Chapter 18 – 1900/01
The season proper started on the 15th September with a Senior League fixture at the Reds Ashfield home ground against another Workington based side, Black Diamonds. It was hardly an auspicious start with Reds losing three nil!
The Reds line-up for the opening game being:
Dawson: Brown, R. Clark, Crozier, Donnelly, Harwood, Hullock, Mason, McBride, J. Smith and Waite
The Cumberland Senior league now consisted of eleven teams; three from Workington (the Reds, Black Diamonds and Moss Bay) two from Carlisle (Shaddongate – soon to become Carlisle United – and Red Rose), together with Keswick, Wigton, Keekle, Cockermouth, Frizington and West Seaton.
The Reds managed to lose four of their first eight league games, including a remarkable match at home to Keswick on the 13th October which illustrates the rather shambolic nature of the game at that time. Reds only had nine men when the game started in what was described as awful weather. Things went from bad to worse, and Keswick romped into a four-nil lead. Shortly after the fourth goal went in the home crowd started to get on the players’ backs, and at this point the Reds star player, Bill Harwood, promptly walked off the pitch, put his coat on, and went home! Clearly a bit of a volatile character (having already been sent off in an earlier league match against Wigton) Harwood was subsequently suspended for two weeks by the league.
Results began to improve (helped by the return of Claridge from illness and Dick Smith from Black Diamonds), and from November until March the Reds won nine of their next eleven league matches, scoring no less than sixty-nine goals in the process! This included a 14-1 win at West Seaton, and a club league record (which still stands) 17-1 win at home against Cockermouth Crusaders on the 19th January. Nine different players, including goalkeeper Dawson, scored against Cockermouth, with only wingers Claridge and J. Smith missing out. Centre forward Wood found the net five times, helping him to finish the season as top scorer. However, to put things into context, the Crusaders only had nine men, the match was played in terrible weather, and the local paper described it as a farce. Typical of Workington, when the return match was played in March Cockermouth won 3-0!
Another big win was an 8-0 thrashing of Keekle in January, when it was noted that Workington’s keeper, Pratt, wore his overcoat throughout the match to keep warm, and only touched the ball twice in the whole eighty minutes (the ref, feeling sorry for the opposition, stopped the game ten minutes early).
Having put themselves in pole position to win the league the Reds then shot themselves in the foot by winning only one of their final five league games, and they only finished second. To make matters worse West Seaton resigned from the league in March and their results, including the Reds beating them 14-1 and 3-1, were expunged from the records. Sounds familiar.
The FA Cup campaign got off to an inauspicious start at Moss Bay in September when, again, the Reds only turned up with nine men and full back Brown had to start in goal. A spectator was recruited to bring them up to ten, and they managed to scrape home 4-3. The ‘spectator’ who went in goal was in fact ex-Reds goalkeeper Tom Brown, who had last played for Workington in 1895, and had recently returned from South Africa.
After beating Keswick 2-1 away in the next round the Reds were drawn at home against Rochdale in the third qualifying round. Clearly not fancying the trip Rochdale sent a telegram saying they wouldn’t be coming. The FA Cup run ended in the next round when the Reds travelled to Southport Central, not for the first time, and lost 2-0.
The County Cup was still a big competition at this time, and, after the previous year’s disappointment, the Reds were keen to win it again. The early rounds were played over two legs, and, after getting a bye in the first-round, wins over Arlecdon Red Rose (12-3 on aggregate) and Black Diamonds (11-5 on aggregate) saw the Reds into the final against Shaddongate. The match was played at Keswick on the 27 April where, in front of fifteen hundred spectators, and despite a Dick Smith goal, Reds were beaten 3-1.
The Workington team in the final was:
Pratt: Brown, R. Clark, Crozier, Mason, Swift, J. Smith, Harwood, R. Smith, Wood and Claridge
They did win one trophy that year, the long-forgotten Workington Town Championship. The previous season the three Workington clubs, the Reds, Black Diamonds and Moss Bay, had played each other twice home and away, with the overall winner taking the spoils. However, the Reds and the Black Diamonds had each finished with five points from their four games, so a play-off was required. This was held over to this season, and on Christmas Day the Reds hammered their local rivals 8-2 to get their hands on the silverware.
The week before the County Cup Final the Reds managed to secure a home friendly against what was one of the biggest clubs around at that time, Preston North End. In front of a big crowd Workington put up a tremendous fight, losing by the only goal of the match.
So, a season that had promised much ended in disappointment, with the Reds falling short in both the League and the County Cup. However, the fortunes and direction of Workington AFC were about to change dramatically over the next few months.