History of the BSF Tennis League

(Taken with acknowledgements to the Bolton Sports Federation Centenary Booklet, printed by Novaprint Services, Printset House, Eagle Street, Bolton BL2 2BU 1990)

The Bolton Sunday Schools' Social League had been in existence for 32 years before a Tennis Competition was incorporated into the organization in 1922.

Early minutes of the Executive Committee, which at that time was under the Chairmanship of Mr J W McCann indicate that there was only a limited interest in the formation of a competition in 1921.However, the efforts of Mr E Y Kitchen and Mr J Crabtree resulted in the formation of the League in the following year.

Although there was a small financial loss in the first year, there were never any serious problems, and the trophy presented by Councillor J P Holt JP, prior to the 1923 season, continues to be awarded to to the Champions of the 1st Division of the Mixed League.

The Executive Committee of the Federation has always been represented on the Tennis Committee, with the responsibility falling to Edith McCann, Bertha Reynolds and Miss Manning in the early days. Currently the representatives are the President, Ian Worsley, together with the former stalwarts of the League, William Crankshaw and Ernest Stephenson.

The eight clubs that formed the first competition were situated in various districts of Bolton and the matches were played on the traditional home and away basis. In the erly days each team consisted of 6 gents and four ladies who played 2 gents doubles sets, 2 mixed doubles sets and one ladies doubles set. When the system changed to 9 gents doubles sets and four ladies doubles sets in the 1940's, it precluded clubs that only had one court.

From the outset, matches were played on Tuesday evenings and if that night was wet, then they were played or completed on the Thursday. Rivalry has always been very keen, but in spite of this, the competition was dominated for the first nine seasons by the then named Harwood Wesleyans, who won the Holt Shield and the accompanying trophies for the whole of that time.. In 1931, St. Thomas's broke the sequence, but the title returned to the Wesleyans in 1932 and again in 1933, when they were renamed Harwood Longsight Methodists. It is interesting to note that both these clubs are still members of the league, although Longsight Methodists have never won the Holt Shield again. During the remainder of the 1930's, St. Augustine's proved to be the team to beat, bu their dominance was less marked and St. Bedes, Bradshaw SS and St. Thomas's were able to glory in championship victories.

The Committee strove hard to keep the competition alive in the 1940's, but at the end of the 1943 season it was decided to suspend activities for the duration of the war.. However, the winners in 1942, Tonge Moor Congregational, took the title again when the League was resumed in 1947 and continued to retain the title until 1968, with the exception of 1951 when it was won by the Bee Hive TC. Tonge Moor regained the title for one last time in 1973 and it will be extremely difficult for any team to beat the record of 24 victories.

The competition was in a very healthy state in the 1930's and a second division was formed in 1933, for which the Dobson Cup became the coveted Trophy, and in 1937, a third division was introduced to compete for the Shaw Shield.

Also in 1933, Mrs J Chadwick who was a most generous benefactor for many of the Sunday School League competitions, presented a silver cup to the Tennis Section. It was named the Cecil Cup in honour of her son, and it was to be competed for annually by all the teams in the organisation on a handicap. Knock-out basis. The first winners were, guess who, Harwood Longsight Methodists, but they have only been able to emulate that success on one further occasion in1951.

A further development took place in 1935, when it was decided that teams from industry should be allowed to play in the competition. 1950 saw the first non-Sunday School team win a trophy when Bee Hive TC 'B' took the Dobson Cup. The Cecil Cup continued to be dominated by Sunday School teams until 1969, with single isolated victories up to that date by Glen View, Tootals, Hawkshaw, Walker Institute and Heaton Village Club.

Like many other organisations, the competition suffered as a result of the war when many of its players made the supreme sacrifice. Also in keeping with other sporting activities, there was a re-establishment of the sport in the late 1940's followed by an enthusiastic expansion in the 1950's when a 4th and a 5th division were introduced.. There was some contraction in the 1960's, before further expansion following the introduction of the Mens League in 1971. This involved 6 gents per team so that a match consisted of 9 gents doubles sets, while the new style Mixed League changed to 4 gents and 4 ladies per team who play 4 mixed doubles sets, 4 mens doubles sets and 4 ladies doubles sets..

Inter-league matches were played against the Walkden and Leigh Leagues in the early days and more recently, Tameside, Oldham, and South-west Manchester provided the opposition. However, the involvement of clubs in county and national competitions, with some outstanding successes, has resulted in the cessation of inter-league fixtures.

A Junior Competition was inaugurated in 1961 and it has operated with varying degrees of success since that date. A second division was introduced in 1985, and a third division in this Centenary Year.

