A chat with... George Croston
Mr. George Croston, whose photograph we have pleasure in including in our "Old Footballers'" series this week, may not be quite so well-known as some of the members of the old brigade who have appeared during the past two months but he was a very prominent figure in the Aspull ranks when the men of the Moor were a power in Lancashire. He was one of the founders of the Haigh Rugby Club, which was formed from the Haigh school in 1881. Among others who were included in the team were Alfred Athron, James and John Gibson, Haydock, Joe and Billy Benson, Jack Bullough, Harry Collier, who was the first captain and P. Simpkin. Croston was intended as a forward, but one of the selected half-backs did not put in an appearance and he figured behind the pack a position which he occupied until he joined Aspull a few years later. "I believe our first match was was with Wigan second," said Mr. Croston in the course of the interview, "and we did not get any gates. We should have had a good gate in one match, but Aspull, with whom we had fixed up, arranged a game with Clifton on the same day. As Clifton were short-handed I played for them at half-back. The late Lord Crawford gave us the field for nothing, and among the clubs we played in our first season were St. Michael's, Blackrod, Pagefield, and Aspull. Dave Banks and J.W. Pendlebury were the half-backs for Blackrod. We afterwards played Widnes Blues, Widnes Stars, Highfield, and Pemberton. In our third season we met Highfield in the Wigan Senior Charity Cup competition at Ince, and we beat them. Mr. John House, J.P., was playing for the Highfielders. I got my arm broken in that match, but I kept on until the end of the game. In the final, which was against Wigan on the Dicconson-street ground, there was a gale blowing in the first half when Wigan had the benefit of the win, ad they scored 18 points before the interval. They beat us rather easily, though we got eight points. Charlie Holt was captain of Wigan that season, Mr Henry Hibbert (now Sir Henry Hibbert) was the referee. Ned Bullough, Tom Bullough and Jack Bullough played for Haigh."
"In the following season we reached the semi-final, and Wigan beat us by forty odd points. I had been ill just before and I did not play, but took the part of umpire. One of the best men I opposed in my younger days on the football field was Tom Laws, of Widnes, father of the three-quarter who assisted Widnes last season. In 1885 some of our players joined Aspull, including Haydock and Ned Bullough, and the year after I also went to Aspull. I remember that we opened the new ground at Ince, and the late Mr. Gidlow Jackson kicked off. I scored two or three tries.
A week later Brooks, who was the wing forward, was hurt, and I was put in that position, which I always kept. My first match as a forward was against Kendal, and "Buff" Berry and Billy Cross were the half-backs against us. "Daff" Hulme was one of our half-backs, and although we were both small I think we generally held our ground.
"In that season we won the West Lancashire and Border Towns championship. We beat Tyldesley in one of the rounds by a small score, and in the final we defeated Wigan by 20 points to one. We were the first to beat Barrow when they held an unbeaten record for a long time, and in that game they had the assistance of Abbott, a Wiganer, who played at full-back. Barrow had two fine players in Gregory and Forshaw. I played against Dicky Lockwood, and when we opposed Leeds Parish Church the Goldthorpes were beginning to play. I also figured against them when they joined Hunslet. I played against Wigan in the final for the West Lancashire championship at St. Helens, and they beat us rather easily. Wigan had then begun to take some of our players."
Asked if he ever played for anyone else after he joined Aspull, Mr. Croston replied in the negative, but he said on three successive Saturdays, when Haigh were at Clifton, Pendleton and Pendlebury respectively, the Swinton officials approached him and tried to induce him to play for them, but he refused to leave Haigh. "On one occasion when Aspull went to play Mossley the people shouted as we were going to the ground, "They pulled the Lions' tails last week and they'll pull yours this." We, however, defeated them by a goal to three tries. We had scored several tries but they were all disallowed, though towards the end of the game Ellis Baxendale got over near the corner from a line out. It looked long odds against a goal being kicked, as there was a very strong wing blowing across the ground and the position was near the touch line. Pilkington, who took the shot, kicked towards the centre of the field, and allowing for the wind beautifully, he placed a remarkable goal which won the match. One of our supporters was so excited that he threw his hat up and he never saw it again." "Perhaps he did not allow for the wind," suggested the interviewer.
Once after playing wing forward against the Widnes half-back, Laws, the latter said to Croston: "You have tackled me oftener than I have ever been tackled before." A humorous incident occurred in a match against Wigan second once. Croston had scored a try, but he omitted to make a mark on the line opposite the place where he had grounded, as required by rule in those days, and Jack Anderton rushed at him and tackled him. He threw the scorer down on the ball which burst. The game had to be stopped until another ball was brought. In another game at Swinton, Croston collared a wing three-quarter (who had gained International honours) near the touch line and one of the spectators exclaimed: "Heigh, George, tha maunt do that, he's an International." Mr. Croston finished his active participation in the game in 1892, and only played occasionally afterwards.
With utmost thanks of course to Mike Latham for the source material from the Wigan Examiner