Chapter 20 – 1902/03
After finishing their first Lancashire League season in a more than creditable eighth place, hopes were high entering the new campaign.
There were a few changes in personnel – after ten years-service John (Jim) Claridge had left along with Crozier, and James Waite (who’d been with the club even longer than Claridge) was ending his career helping the reserves. Coming in were Les Crettney from the Black Diamonds, and (an absolute nightmare for historians!) there were now no less than four Smiths in the first team squad.
The season should have opened with a home league match against Prescot on the 6th September. However, on the morning of the match, a telegram was received to say that Prescot wouldn’t be coming, so an impromptu 1st X1 v 2nd X1 practice match was arranged. Prescot subsequently withdrew from the competition, leaving just twelve teams in the league.
When the season did get under way, with a 2-1 home win against Darwen, the Reds got off to a flyer, winning four of their first five games, dropping just one point in a home draw against Southport.
The Reds line-up against Darwen was:
Pratt: Brown, Crettney, Evans, Hullock, Mason, Riley, Smith. J, Smith. R, Thompson and Wood.
The only blip in this good start came in the FA Cup, with Frizington White Star causing a major shock by beating the Reds at Ashfield in the preliminary round.
On November 1st, not having a league game, Workington arranged another friendly with the mighty Preston North End. Despite only starting with ten men the Reds showed what a decent side they were becoming by beating their illustrious visitors 2-1. Harwood made up for arriving late by scoring one of the goals.
On Boxing Day goalkeeper Pratt was unavailable, so full-back Brown went in goal for the home match against Bacup. It clearly didn’t upset the Reds too much as they still won six-two.
By the end of the year Workington had put themselves in a good position to have a tilt at winning the league as, of the twelve matches played, they had won eight and lost just three. Sadly, the second half of the season didn’t go so well.
The first league match of the new year took place on the 10th January, with a visit to Earlestown, near St Helens. A late start, a perennial problem, meant that the match had to be abandoned in darkness, after eighty minutes, with Workington winning 2-0. In earlier years, as often happened, the result would have stood. Not now, and Workington were going to have to return later in the season.
Strangely the same thing happened the following week, but with a different outcome. A late start in the home match against St Helens Recreation meant that, once again, only eighty minutes play was possible. However, before the match started the two sides agreed to play just forty minutes each way, which meant that the result, a 2-1 win for St Helens, stood. I bet the Reds wished they’d agreed the same thing at Earlestown!
Two more league defeats, at St Helens Town (St Helens boasted two teams in the league) and Barrow, followed, and the Reds, after a good start, started to slip down the league table.
There was a bit of light relief on the 21st February when, with no league game scheduled, Workington fielded their 1st X1 against Kirkland United in the County Cup. I’m sure the forwards enjoyed the shooting practice as the final score of 12-0 would suggest. In fact, not only were Kirkland beaten 12-0, they also had two men sent-off. The remaining nine decided enough was enough and they sent themselves off by following the dismissed players into the changing rooms. Not surprisingly, the second leg didn’t take place.
The two-legged semi-final of the County Cup pitched Workington against Carlisle Red Rose, with the first leg being played at Carlisle. Again, fielding their first team, Workington were expected to run up another big score against their Cumberland Senior League opponents. However, things didn’t go according to plan, and it took a late penalty from Dick Smith to salvage a two-all draw. The second-leg was due to take place in mid-week, something that Red Rose objected to as they wouldn’t be able to raise a team to get to Workington. The Association insisted, so Red Rose had no option but to withdraw, giving Workington a walk-over to the final.
The league continued, with Workington’s form being somewhat erratic, a big win one week (5-1 against Earlestown, 7-0 against Rochdale), a heavy defeat the next. Earlestown’s defeat could perhaps be mitigated by the fact that they only turned up with nine players!
The league finally came to an end on the 25th April, with, due to weather issues earlier in the year, Workington having to play two matches on the same day. The first team stayed at home and beat St Helens Town 4-1, whilst the reserves were despatched to Earlestown for the replay of the earlier abandoned match and lost 6-0!
So, a season that at the half-way stage looked very promising in terms of league honours, eventually ended with the Reds placed sixth out of the twelve teams. Long serving Dick Smith was the top scorer once again.
The week before the last league matches took place Workington faced Shaddongate (soon to be Carlisle) United in the County Cup Final. Once again, the decision was taken to play an important Carlisle v Workington match at Carlisle Rugby Ground, despite what had happened in the past. With no other match scheduled Workington fielded their strongest team (as required by the rules):
Pratt: Swift, Brown, Cretney, Thompson, Smith. J, Riley, Smith. R, Wood, Smith. P and Hullock.
An equaliser from Riley meant that the teams were level at half-time, but two second-half goals gave the Carlisle outfit a 3-1 victory and the cup.
Workington Reserves had an indifferent season in the County League, and even though there were only eight teams (Cockermouth withdrew in December), they didn’t manage to complete their fixtures, finishing in fifth place. In late November/early December, having no Lancashire League fixtures, the Reds fielded their entire first team in Home matches against Black Diamonds and Keswick, winning them both, and scoring fifteen goals in the process.
Having established themselves in the Lancashire League, what happened in the close season was going to be a big blow to Workington’s ambitions………………….