Workington Reserves have resigned from the Lancashire League and the pathway to first team football will take a different route in the future with Reds returning to County League competition, whenever the grass roots leagues are given permission to resume.
Reds have used the Lancashire League platform to develop players since 2003 and have been members for the past seventeen seasons. That unbroken membership has seen Workington become the longest serving club over the past decade and a half, with numerous opponents played across the north of England.
In that time, we have given many players an opportunity and quite a few have come through the ranks and established themselves in the first team – Gareth Arnison, Jonny Wright, Phil McLuckie, Aaran Taylor, Craig Johnston and Sam Smith just a handful of those who became Reds favourites after learning the ropes with the second string.
There have been many others who have made the first team, without racking-up hundreds of games like the aforementioned, making significant contributions for the club before moving on to play their football elsewhere.
It has given them the chance to play at a decent standard before their senior careers evolve although, ideally, the aim is for them to become established Workington players. Not all make it of course, very few in fact, and for those that don’t it’s gratifying that they find a suitable level at another club whilst reflecting fondly on their time at Borough Park.
Even playing for Reds Reserves requires a level of commitment that tests young players. They may have all the ability in the world but if they don’t like the travelling and making the sacrifices needed, it is more than likely they will fall by the wayside.
I take my hat off to the hundreds of players and the many mangers/coaches who have served Reds over the past seventeen seasons. They have given blood, sweat and tears to the cause, for little or no reward, and their efforts are greatly appreciated.
Reserve team football is not all about winning, more a case of a player’s development, so no great importance is attached to an emphatic victory or a heavy defeat. But, given the choice, one would rather watch a team that wins on a regular basis rather than share the pain of frequent losers.
Success is a bonus and, although we have enjoyed a taste of glory on the field, it never quite compensates for the hurt brought on by failure which is experienced more often than not.
Workington’s inaugural season in the Lancashire League was certainly a tough baptism and it was no surprise when Reds finished third from bottom of a seventeen team division.
We lost (0-2) at home to Northwich Victoria in the first game and then found ourselves on the receiving end of two six goal drubbings, before obtaining our first point following a 2-2 draw at Barrow. Our welcome first win came at the eighth attempt, Chorley despatched 5-2 after suffering from a four-goal blast from Craig Johnston – the first hat-trick in the League from a Workington player.
After conceding over 300 goals in our first four seasons, we finally got a winning team together and, under Stuart Rome’s management, finished as champions at the end of a successful 2007-08 campaign, suffering just one defeat in the process.
Current first team assistant manager, Steven Rudd, was a prominent member of the title winning side with the skipper chipping in with no fewer than seven goals.
The team also reached the League Cup Final that year but our double aspirations were dashed when Farsley Celtic inflicted a 2-1 defeat upon us at Borough Park.
Apart from that memorable season and two further occasions when we finished runners-up, more often than not we finished nearer the foot of the table with the ‘wooden spoon’ coming our way a couple of times.
Stuart Rome’s efforts were rewarded with silverware but other managers – Alan Nichol, Herbert Briggs, Adam Johnson, Steve Lee, Dave Rodgie, Micky Harris, Billy Redden, Steven Rudd, Lee McCullough and Brian Dawson – contributed equally as much without any tangible success.
Amidst the numerous heavy defeats and occasional but very satisfying victories, players came and went on a regular basis but Sam Smith served a role model apprenticeship. He clocked-up over a hundred Lancashire League appearances in his time with the second string and that loyalty has been rewarded many times since at first team level.
No fewer than twenty two players netted hat-tricks for Reds with the likes of Craig Johnston (3), Steven Hewitt (2), Gareth Arnison (3), Danny Carmichael (2), Tony Nicholson (2), Martyn Coleman (2), Richard Bannister (2), Jonny Murray (2), Matthew Perry (2) and Nathan Waterston (2) repeating the feat several times over.
Tony Nicholson netted a double hat-trick in the high scoring win over Darwen whilst Richard Bannister once bagged five against Witton Albion. Nathan Dryden’s 19 goal haul the season before last was the best individual tally of league goals from a Workington player.
Reds record win was an 11-2 home success v. Darwen during the championship season but, in contrast, they have suffered several ‘double figures’ reverses – including a 13-3 mauling at AFC Fylde, when the hosts fielded several first team players who had amassed over 500 Football League appearances in total.
Overall, though, the Lancashire League has been good for Workington and different experiences have contributed to the football education of so many players who have represented the club at this level.
Sadly there was no winning finale for Reds with last season declared null and void shortly after a heavy defeat at Hyde. Our seventeenth, and last, term never really got started with the campaign disrupted by the very wet weather between November and February, several teams withdrawing in mid-season and, eventually, COVID-19.
Nevertheless, we take away many special memories from our time in the League and numerous players will have benefitted from the experience.
The end of an era.