We often describe a game as one of two halves and that is the perfect way to reflect on 2019. A very disappointing first six months of the calendar year followed by an exciting period between July and December, redemption almost.
The 1st January was meant to herald a new era with Reds appointing Gavin Skelton as the club’s new manager in time for the New Year’s Day fixture v. Stalybridge Celtic.
It didn’t quite go to script as we lost 2-1, had two players sent off and even our goal came via a Stalybridge player.
We expected better in Gav’s second game in charge and a battling 1-1 draw at Stafford Rangers was very acceptable in the circumstances.
Then, just minutes after the final whistle, the manager informed the chairman that he’d had a change of heart and was returning to Carlisle United. What a bombshell that one was and a strange journey home back up the M6.
So, after just six days as the manager’s assistant, Lee Andrews returned to the turmoil for the remainder of the season with Steven Rudd his assistant.
A 4-1 defeat at Gainsborough Trinity, where Kyle May started his 555th and final game for Reds, suggested there was still work to be done.
But three successive wins followed to restore hope – Bamber Bridge, Grantham Town and North Ferriby United all confidently despatched by a Reds team that looked capable of pulling clear of the drop zone. Yet we couldn’t match such consistency in the remaining fifteen games and it soon became evident we were relegation certainties.
The victory over North Ferriby was expunged from the record books, following their demise, and isolated wins at Marine and Whitby Town was all we could muster.
We ended the season with a sequence of eight consecutive defeats and the home record was even worse – nine successive losses on home soil, the most unwanted of all club records!
Even before the final day 5-1 defeat at Scarborough Athletic, Lee Andrews had said he would step down and the manager’s job had been advertised again. Great credit to him, though, for serving the club with honour and dignity in difficult circumstances.
The league record between January and April was quite depressing and, of twenty matches played, Reds managed just four wins, a solitary draw and suffered fifteen painful defeats.
Josh Calvert’s headed goal v. Hyde United in March couldn’t prevent another home defeat but it was a ‘milestone’ – Workington’s 1,800th in the NPL. Sadly, Josh left the club in August.
Others who would say good-bye included long-serving groundsman, Jeff Curwen, and club legend Gari Rowntree. The latter announced his retirement in December after thirteen seasons a Red.
In May, we had an enjoyable afternoon in the sunshine for what we thought was the final match at Borough Park – a youthful Reds XI taking on an Old Boys squad.
It was great to see dozens of former players turning out to either play in the game or watch from the terraces.
Plans were in place for the new stadium project to start, with Reds due to re-locate to Derwent Park on a temporary basis whilst the new build was carried out.
By then, Danny Grainger, and several others, had been interviewed for the manager’s job and, the former Hearts and Carlisle United defender was unanimously appointed.
Within days, he had begun to sort out his inherited squad with numerous comings and goings taking place. The new era was underway.
At the end of June, the players reported for pre-season training with plenty of ‘new faces’ in the group. But, a few days later, we suffered another body blow with the council announcing that they weren’t going ahead with the new stadium project so no new ground for Reds, or Town, and no RL World Cup matches for the area in 2021.
Borough Park, by then, was in need of much remedial work to get it ship-shape for the start of the season and, thanks to the efforts of an army of volunteers and unexpected expense to the club, the ‘old lady’ was ready.
Thankfully, the football side of the operation was running like clockwork with one of the best pre-seasons ever and some encouraging signs from the friendlies suggesting there was room for optimism.
Some of our ‘aging performers’ from last season had been replaced by a number of talented youngsters, and Danny’s team was taking shape. Wins against the usual suspects in pre-season was expected but it was the performances at Barrow and Radcliffe that caught the eye and hinted that something special was about to happen.
And we kicked off our 33rd season of NPL football on a sunny August afternoon but displayed a little anxiety, naturally, in the opener against Pickering Town. The coveted first win was obtained and that prompted a four-month stint as league leaders as the new team evolved.
There were a few setbacks and, no doubt, will be many more in the second half of the season but, generally, Danny and he boys have restored club pride with some outstanding performances and winning more games in the first half of the campaign than the entirety of last season.
The period between August and December was much more enjoyable with the eighteen league games producing twelve victories, four draws and two defeats. With cup games thrown in, Reds played forty-eight matches winning twenty-three, losing nineteen and playing out six draws. The goal ratio, in our favour, was 85 – 63.
December proved to be a great month with five victories recorded from five games played including four in the league with Reds scoring four times in each.
During the course of the year Reds handed contrasting debuts to players at different ends of their respective careers. At 38, Garry Thompson became one of the oldest outfield debutants while 16 years old Aidan Howarth became one of the youngest.
We have scored some cracking goals during the last twelve months with Dav Symington’s second v. Prescot Cables, Conor Tinnion’s sublime effort at Whitby, Brad Hubbold’s stunner at Leek and Scott’s memorable 100th, all goal of the year contenders.
Nathan Waterston was Reds leading scorer in the calendar year with two hat-tricks in his tally of 13 but it was Scott Allison’s dozen that contributed to him passing a personal milestone of 100. He completed the century with a well-taken effort in the 5-1 victory over Ramsbottom United and finished the year on 107.
The twenty-seven games staged at Borough Park attracted an aggregate attendance of 11,370 with the 689 gate for the final home game of last season the best of the year.
An eventful 2019 and, most certainly, one of two halves! Several former Workington heroes left us during 2019 and our condolences were sent to the families of: Kit Napier, Bobby Brown, Bill Robson, George McLean, Jimmy Fleming and Rex Dunlop. RIP