Chapter 11 – 1894/95
The season 1894/95 was the season that football in Cumberland finally came of age. After four years of the largely unofficial, and often ignored, Association League, competitive football was placed on an official footing. The County Association took responsibility for the introduction of the Cumberland League which included virtually all of the clubs in the county who were playing under Association rules.
The league was split into two divisions, the Senior League for the most prominent clubs, and the Junior League for the rest. Workington duly took their place in the eight-team Cumberland Senior League alongside the three other Workington based teams, Moss Bay, Black Diamonds and Imperial Rovers, as well as Carlisle City, Keswick, Wigton Harriers and Cockermouth Crusaders.
At a League Committee meeting the week before the season opened a list of players registered with each club was released. Workington had no less than forty-seven players on their books, far and away the biggest number of any club.
Missing from the list were W. Croall, D (W) Durnion, E. Gardner, T. Hawkins and C. Spooner, who had all been regulars in the side. More long-standing players were to leave during the season as the club moved into a new era.
The season opened on the 15th September with an away match against Imperial Rovers. Illness meant that both of the Browns were missing from the first two league matches, so Guirdham was pressed into action as an emergency keeper. Additionally, Harry Landells was missing through injury. Despite these setbacks the Reds opened their league campaign with a 5-2 win against the Rovers, and, the following week, a 2-0 home win over Carlisle City.
The Workington team that lined up against Imperial Rovers was:
Guirdham: Bell, Claridge, Jones, Mason, Murray, Patterson, Price, Swift Topping and Waite. The goals were scored by Claridge (2, 1 pen), Bell, Patterson and Topping.
The third league match was an away fixture against the ever-improving Black Diamonds. A missed penalty by Claridge meant that the Reds had to settle for a 1-1 draw, one of only three league points they were to drop all season. Another point was dropped in the return against Carlisle City before the FA Cup campaign took centre stage.
In the first qualifying round Workington received a home tie against Oswaldtwistle Rovers. The 13th October was a red-letter day in the history of the club as, for first time, and after eight years of trying, they managed to win a match in the FA Cup! A penalty by Hothy Brown, and a second goal by Swift, saw them victorious by the odd goal in three.
An excellent 5-1 away league win at Moss Bay preceded the next round of the cup.
Workington’s reward for beating Oswaldtwistle was another home tie, against Heywood Central, in the second qualifying round. Typically, after waiting so long for a first win in the tournament, two come along at once! Preparations for the match were hardly ideal as, at kick-off time, the Reds only had nine men – Landells arrived late due to a family illness, and Jones had lost his kit! Despite this, goals from Hamilton (2), Landells and James saw Workington victorious by four goals to nil.
After continuing on their winning ways in the league, with comfortable victories over Imperial Rovers, Keswick and Wigton, Workington prepared for their next cup opponents, Rossendale. However, the match never took place as Rossendale decided not to make the trip to Ashfield, and the Reds received a bye to the heady heights of the 4th Qualifying Round.
The 4th Qualifying Round was the last round before the competition proper, and a win would give Workington a place in the hat with the country’s major clubs for the first time.
The draw saw Workington paired, at home, with Southport Central, the club that had knocked them out of the competition twelve months earlier. Workington’s form couldn’t have been better, and, being drawn at home, the large crowd who turned up had high hopes. The match, which took place on the 15th December, was described as being ‘of a very high standard’, with the Reds ‘playing well up to their best form’.
Workington took the lead through Claridge and had several other chances. However, Southport equalised, and the one all draw meant a replay, at Southport, on the following Wednesday. Sadly, that was the end of the road, as Southport turned it on to win 5-0.
It was heart-breaking to think that, had the Reds managed to get through, they had been drawn to face Everton, the current leaders of the Football League, at home, in the First Round proper! What a boost for both the Reds, and Cumberland football in general, that would have been.
The Reds side that faced Southport at home was:
T. Brown: H. Brown, Bell, Claridge, Guirdham, Hamilton, Landells, Murray, Price, Swift and Waite. In the replay Deakin replaced Guirdham.
