Ashton United may be small in stature when compared with some of the other clubs founded in 1878, but they still have a rich history. Founded in the village of Hurst, which already boasted several teams of a good standard in the 1870s, the club began life as Hurst FC – the first recorded game found to date was played in early 1879 against Hurst Red Star; the current Hurst Cross ground was first used by the club on September 27th, 1884, making it one of football’s oldest surviving venues.
Hurst entered the FA Cup as early as 1883 (the 13th running of the competition) and reached the second round at the first time of asking, a club best equalled but never bettered since. In 1885 the club landed its first silverware after the Manchester FA started a new competition called the Manchester Cup - Hurst won the inaugural final against Newton Heath, the forerunners of the present-day Manchester United; the ground attendance record was set at Hurst Cross the same year, with over 9,000 people paying to watch the reigning FA Cup holders, Blackburn Rovers, play a Lancashire Cup tie.
Pre-World War I
The club joined the local Ashton and District League as the 19th century drew towards a close, resigning after one indifferent season to pursue membership of a new competition, the Manchester League – that proved unsuccessful, and it took until 1909 for a revitalised Hurst to be accepted into the competition. Backed by a local cotton industrialist - Alderman Kenworthy - and with James Ingham (captain and goalscorer in the 1885 Manchester Cup triumph) now a committee member, the team became an instant success on the field – only missing out on the league title when losing an end-of-season play-off. The club’s first honours of the 20th Century came in 1911 when the Manchester Junior Cup was won; that trophy was retained in 1912 to make a league and cup ‘double’ as Hurst also won the Manchester League title.
Jim Ferris held the post of club secretary (in the days before managers) – from 1909 until the mid-1920s, around which time the club switched from black and white stripes and the nickname ‘The Lambs’ to red shirts and being known as ‘The Robins’.
Hurst joined the 2nd Division of the Lancashire Combination in 1912 and won promotion to the top tier at the first attempt. In 1915 the club finished runners-up in the 1st Division before standing down from competitive action, only to resume playing in 1916-17 and win the Lancashire Combination title before standing down again until World War I ended.
Between the wars
Hurst returned to playing duties in 1918, setting a club record 13-1 victory over Marple the following year, before joining the stronger Cheshire League in the early 1920s - the next trophy wasn’t lifted until 1933, when the Manchester Junior Cup was regained after a gap of 21 years.
Hurst then went on to reach four Manchester Challenge Cup finals between 1935 and 1940, winning the trophy in 1936 and 1939. Just before the outbreak of World War II, the club secured the services of William "Dixie' Dean at the end of his glorious career – but the conflict was to deny the folk of Hurst more than a couple of glimpses of Dean's skills.
Post war struggles
Like many others, Hurst struggled on and off the field in the immediate post-war era - the change of name to Ashton United came about in 1947 but a change in fortunes did not follow. In 1948 the club failed to win re-election to the Cheshire League and re-joined the Lancashire Combination. Ashton's first post-war trophy success again came in the form of the Manchester Challenge Cup, won in 1950 and then held for three seasons from 1953 to 1955. Cup form in general was good in the 1950s as the club twice reached the first-round proper of the FA Cup, losing to Halifax Town in 1953 and in 1956 at Southport.
Floodlights were installed at Hurst Cross in 1953 and inaugurated with a 4–3 win over Wigan Athletic on 29 September of that year; club record scorer Stuart Dimond – 201 strikes in just 251 games – appropriately notched the club's first goal under lights. During the 1954–55 season Hurst Cross staged the first FA-approved floodlit competition, the Lancashire and Cheshire Floodlit Cup - Ashton United invited seven other leading clubs from the Lancashire Combination and the Cheshire County League to compete for the trophy, with all games being played at Hurst Cross; the competition ran for two seasons
The 1960s started with Ashton as holders of the Manchester Intermediate Cup and later that year the club saw the debut of its youngest ever player - and scorer - a 15-year-old schoolboy called Alan Ball - a World Cup winner just six years later. In 1961 Ashton were demoted from the First Division of the Combination despite finishing 12th - they had resigned their membership in the hope of re-joining the Cheshire League but were beaten in a vote by old foes Wigan Athletic.
Under the managership of former Scottish international Hugh Kelly, Ashton subsequently stormed to the Second Division title in 1962 – winning every home league game on the way - and taking the League Cup for good measure. 1963 saw the club win the Manchester Intermediate Cup once more, a feat repeated in 1966. The club remained in the Combination until 1964 then, after continually being frustrated in their attempts to re-join the Cheshire League, they embarked on a two-year experiment of playing in the Midland Counties League. During the 1964-65 season, Stuart Dimond - by now manager - was pressed into emergency action after an injury crisis and subsequently became the club’s oldest player and goalscorer, just short of his 44th birthday. Midlands football proved a financial disaster, and the club re-joined the Lancashire Combination (Second Division) in 1966; two seasons later they finally got their much sought-after move back to the Cheshire League, where they stayed until the North West Counties League was formed in 1982. The intervening years had seen the club twice win the Manchester Senior Cup, whilst their first season in the NWCL saw Ashton land the recently founded Manchester Premier Cup for the second time in three years.
Fall and rise
In 1984 the club sank to its lowest point as they were relegated to the Second Division of the NWCL – it took four years to win promotion back to the top (as champions) but the club – like many others following the Bradford City fire disaster - were still struggling to improve their facilities off the pitch. Local businessman Terry Liversidge came to Hurst Cross in 1990 and helped transform the club and ground; in 1992, under manager Dave Denby, Ashton became the first team to win the NWCL title and the League Cup ‘double’ in a season where they lifted four trophies, including another Manchester Premier Cup. The club established itself as a force in the Northern Premier League First Division as they finished in third place six times over ten seasons and won the First Division Cup in 1994, 1997 and 1999. The Robins also posted their best-ever FA Trophy run in 1997, with John Coleman’s side losing to Dagenham & Redbridge in the Quarter-Finals.
A new millennium
Ashton finally won promotion to the Premier Division via the inaugural NPL play-offs under Gerry Quinn’s stewardship in 2002 and also retained the Manchester Premier Cup they had won the previous season - they were to win it again in 2003 and become founder members of the Conference North in 2004, but their stay in the new league was ended after just one season.
Danny Johnson was appointed as manager towards the end of the 2006-07 season; a club record six-year tenure as Ashton’s manager brought a first ever NPL Challenge Cup victory when The Robins beat Northwich Victoria 1-0 in the 2011 final. When Johnson resigned in 2013, first team keeper Paul Phillips was promoted to joint manager alongside Steve Halford, who joined the club from Mossley, and the pair led Ashton to three successive end-of-season play-offs in 2014, 2015 and 2016, but each time losing to the team that was eventually promoted - twice by the dreaded penalty shoot-out. In 2018, under a new manager in Jody Banim, it proved fourth time lucky as Ashton earned promotion to National League North after a comfortable 2-0 win against Grantham Town in the play-off final to mark the club’s 140th anniversary in style; Ashton couldn’t retain the higher status and relegation was confirmed in April 2019, meaning a return to the Northern Premier League just as the joint chairmanship of David and Jonathan Burke (son and grandson of Ashton’s record appearance holder, Johnny Burke) had been confirmed as replacements for the outgoing Terry Hollis. In November 2019 current manager Michael Clegg was appointed but two frustrating seasons of Covid-disrupted football were soon to follow – although a decent run in the FA Trophy brought some rare highlights to the 2020-21 season. A summer of ground improvements and player recruitment now sees the club take part in its 28th season as a member of the NPL - with hopes that this one is at least played