As the Cross Cup enters its 120th year it would seem appropriate to look at the history to date. Not so much a litany of winners, this can be done at a later date, but the actual mechanics of the competition.

Association handbooks give a historical note, but there have been many changes over the years to the playing format. Donated by Mr Edward Cross, JP, the Senior Challenge Cup, to bestow its correct title, was first played for in 1889.

Subsequently, Mr Samuel Isherwood donated the Junior Challenge Cup. Both trophies are now better known by the Sponsors names. Ten clubs, Astley Bridge, Darcy Lever, Eagley, Egerton, Farnworth, Halliwell, Horwich, Horwich L&Y (Railway), Little Lever and Tonge were the first contestants.

For the first three years to 1891, the competition was run on a knock-out basis. All clubs were paired and a second round and semi-final were played necessitating byes along the way.

A cursory look at Cross Cup records show that Eagley dominated the early 20th century with nine final appearances in 12 years, which was a remarkable achievement.

However, a closer examination shows that all is not as it seems. Rather than battling through two rounds and a semi-final, during the period 1892-1920, the teams finishing first and second in the Championship played for the Cross Cup. So Eagley’s achievement was the more remarkable by maintaining a high position in the league table.

With the revamp and extension of the Association into East and West Sections, the format returned to a knock-out basis in 1921. Clubs in one section were drawn against their counterparts in the other section and drawn at random for the following rounds.

The discontent with the East/West Section saw a return to straight knock-out in 1927. Despite the loss of clubs, after the breakaway and formation of the Bolton League, this system remained until an odd change was made (1933-1936 and 1939). During these years, the teams finishing second and third in the table battled for the trophy.

Apart from the Second World War years, 1940-1945, when there was no competition unlike the Great War, the knock-out format has remained to this day.

But there have been significant changes. In order to avoid long-drawn out games, the 1939 competition introduced a rule stating the team batting first should suspend their innings at 130 unless eight wickets had fallen. Likewise, the second batting side, unless bowled out.

The former’s innings shall then be continued until completed, likewise the latter’s. This was discontinued after 1952. An added complication during 1947 was that the first round also counted as a league match.

The years 1953-1958 saw two-legged Cross Cup finals, the match won on aggregate runs.

In 1969, the 12 senior members of the First Division were augmented with four clubs from the Second Division chosen on merit. The chosen three or four clubs would enjoy the limelight until 1990 when the Second Division was staged for the last time.

With the influx of Manchester Association clubs into the Association recently, five new clubs will be striving to add their name to the list of 37 past winners.