The individual knock-out competition has gone from strength to strength and is now played annually at the Bolton School Courts. It is an undoubted attraction to tennis enthusiast throughout the town by virtue of the excellent tennis and the spectator socialising opportunity. The competition owes a great debt to Bill Crankshaw for his efforts over many years, and also to the referees in more recent years, namely Richard Latham, Leila Ashworth, Marjorie Marks and Alan Scholes. The new venue involves a lot more organisational work and the efforts of Gordon Ashworth and Raymond Nowell have been outstanding.

Many of the competitors in recent years have proved themselves good enough to play for the county at various levels, but only Martin Robinson can look back at Wimbledon successes. It will also be difficult for the more recent stars, such as Steve Denner, Martin Coyne and Lisa Cartwright to erase the memories of some of the older players. These include Alf Brooks, Bill Howarth, Eddie Shepherd and Harry Alllen of Longsight. Sid Lee and Bert Shuttleworth of Harwood CC; Kathleen Winterburn and Nellie Jones of St Augustine's; Marcus Harrison of Bridge Street Meths, Clarence Longworth of St Helens Road Methodists, the Greenhalghes of Baradshaw SS; the Abbots of Blackburn Road Congregational; John Colley and Lucy Shuttleworth of Bee Hive and probably the best known of all Norman Lowe, Olive Heywood and the Smethurst's of Tonge Moor Congregational, with Alice and the twins, Fred and Alf dominating the League for such a long period.

With many more people now playing in the competition, the task of identifying individual stalwarts of the past three decades is not easy, John Kershaw, David Knowles, Joan Peacock and Christine Glassbrook have been prominent for St. Thomas's while Raymond and Barbara Knowell, and Brian and Barbara Cain have underpinned the success of Bank Top for whom Bill Horrocks has worked hard over many years. Louise Hopkinson and Diane O'Brien have served Bolton Cricket Club loyally and Hawksaw have been indebted to Roger and Vera Haydock.

Alan Prince has ensured a continuing high standard at Longsight, ably supported by other league officials, Beverley Gregory and Janet Pendlebury, as well as Jean Gerrard and the Platt family. Over the years, Walkers have probably gain more runners-up awards than anybody, thanks to people like the Marks', the Bowden's, the Kirkbright's and Roger Baron. However, the playing abilty of individuals such as Geoff Cooper, Arthur Radcliffe, Phil Shacklady, Geoff Harris, Fred Wadsworth and the relatively new regime from Holcombe Brook Sports Club, typify the high playing standards that exist in bredth throughout the Competition.

Any summary of the League would be incomplete without a tribute to the officers who have organised the Competition in a virtually trouble free style since its inception. Jack Demaine of All Souls was the first Chairman, followed by Alf Miller of St. Thomas's. Since 1937, there have been only three Chairmen, with Frank Shaw performing the duty in a dedicated manner for well over 30 years before becoming the first President of the Competition - a position he still holds. John Colley, the present Vice-president, became treasurer in 1947 and since that time he has also served as Vice-Chairman and Chairman. Additionally the work done by Jack Seddon, Frank Fearnley, and Ernest Stephenson as successive Honary Secretaries to the League for over 50 years must be respected and appreciated by all.

The match secretaryship has had many more servants, but Eric Stayton had an extended run in that office, while the present officers, Beverley Gregory and Richard Latham are equally efficient in controlling a more complex League structure.

Long service seems to have been a feature, and probably a keynote to the success of the Competition, and the present officers are no exception. The Chairman, Raymond Marks has held that office since 1977, while Gordon Ashworth has been treasurer since 1970 and Vice-chairman since 1982 and Ruth Platt has been Secretary since 1975.

Only two of the present clubs were founder members of the League, namely Longsight Methodists and St. Thomas's with five others having been members for over half of the League's life. These are Harwood Christ Church, Bolton Cricket Club (formally Bee Hive TC), Walker Institute (now Walker Leisure)

Bank Top, Lostock, Markland Hill, Meadow Hill, Bradshaw and Ellesmere were well established clubs who joined the League at a later stage, but now contribute extensively as do Hawkshaw, Holcombe Brook Sports Club and Leigh Cricket Club. Many other clubs joined the competition for a limited period of time and it is hoped that many of the 'newer' clubs in the league will be able to participate for many years to come. These include Bolton Road, J & J Hayes, Monton, Christ Church Walmersley, Bolton South College, Windsor, Walkden, Walmer, Vale House and Bamford.