Adlington complete a double for the West section.
Disenchantment with this state of affairs continued to grow & it was generally agreed by 1923 that the West section was not a paying proposition as many grounds were considered inadequate and the standard of some professionals inferior. Some clubs did however compare well & agitated to move sections - something staunchly resisted by those in the East. The Cross Cup however continued to rise above this with a remarkable 7000 people attending the 1923 final at Heaton (love to know how they all got in!) between Eagley & Astley Bridge. Several schemes were mooted in 1924 but in the end stayed with East & West but allowing movement between the two. The economic depression added to the problems with several teams recording losses and in 1925 at the AGM only 2 clubs voted for a proposal that all clubs must have a professional for all matches.
Rumours of a breakaway abounded but none was yet forthcoming. Another change at the 1926 AGM came up with a decision to combine the two sections with all the remaing 20 clubs in one division. These clubs were then split into 5 groups of 4 with fixtures made up of home and away games v the other 3 in your section plus home & away v 2 teams in each of the other sections (the idea being to play the other 2 the year after). The system proved unpopular with both the clubs & the public was relatively short lived, and yet again a new system was needed. A system based on the Bradford League with fixtures based on league positions was tried in 1929. This too proved unpopular and led in August that year to furtive meetings involving several clubs. The initial proposal was "There shall be formed a 1st division of the BDCA which shall consist of the following 12 clubs (the clubs being listed HERE), who shall control the membership of the said 1st division by election, this to come into operation for rhe season 1930".
The wrangling continued until December when the rebel twelve finally lost patience with their fellow clubs and voted to resign from the BDCA and form their own league. Thus the Bolton League was born and together the two leagues have served the cricket lovers of the area ever since.
Just 10 clubs were to contest the 1930 First Division following the split - 4 of whom (Adlington, Atherton, Darcy Lever and Little Hulton) are still members in 2013. The next few years provided a relatively stable period with less movement in and out of 1st Division clubs, but one club who joined were to have a major impact. East Lancashire Paper Mills - having played & lost a Cross Cup tie in 1931 - joined the league in 1932 and between then and 1945 they went on a trophy spree. No less than 7 championships and 2 Cross Cup wins were garnered before their ground was rendered unplayable by fire and lorry damage which forced them to disband in 1945. The Golden Jubilee of the league was duly celebrated in 1938 and marked by a Gala Dinner at the Pack Horse in Bolton in February 1939. War clouds were gathering though and yet despite the conflict remarkably the league continued right through WWII albeit with a struggle. The Cross Cup however was suspended from 1940-1945. Not all clubs managed to play, and registration rules were relaxed for those remained, and new clubs based on the armed forces sprang up. Indeed the Royal Army Pay Corps (RAPC) were strong enough to win the 1st Division.
The end of the war saw life return to normal in the BDCA, but perhaps more significantly moves were made to build bridges between the two rival Bolton leagues. Small steps at first, with representatives from each league attending the other's presentation evenings and meetings, and in 1946 the first ever friendly interleague game at Walkden Moor (won by the BDCA). These initial moves have grown over the years to the situation we enjoy still with the leagues in peaceful co-existance and relations ever more cordial.
1949 marked a landmark in our history with the first postwar under 18s competition being held with Tootals Sports Club emerging as winners. (It had been tried earlier in 1926). Slow progress in junior cricket followed. We, like most leagues stuck to this 3rd team format for many years before an under 15 section was started in 1976. You can find more on the story of our junior section HERE.
The league has always been transient and constantly changing, and arguably it has only really been in the latter years where membership gradually settled down into a hardcore. For example, of the 12 teams making up the top division in 1955 four (Walker Institute, Tootals SC, Walkden Moor and Barton Hall) are defunct; three (Clifton, Farnworth SC & Roe Green) are in other leagues with just five that are still members (Little Hulton, Adlington, Atherton, Astley & Tyldesley and Edgworth). It may be pertinant at this point to look at when the current members made their way into division one.
The five clubs mentioned above are the current elder statemen of the league in terms of continuous membership, and indeed Edgworth and Little Hulton will in 2014 reach 110 years membership. Adlington (98), and Atherton (95) are approaching the "ton" and Astley & Tyldesley will reach 79 years in 2014. It may surprise to know that Daisy Hill, like Edgworth and Little Hulton are in the 100 Club. 2014 will see them reach 108 years in the BDCA, although they have only been in the top flight since 1958. Darcy Lever - one of the founder members have been in and out of the league but in 2014 will reach 90 years (the latest link having started in 1995). Maybe surprisngly Lostock come next with their return in 2014 marking a 56th season in the league - 31 of which have been in the top flight. Walshaw reach 40 years in 2014 with 39 of those in the top flight, with Standish and Blackrod close behind on 31 & 30 years respectively. Golborne with 26 years and Elton (19) are the last of the older members in our list. Flixton with 7 years and Bury entering their 3rd have settled into the league whilst Swinton Moorside, Winton and Worsley will make senior debuts in 2014. Swinton and Winton have both flirted with the league before - Swinton spent 6 seasons in the old 2nd division and Winton approaching 20 in our junior section. It is striking though that like a well organised club bringing through juniors to constantly replenish the senior team, so the BDCA has constantly done so as "junior" clubs move up to senior level.
After 125 years the Bolton Association is arguably as strong as it has ever been. An 18 team competition in 2014, five thriving junior sections. Testament not only to the hard work of the current committee but also that all of all their predecessors. One wonders what the founding fathers back in 1888 would make of it all? Surely their chests would fill with pride.