Goalkeeper Jimmy Ashcroft was born in Liverpool on 12th September, 1878. He played local football for Anfield and Garston in the mid 1890’s before joining Everton in 1897. However Ashcroft failed to make the first team and after a spell with Gravesend United in 1899 he joined Second Division Arsenal in June 1900. Ashcroft made his debut replacing regular goalkeeper, Thomas Spicer, in the third game of the season at Burton Swifts in September 1900. He played in every game in the 1901-02 season and helped the club to their then highest ever League position (fourth in Division 2 of the Football League). As Jeff Harris points out in Arsenal Who’s Who, Ashcroft let in “only twenty six goals in thirty four games of which he kept seventeen clean sheets which included a run of six games without conceding a goal (which still remains a club record).”
In 1902-03 he was again ever present helping Arsenal to finish in third place. He repeated this achievement in 1903-04. This time he only conceded 22 goals in 34 games. This included 20 clean sheets and he played a vital role in helping his club win promotion to the First Division. Ashcroft played in 154 consecutive games for the club until an injury ended the run in 1904.
Jimmy Ashcroft won his first international cap for England against Ireland on 17th February, 1906. The game ended in a 5-0 victory. Ashcroft also kept a clean sheet in the next game against Wales in March. However, in his third game that April, England lost to Scotland 2-1 and he never played for his country again.
In May 1908, Ashcroft signed for Blackburn Rovers after 303 appearances for The Gunners. The manager, Robert Middleton, appointed the former Preston North End star, Bob Holmes, as trainer. This had a good impact on the team as they obtain 4th place in the 1908-09 season. Blackburn also won the Lancashire Cup and the East Lancashire Charity Cup that season.Blackburn continued their good form the following season and by October 1909 they became leaders of the First Division of the Football League. They lost their position in January 1910 and finally finished in 3rd place behind Aston Villa and Liverpool. Blackburn’s 45 points was the best total they had ever accumulated in a season. Blackburn’s defence was outstanding that season. Jimmy Ashcroft was in goal. Bob Crompton and Arthur Cowell were a formidable full-back pairing. George Chapman played at centre-half whereas Albert Walmsley and Billy Bradshaw were the wing-halfs.
Ellis Crompton, who had the impressive record of scoring 20 goals in 35 games, joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1910 in order to get first-team football. Blackburn’s away form that season was disastrous with their only win coming on the last day of the season. Although they won 12 games at home they could only finish in mid-table. This was very disappointing considering their 3rd and 4th positions in the previous two seasons. Top scorers were Billy Davies (16), Wattie Aitkenhead (13) and Edwin Latheron(11). In 1911 Robert Middleton signed Jock Simpson from Falkirk for a fee of £1,800. He joined a foward line that included at different times in the season, Edwin Latheron, George Chapman, Walter Anthony, and Wattie Aitkenhead. Jimmy Ashcroft now had to share the goalkeeping position with Alf Robinson. The defence looked very strong with players like Bob Crompton, Arthur Cowell, Albert Walmsley, Percy Smith and Billy Bradshaw in the side.
The 1911-12 season began badly with Blackburn Rovers losing two of its first three games. Robert Middleton decided to move George Chapman from centre-half to centre-forward. This was a great success and Blackburn’s form gradually improved and the team went on an unbeaten run that lasted three months. This took them to the top of the League. Despite being defeated by Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal, Blackburn went on another good run and by the end of the season they had three more points than main challengers, Everton. It was the first time in Blackburn’s history that they had won the Football League title. He made his last appearance for Rovers in March 1913 and signed for Tranmere Rovers at the end of the 1912-13 season. He had played in 129 games in the four years he had been at Blackburn Rovers. He also went on to play 5 times for Liverpool (coming out of retirement) as a wartime guest in the 1916-17 season.
NB This photograph was taken on 8th January 1906 before an Amateurs v Professionals England trial match played at Craven Cottage, Fulham, which the Professionals XI won 1-0.
Amateurs (white shirts): Back Row – PH Farnfield, JG Witherington, CD McIver, HA Nulton
Middle Row – SH Day, Vivian Woodward, Herbert Smith, SS Harris (captain)
Front Row – EGD Wright, TS Rowlandson, GC Vassall
Professionals (striped shirts): Back Row – Jimmy Ashcroft, Joe Walton, Archie Cross, Peter Chambers
Middle Row – Walter Bull, Fred Blackburn, Riley, Fred Threlfall
Front Row – Arthur “Pat” Collins, Tim Coleman, Fred Harrison