By Tony Attwood
James (Jimmy) Ashcroft is a player of enormous importance in the history of Arsenal as a club – a player who would adorn the outside of the Emirates Stadium if they took into account players from the Woolwich era.
He played for Woolwich Arsenal for eight seasons fro 1900 – 1908 in goal, making 303 appearances of which 273 were in the league. He was the first goalkeeper to play for us in the first division, the first Arsenal player to play for England (he won three caps), the first Woolwich Arsenal player to get over 300 games, and the first player to play eight consecutive seasons getting over 30 league games a season. Having joined the team he played 154 consecutive matches, (something on exceeded once – see below). He was also in the two cup semi-finals that Woolwich Arsenal played.
Jimmy was born in Liverpool, on 12 September 1878 and is listed as playing for Wilbyn’s United, Anfirled Recreation Club, Garston Copperworks, Everton and Gravesend United, before reaching Woolwich Arsenal. Her is recorded as being an amateur for Everton, and so presumably was for the clubs listed before that. What took him to Gravesend is not clear, but Gravesend is only 18 miles from Woolwich and so he was probably talent spotted at that club – or noticed when Arsenal played Gravesend (see below).
Gravesend were not as obscure as we might think today, and they did win the Kent Senior Cup in 1898 (a competition I believe Arsenal played in (Andy please do you have anything on this)), and were in the first division of the Southern League in 1899/1900 (as were Tottenham Hotspur).
Having transferred to Arsenal Jimmy missed the first two games of the season, before played against Burton Swifts on 15 September 1900 and then did not miss a single match for four years – something that has only been beaten once – by Tom Parker in the 1930s.
From this first game on he only let in 26 goals in 34 games that season, including 17 clean sheets and six consecutive games without conceding a goal (a club record, that has only once been equalled – by Alex Manninger in 1998). In 1903/4 he let in 22 goals in 34 game with 20 clean sheets.
In May 1908, Ashcroft signed for Blackburn Rovers for whom he played 114 games, before moving on to Tranmere Rovers at the end of the 1911/12 season. He continued to play there until the outbreak of the first world war, when he retired from football. He died in 1943 aged 64.
I did say that I was going to write here about Matthew Thomson – a complete aberration on my part since he did not play 100 games for Woolwich Arsenal. And indeed I have already written about him – the article is here. Sorry it must have been a bad day.
Next up, and this time I hope I have got it right, is Archie Cross.
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