James Ashcroft: our first England player and still a club record holder

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.

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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.

Tony Attwood

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9 Replies to “James Ashcroft: our first England player and still a club record holder”

  1. I can’t work out why he travelled south. He seems to have been based in Liverpool throughout his life. On the 1901 census he is shown living with his mother in Liverpool, he married in 1903 in Liverpool, his three children were born in Liverpool and on the 1911 census he was living with his mother-in-law in Liverpool. During these years he played for Arsenal and Blackburn.

    He wouldn’t have played against Arsenal as he was only at Gravesend for the 1899-1900 season and we didn’t play them.

    As for the Kent Senior Cup, we played in it in
    1888-89 – disqualified for not playing extra-time in 3rd round game against… Gravesend.
    1889-90 – won the trophy beating Thant Wanderers 3-0 in the final at Chatham
    1890-91 – lost 0-4 to South Eastern Wanderers in the semi-final. The club put a reserve team in the two earlier rounds but wanted to put out a full strength team for the semi-final. The game coincided with a Londond Senior Cup against Casuals. Arsenal asked for the Kent Senior Cup game to be re-arranged but the Kent FA refused.
    The club turned professional in 1891 and resigned from the Kent FA so weren’t eligible to play in the competition again.

    In 1912-13 the club played Crystal Palce in the Kent Senior Shield, losing 0-1. I’m not sure if this was the Kent Senior Cup. Arsenal played a reserve team.

  2. There is another link to Arsenal and the Kent Senior Cup. Between 1934 and 1938, Arsenal used Margate as its nursery club. Margate won the Kent Senior Cup in 1935-36 and 1936-37. The 1936-37 winning team included George Marks, Alf Fields, David Pryde, Wilf Walsh, Andrew Farr, Eddie Carr and Horace Cumner who all went on to play for Arsenal’s first team.

    Margate is another chapter in Arsenal’s history altogether.

  3. Andy, if I offer to buy you a beer (or glass of wine, or fruit juice or whatever your tipple is) would you write a piece about Arsenal and Margate. We are sadly lacking in that sector.

  4. Time for some more myth-busting. Arsenal signed Ashcroft from Everton, not Gravesend. Therefore he must have been a professional with Everton and I’m not sure that he actually played for Gravesend – maybe they also had a goalkeeper called Ashcroft.

    Everton have an amazing site http://www.evertoncollection.org.uk/ which includes minute books for board meetings.

    The following pages show that Ashcroft was still an Everton player during 1899-1900 and they originally asked Woolwich Arsenal for £150 but eventually sold him for £25.



    And then 2 years later, Everton asked Woolwich Arsenal if they could buy him back!


  5. Hi, I’ve only just come across this site. I’m Jimmy Ashcroft’s grandson and I am gathering as much information as I can about him so your page is much appreciated. I have a collection of memorabilia including medals, photos and press cuttings about Jimmy should any researcher be interested.

  6. Hello Harry Ashcroft.

    I am the great grandson of Jimmy Ashcroft. My mother (Ann) was his grand daughter.

    I would appreciate any memorabilia/information that you could pass along.

    My e-mail address is tommalone@sympatico.ca

    Thank you

  7. Hello,

    Jimmy Ashcroft also played three matches for Liverpool F.C. during WW1 (November, 1916) when the first choice goalie Kenneth Campbell could not report back from military service.


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