Chapter 15 – 1897/98
After the traumatic events of the previous season, Workington entered 1897/98 needing to get back on track. They started with more or less the same set of players, including the two Smiths, John and Robert, whose form following their joining the club from Black Diamonds had been one of the few highlights of the previous twelve months. However, the new season was to be, almost, the last hurrah for Harry Landells.
The Senior League now comprised of just six teams, with Harrington joining the five clubs who had managed to finish the previous year. One of the features of the season was, with the exception of Harrington, how close the results were. Harrington became the whipping boys, but no Reds game against any of the other teams finished with more than a two-goal winning margin.
The season opened with a 3-1 win at Moss Bay on the 11th September, with two goals from John Smith and a third from Waite. The Workington team that started the season was:
McGuirk: Casson, Claridge, Dawson, Harwood, Small, J. Smith, R. Smith, Spedding, Swift and Waite.
The following week Landells took the place of the injured Casson, and promptly got himself sent-off! However, a hat-trick from Harwood still managed to steer the ten men to a 3-2 home win over Frizington White Star.
On the 25th September Workington should have been opening their FA Cup campaign, at home, against Clitheroe. However, they waited in vain for their opponents to arrive, until finally a message came through to say that Clitheroe had managed to miss their train connection at Carlisle and had now gone home! Clitheroe at least did the decent thing and gave Workington a walkover to the next round.
A 2-0 home win over the Black Diamonds preceded the date for the next round of the cup, which was another home tie, this time against Stalybridge Rovers. On this occasion the Reds opponents didn’t miss their train, they simply never got on it! A telegram arrived on the day of the match to say that Stalybridge had withdrawn, giving Workington yet another bye.
Harrington were then hammered 6-0, before, on the 23rd October, Workington suffered their first loss of the season, a 2-0 home defeat in the return against Moss Bay. Their cause wasn’t helped by Harwood missing a penalty. It then transpired that, despite nothing having been said at the time, Reds player James Dawson had been reported by the referee for using ‘unsavoury language’ during the match. His vehement denials cut no ice with the League Committee, who promptly suspended him for a month from the 8th November!
The Reds then managed to actually play an FA Cup match, having been drawn at home to Blackburn Park Road on the 30th October in the 3rd Qualifying Round. The resulting 1-1 draw meant that Workington had to travel to Blackburn the following week for the replay. The sides still couldn’t be separated, so a second replay was required. This took place at Lancaster on Monday 8th November, and resulted in a 3-0 defeat.
The following Saturday the Reds were at Keswick for a league match and found themselves with a manpower shortage. Regular number one McGuirk was injured, so Joe Harpwood came out of retirement, twelve years after making his Workington debut, and was pressed into service as an emergency keeper. With Dawson suspended and a number of other injuries, Workington could only field ten men, and in the circumstances the 2-2 draw was a creditable result.
On the 20th November Workington entered the Amateur Cup for the first time, and were drawn at home to Mickley, who came from ‘a small hamlet, south of the River Tyne in Northumberland’. One can only imagine how the players felt as news filtered through of John Fisher’s death earlier that day. Again fielding only ten men, Workington lost 2-0.
Following an 8-0 walkover against Harrington in the return league match, Workington organised a benefit match for John Fisher’s parents. The match took place, at the Ashfield ground, on the 11th December, with the opponents being local rivals Moss Bay. There was a decent attendance, which was good, but what happened in the game, considering the occasion, was nothing less than disgraceful. There was considerable ill-feeling throughout the match, and frequent outbreaks of fighting involving both players and spectators. The referee could have sent-off any number of players, or even abandoned the game, but contented himself with dismissing just one Moss Bay player. For scenes like that to occur on such an occasion defies belief. For the record, Workington won 7-0!
At the start of the new year Workington finished the league campaign by winning their last three matches, 3-1 at Frizington, 3-2 at Black Diamonds, and 3-1 at home against Keswick. Having dropped just three points in their ten matches, Workington finished at the top of the table, and had regained the league title.
The focus now switched to the local cup competitions.
The format for the County Cup had changed, with the early rounds now being played over two legs. After receiving a bye in the first round, Workington were drawn to play Blencathra in the second. The first leg was played as Ashfield on the 29th January, and the Reds won easily enough by five goals to nil. Having done the hard work at home, the second leg, played a week later, saw Workington go one better and score six without reply, thus reaching the semi-final by an aggregate score of 11-0.
The Town Championship was again organised as a mini-league involving the Reds, Black Diamonds and Moss Bay. Workington’s first match in the tournament was at home against the Diamonds, and two goals from Claridge saw them get off to a winning start.
A week later the same two sides met again, this time in the County Cup semi-final, the game being played on Moss Bay’s ground. Workington again prevailed, this time by 4-0, and advanced to yet another County Cup Final.
The fixtures then dictated that Workington and Moss Bay were to meet each other on three consecutive Saturdays, which, considering the scenes at John Fisher’s benefit match, was an obvious cause for concern.
The first of these matches, at Ashfield in the Town Championship, seemed to go off without incident, and resulted in a straightforward 3-1 win for Workington.
The following Saturday, March 26th, saw the teams meet at Cleator in the County Cup Final. The weather on the day wasn’t great, and the wind and freezing temperature ensured that the game took place in front of a very small crowd. Workington were on top throughout, and goals from Claridge, George and Harwood gave them a 3-1 win, and their eighth County Cup Final triumph.
Workington’s team in the final was:
McGuirk: Dawson, Steele, Swift, Waite, Wildgoose, Claridge, George, R. Smith, Harwood and J. Smith.
The third instalment of the Workington/Moss Bay trilogy was the return Town Championship fixture, at Moss Bay, on the 2nd April. Once again, the players couldn’t contain themselves, and the ill feeling between the sides re-surfaced. Following one particular bout of first-half fisticuffs a Moss Bay forward and McGuirk, Workington’s keeper, received their marching orders. Waite took over in goal, but was replaced at half-time by Landells. When the dust had settled, goals from Harwood and Robert Smith gave the Reds a 2-1 win. This meant that, whatever happened in their final fixture against Black Diamonds, Workington had won their third trophy of the season. At a League disciplinary hearing on the 23rd April, McGuirk was suspended until the 14th September for his part in the trouble.
As it happened, Workington lost their last match in the Town Championship, 3-1 at Black Diamonds. Not that it mattered.
The Reds completed their season by taking part in another new Workington-based tournament. This was the Infirmary Shield, which was introduced to raise funds for the local hospital. Workington were drawn against Black Diamonds, with the winners to face Moss Bay in the final. The match took place on Moss Bay’s ground on the 23rd April, and at the end of ninety minutes the score stood at one goal each, with Workington’s goal being recorded as an own goal. Not for the first, or last, time, chaos reigned! The crowd, and the referee, got themselves ready for the expected extra-time, but the players thought otherwise and simply walked off, got changed, and went home. Workington then scratched from the tournament, saying a number of their players would be unable to leave work in time to take part in a replay, leaving Moss Bay to beat the Black Diamonds 2-1 in the Final.
So, the season, which had not been without its issues, concluded with Workington once again completing the treble by retaining the County Cup and regaining both the League title and the Town Championship.