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The Original Reds

Chapter 1 – 1884/85 

Workington AFC as we know it was founded in 1921. Even with the numerous ups and downs that have occurred since then we are basically supporting the same club that first saw the light of day a hundred years ago. However, there is another part to the story, and one about which little has been recorded. Between 1884 and 1911 another Workington AFC, also known as the ‘Reds’, existed and flourished in the town. This club, until it’s sad and untimely demise, was the direct forerunner of the club we know today. In fact, had this original club not existed then there would have been nothing to resurrect and develop into the club we know, support and love today. 

After many hours of research, the story of the ‘Original Reds’ can now be told. 

In the mid-1880s Football played under the Association code, as opposed to what we know as Rugby, was taking off in a big way throughout most of England and Scotland. The FA Cup in England was in its twelfth year, the Scottish Cup had been going since 1874, and full Internationals involving the four home countries had been played annually since the first England/Scotland match in 1872. 

Virtually every town and village throughout the land had an ‘Association’ team, and local and County Cup competitions were springing up everywhere. The one exception being Cumberland. 

Unlike the rest of the country, the reporting of sport in the county at this time was sparse, with what coverage there was concentrating on Rugby, with other column inches devoted to the organised ‘sports’ of hunting otters, foxes, rabbits and hares, and the shooting of pigeons and sparrows. The one sport that hardly got a mention at all was ‘Association’ football. This was hardly surprising as there were few matches played under these rules in the county, and what matches there were tended to involve rugby players who fancied a go at ‘the dribbling game’. 

It should also be remembered that the world was a very different place nearly a century and a half ago. There were no motorways, and little transport at all that wasn’t horse-drawn. If the far North-West of England can sometimes seem a bit isolated now, it certainly was then. 

It was into this landscape that Workington Association Football Club, soon to become the major power in the area, took its first tentative steps. 

The exact details of the club’s formation are a little uncertain. Certainly, the relocation to the area from Sheffield, a major footballing hotspot, of the Charles Cammel steelworks, together with hundreds of its employees, raised the profile of the game. Indeed, one of those who moved to the area, Frederick J. Hayes, was a major exponent of the game, and he certainly played for Workington in their first two cup finals. 

Hayes had previously lived in Dronfield in Derbyshire, and the first mention of any Association games involving Workington comes in a very short report of a match that took place in January 1884. This match, which ended goalless, was said to have been between Workington (Dronfield) and Wigton. It is not known if Fred Hayes played in the match, but the name of the team certainly indicates his influence. The only other mention of a game in that season relates to Workington (Dronfield) losing 2-0 in March in an away game at Distington Lillyhall Wanderers.  

So, was this the origins of Workington AFC? Perhaps not, as in the West Cumberland Times dated 4th October 1884, at the end of a small article in the local news section relating to Workington Rugby Club, the following appeared; 

‘A new club has been formed under Association Rules, principally of those living in the Westfield district, and a practise ground has been obtained in the upper part of the town’ 

This therefore indicates that the matches earlier that year involving Workington (Dronfield) related to a different club, and the club as we know it was founded in October 1884. That is how it seems until we move on to March 1886, when further evidence comes to light. An article in the Times of 20th March that year, relating to a match played the previous week, states; 

‘Dronfield (Workington) were invited to Whitehaven to give them a lesson in the dribbling art and for their supporters to witness a game under Association rules’.  

It was further mentioned that a return match had been arranged for the following week. The Workington we know did indeed play a home fixture against Whitehaven the following Saturday. This therefore gives credence to the fact that Workington and Workington (Dronfield) were one and the same club, and were indeed playing matches in early 1884, some months before the announced official formation.  Additionally, it was not unusual for the club to also be referred to as Workington (Association) to distinguish them from the rugby club. 

So, back to 1884. 

Following the announcement in the paper, there were no more mentions of Workington until December of 1884 when a letter was published from a Wigton Athletic supporter calling himself ‘The Black Un’! In this letter the author bemoaned the fact that Wigton had travelled to Carlisle for a fixture, only for the Carlisle team not to turn up. There was severe criticism of Carlisle for breaking the fixture, a warning to other clubs not to play them, and a line saying – ‘(this was) a good deal worse than the Carlisle men subjected the Workington club to the other Saturday, who were expecting them until they sent a telegram on the day of the match to say the Carlisle team could not fulfil the engagement’. 

Only two actual match reports appeared during the season, relating to a 4-3 home win over Wigton on the 28th February, and a 5-1 home win over Distington exactly a month later. However as these were described as ‘return fixtures’, both teams were played earlier in the season. It is also known that a new year’s match was played against Barrow (3-5), and an away match against Keswick (1-0). All matches were friendlies. 

The aforementioned Frederick Hayes was listed in having played in both the reported matches, showing a further link with the name Dronfield. 

The team that played in the 4-3 win over Wigton was shown as: 

Mayers: T. Biltcliffe, H. Brown, T. Botham, J. Harpwood, H. Harrison, F. Hayes, A. Holmes (captain), L. Kay, H. Taylor, Wearwood. 

For the win over Distington Mayers, H. Brown, Kay and Wearwood were replaced by A. Guirdham (goal), E. Brown, A. Morewood, and E. Wildgoose. 

It was often the case that no goal scorers were credited (as in the above matches), and the spelling and initials of the players varied widely from week to week. Goals were described as ‘being rushed through’ or ‘as a result of a scrimmage’. In addition, playing positions were very fluid, and a forward could quite easily be playing in goal the following week. 

The rules of the game were also much different. There were no goal-nets, no such thing as penalties, and if a goalkeeper was holding the ball he could be charged through the posts and a goal was allowed. 

To be continued……… 

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