Chapter 21 – 1903/04
At the end of the 1902/03 season, following the introduction of a second division to the powerful Lancashire Combination League, the Lancashire League took the decision to fold. Eleven of the twelve existing Lancashire League teams applied to join the Combination, the exception being Wigan United who had disbanded. All of them were duly accepted, with one exception, Workington.
Workington’s admission to the Lancashire League, two years earlier, had not been universally popular with the other clubs who, despite having their expenses paid, objected to the extra travelling involved. This provided them with an opportunity to get rid of the problem, and they took it.
Failing to gain entry to the Lancashire Combination left the Reds with no option other than to return to the Cumberland Senior League, and for the first team to take the place of their reserves. The Senior League consisted of eight teams, reduced to just seven when Carlisle Red Rose withdrew before the season started.
The club managed to hold onto most of their players, losing only full-back Brown, Peter Smith and centre-forward Alf Wood. Wood went to Blackpool but, after failing to make an impact, moved on to Burnley. He returned for a Workington swan-song a few years later. Newcomers included Craig, Laycock and Dan Hurst. Hurst, a native of Cockermouth, had been with both Workington and the Black Diamonds before turning pro with Blackburn Rovers in 1897. He then played with both Manchester City and Manchester United, having made sixteen appearances and scoring four goals for the latter in the 1902/03 season, before returning to Cumberland’s west coast to replace Alf Wood and finish his career.
After a season-opening 4-1 win in a friendly against Moss Bay, the first competitive game was an FA Cup preliminary round tie, at home against Barrow on September 19. As Barrow were playing at a higher level than Workington, having been admitted to the Lancashire Combination, on paper this looked like a tricky tie. However, the League insisted that Barrow fulfil a league fixture that day, meaning that Workington actually played Barrow reserves. Even so, Reds 9-1 victory must have given them immense satisfaction.
The Reds lined up as follows:
Pratt; Crettney, Evans, Prythero, Swift, Thompson, Harwood (4), Hullock (1), Hurst (1), Riley (1), R. Smith (2).
Workington were to drop only three league points all season, and one of them was in their opening match, a two-all draw at Black Diamonds. Ironically, the two teams were to meet again the following week, again away, in the next round of the FA Cup. This time the Reds prevailed and won two-nil.
In the next round Workington were drawn, at home, against the third Workington based club, Moss Bay Exchange. Two goals from Hullock, and one each from Harwood and Hurst, saw the Reds ease through 4-0.
The draw for the third qualifying round gave Workington a plum tie, pitching them at home to Blackpool from the second division of the Football League. The match on October 31 attracted a big crowd to Ashfield, and hopes were high for a giant-killing. After thirty-five minutes those hopes seemed well founded as Workington had started brilliantly, and two goals from Dan Hurst saw them lead two-nil. The turning point came when Reds full-back Swift was (harshly according to the local press) sent off. Things then fell apart, and Blackpool over-ran the ten men to win 4-2.
Due to their cup run Workington’s second league match didn’t take place until November when, despite being fined five shillings (25p for our younger readers) for starting with ten men, Wigton Harriers were beaten 4-2. The Reds actually played two games that day, with them also fulfilling a friendly fixture at Lockerbie.
The win over Wigton was the start of a run that saw the club win eight league matches in a row, scoring no less than forty-five goals in the process. In reality, the only side able to get anywhere near stopping them winning the league, and the only side they hadn’t yet faced, were Shaddongate United.
As things happened, and before they met in the league, Workington and Shaddongate were drawn to play each other in the County Cup. Although the Reds won both legs, the two matches were extremely tight. Workington came from behind to win 3-2 at home, then won by the only goal in Carlisle.
In the semi-final Workington were drawn to play a Keswick side who they had already beaten 7-1 and 11-0 in the league, so no problem there then. What is it they say about form going out of the window in cup matches?
Before the semi-final was played an interesting incident occurred during Workington’s 5-2 league win at Moss Bay in March where, for some reason, the game was played without goal-nets. A press report states that Moss Bay’s first goal ‘missed the post by at least two yards’, and everybody in the ground, including the Moss Bay players, were ‘stunned into silence when the referee awarded the point’. Luckily, it didn’t matter.
The following week another incident occurred in a home friendly against Darlington. After forty minutes the referee ordered a Darlington player from the field. The player refused to go, so the ref simply abandoned the game there and then!
The first leg of the County Cup semi-final, at Keswick, saw the home team win by the only goal of the game. Despite the Reds being overwhelming favourites to win the second leg handsomely, Keswick performed a brave rear-guard action, and it took a late goal from Andy for Workington to force a replay. This took place at Carlisle, and, despite a consolation goal from Hurst, Keswick stunned everybody by winning 2-1.
Two days before the cup replay Workington were again in Carlisle for a league match against their closest rivals, Shaddongate. It wasn’t a good week for the Reds as they lost by the only goal, their first, and only, league defeat of the season.
On the Thursday after being knocked out of the cup Workington went to Cockermouth and won 2-0. This left just one league match to play, the return, at Ashfield, against Shaddongate, two days later.
What happened then was just one more farce to add to the list of similar incidents that had taken place since football had first arrived in Cumberland. Not surprisingly, once again the County Association were involved.
Workington were due to play Shaddongate, at Ashfield, on the 30th April. However, the County Association decided that the County Cup Final, between Cleator Moor and Keswick, was to take place the same day, and they asked for clubs to tender to host the final. Workington, despite knowing they had the league match already scheduled for that Saturday, offered the use of their Ashfield ground (for a fee). The Association accepted Workington’s offer, and duly arranged the Cup final to take place on the same ground, at the same time, that Workington were due to face Shaddongate. The final took place, with Cleator Moor winning, whereas the league match was cancelled and never played!
Despite the league accepting Workington’s offer to hold the Cup Final, they then fined Workington two guineas for breaking the fixture against Shaddongate! To top matters off, and despite the broken fixture, the Committee then awarded the League championship to Workington.
Hardly surprisingly Shaddongate appealed. They said that if they’d won the cancelled game against Workington, and their one other remaining fixture, then they would have been level on points with the Reds. Then, as they were the only team to have beaten Workington in the league, they should have been declared champions! The league were unmoved, and Workington were the champions.
What a shambles!
At the end of the season it was announced that long-serving Workington forward Dick Smith was leaving the club and signing for Burnley. Dick had been born in Whitehaven in 1877, and first played for the Reds toward the end of the 1895/96 season, having previously been with the Black Diamonds. He soon became both a regular in the side and a prolific goal scorer. A blacksmith by trade, he briefly returned to the Black Diamonds during the 1899/1900 season and scored against Workington in that season’s County Cup Final. In total he won three Senior League titles, four County Cups, and two Town Championships with Workington, as well as the County Cup with Black Diamonds. He was twenty-seven when he joined Burnley, quite old to be turning professional. However, he remained at Burnley for six seasons, scoring seventy-five goals in 185 appearances, and heading their scoring charts on two occasions. He returned to Workington for the start of the disastrous 1910/11 season at the age of thirty-three. As with a lot of footballers, Dick became a publican after retiring from the game. He died, in the town of his birth, in December 1959, aged eighty-two. A legend with both Workington and Burnley.