Putting their FA Cup disappointment aside, the Reds continued on their winning ways in the League, scoring goals galore as they cruised toward the league title.
However, by this time, Workington had lost one of the most colourful characters to have played for the club in their relatively short history:
Hotham ‘Hothy’ Brown was in the line-up for Workington’s first recorded match, in 1885, and had been more or less a regular every year since then. He missed the 1886 County Cup Final but played at full-back in the next six and gained County representative honours in both 1890/91 and 1891/92. ‘Hothy’ was, as were a lot of his contempories, an all-round sportsman, being equally at home playing under Association or Rugby rules. He played at both full-back and at centre for Workington Rugby club, and, during the season, split his Saturdays between the two games. This restricted the number of matches he played during his time with the Reds. He was a feisty character and received a year’s ban from playing Rugby in the 1893/94 season for various indiscretions. It was announced in October that he was moving to live in Carlisle and had signed to play football for Carlisle City and rugby for the local Hornets. Ironically, his last league match for the Reds was in the 1-1 draw at Carlisle City on the 6th October. He did however agree to assist the Reds in that season’s FA Cup and was an ever-present in the four matches played. His leaving meant the loss of another link to the club’s formation, but he had served them well.
The Reds quest to regain County Cup honours began in mid-February, with a comfortable 4-2 home win against Wigton Harriers in the second round, having been given a bye in the first. The semi-final paired them with the Black Diamonds, who were rapidly taking over the mantle from Moss Bay of being the biggest thorn in Workington’s side.
The two clubs had already met in two closely fought league games, with Black Diamonds holding the Reds to a 1-1 draw in September, and Workington scraping home by the only goal of the match in January’s return at Ashfield. The semi-final, to be held on Moss Bay’s ground, was expected to be equally close. In fact, the reports of the match said that the Diamonds did everything but win, and Workington could count themselves extremely lucky to get a two-all draw.
Most people thought that the Diamonds had missed their chance to win, and that Workington, who couldn’t play as badly again, were favourites to come through the following Thursday’s replay. Sadly, how wrong they were. Workington were simply overrun and were hammered to the tune of 5-2.
So, after dominating the County Cup for so many years, Workington had failed to even reach the final for the third year running.
The final competitive tournament of the season was the staging of the second instalment of the Workington Town Championship. In the semi-finals the Reds were drawn against Moss Bay, and required a reply to reach the final, where they were, once again, to meet the Black Diamonds, who had beaten Distington in the other semi-final by the odd goal in five.
Before the final took place, Workington played their final league match of the season, winning 3-0 at Keswick. The club had therefore won the inaugural Senior League title at a canter. They were unbeaten in their fourteen matches, dropping just three points in draws with Black Diamonds, Carlisle City and Moss Bay. In addition, they had scored no less than fifty-seven goals and conceded just nine. Worthy winners indeed.
The final of the Town Championship took place on the 1st May, and was the last match of what had been a long season. Black Diamonds again proved to be Workington’s nemesis as far as cup competitions go, as, despite a Harpwood goal, they won the trophy by beating the Reds 2-1.
So, despite disappointments in the local cup competitions, the season, as far as Workington were concerned, had been highly successful. They had proved that, over an elongated league campaign, they were the best club in the county by far. Additionally, they had broken their FA Cup hoodoo, and come within a whisker of taking on the biggest, strongest club in the country at that time. Once again, a number of the club’s players gained representative honours for the county, with Tom Brown, Claridge and Landells playing against Cheshire in October, and Waite joining those three in playing against Northumberland in December.
At the end of the season it was seriously suggested that Workington, Moss Bay and Black Diamonds should amalgamate, and form a club capable of applying for membership of the Football League! Whilst Workington were said to be in favour, the other two clubs declined, fearing that they would simply be swallowed up by the much bigger club, especially as the proposal was that the new club be called Workington, and that they were to play in Red!