The Original Reds

Chapter 17 – 1899/1900

The last season of football in the nineteenth century was not one of Workington’s finest. In fact, for a number of reasons, it was the poorest the club had experienced for many years. Illness, injuries, loss of players and bad weather all contributed to a campaign that the Reds would be glad to see the back of.

The Senior League increased to six teams as, despite losing Keswick, two Carlisle based teams, Carlisle Red Rose and Shaddongate, joined the fray.

The season opened with a 2-1 home victory over Frizington White Star on the 9th September. There were a few changes from the previous season, with McClure having moved to Black Diamonds, and Clark (Black Diamonds), Mason (Moss Bay) and Brindley having made their way to Ashfield. Mason made a scoring debut, and J. Smith joined him on the scoresheet.

The Reds line-up was:
McGuirk: Brindley, Brown, Claridge, Dawson, Harwood, Mason, J. Smith, Steele, Wildgoose and Wilkinson.

Reds problems started when, after this first game, goalkeeper McGuirk left the club. The reasons for this are not known, but it left the club with a goalkeeping issue that lasted all season. Several new keepers were tried, without great success, and eventually the job was given to an existing Reds player, defender Dawson.

The following week, with Dawson in goal, Workington won 2-1 in Carlisle against Shaddongate to maintain their hundred per cent start. In reality that was as good as it got, and Reds were to win only three more league games.

The FA Cup campaign started in late September, by which time Workington had acquired another player from Moss Bay (Chatters) and were giving a trial to a new goalkeeper called Sowerby. The first qualifying round tie saw the Reds entertain local town rivals Black Diamonds, and, in one of their better performances of the season, Workington cruised through to the next round by winning 6-0.

Keeping things local, the second qualifying round saw Workington having to make the short trip across town to their other local rivals, Moss Bay. A goal from J. Smith earned a replay in a one all draw.

Despite injuries to George and Harwood, two goals from Claridge, two from R. Smith, and one each from Waite and Wilkinson, ensured Workington would be in the hat for the next round.

Having lost 5-1 at Chorley at this stage of the national cup the previous season, things didn’t improve this time round. Chorley ended Workington’s hopes by winning 6-1.

Over the years there had been many instances of teams turning up late, or, in some cases, not turning up at all. In the return league match against Shaddongate in early December, it wasn’t the teams who didn’t appear, it was the referee. After hanging about for some time waiting, to no avail, the teams tossed-up to decide which team’s official would officiate, and Workington won. However, all the waiting meant that only sixty minutes play was possible, and the match ended in darkness with Workington winning by the odd goal in five. 

A new player called Wood scored twice against Shaddongate, and in the next league match, at home against Moss Bay, he went one better, scoring all of Workington’s goals in a 3-1 win.

Workington started the twentieth century with a New Year’s Day league match at Frizington. Lacking a number of players, the Reds suffered a 4-1 defeat.

By now, apart from the goalkeeping issue, Workington had lost, for various reasons, a number of their best players. Claridge had contracted a serious illness that would keep him out for the rest of the season, Robert Smith had moved to Black Diamonds, and Mason, who only joined the club in August, had signed for Liverpool. Things weren’t about to get any better.

Workington’s next league match was away at Black Diamonds, who’d they’d already put six past in the FA Cup. On this occasion the Reds could only muster nine men, including yet another new goal-keeper and forty-year-old Joseph Harpwood! They managed to persuade a spectator to join in, making ten men, but not surprisingly lost heavily.

The weather in January and February wasn’t great, and a number of matches were postponed or cancelled. Drawn against Keswick in the first round of the County Cup, the first leg had been postponed twice before it eventually took place at the third time of asking, with the Reds winning 3-1 at home. The second leg, at Keswick the following week, ended in a two all draw, meaning Workington progressed 5-3 on aggregate.

The semi-final saw Workington drawn to play league newcomers, Shaddongate, with the first leg to take place in Carlisle. Reports suggest that Shaddongate were unlucky not to win, and it took an own goal to salvage the Reds a one all draw.

The second leg was different, and, thanks to a hat-trick from the remaining Smith, Workington reached the final 5-1 on aggregate.

By this time the Reds had played their last two league matches, both at home, losing 3-1 to Black Diamonds and beating Carlisle Red Rose 5-0. Despite being the only team to actually complete all of their league fixtures, and both Black Diamonds and Moss Bay being deducted two points for fielding unregistered players, Workington could only finish in third place.

The County Cup Final took place, at Moss Bay’s ground, on the 14th April, with Workington once again facing the Black Diamonds. When the line-ups were announced it was clear that Workington were in trouble, with no less than six senior players missing. Apart from long-term illness victim Claridge, they were also missing Brown, McBride, Spedding, Waite and Wood who were all out with injuries. They managed to make the emergency signings of Connor at centre forward, and Brownlow, but still had to bring Harry Landells out of retirement to make up the numbers.

By half-time Black Diamonds had built up a three-nil lead, and it must have been galling to see that two of the goals had been scored by ex-reds players McClure and Smith. Workington couldn’t be faulted for effort, and two goals from newcomer Connor in the second half saw them fall agonisingly short.  Black Diamonds lifting the trophy by winning 3-2.

The Workington team in the final was:
Dawson: Landells, Steele, Charters, Brownlow, Harwood, Kerley, George, Connor, Wilkinson and J. Smith.

The Workington Infirmary Tournament had been re-introduced, and, back in February, Workington had beaten Chapel Bank 7-2 in their semi-final. The final, against Moss Bay, took place, at Ashfield, the week after the County Cup Final disappointment. Fielding a much-changed team, and only ten men, goals from McBride and Clark gave Workington a two-all draw and a replay. The game wasn’t without incident and was described in the press as ‘rough’!

Workington lined up;
Dawson: Brown, Steele, Chatters, Wood, Harwood, Bradley, Clark, George and McBride. 

The expected replay didn’t materialise, as Moss Bay refused to take part due to alleged ‘rough handling’ in the first match, and Workington won by default. Despite this, the teams did meet twice more over the next seven days.

The Town Championship fixtures had started on Christmas Day, with Workington beating Black Diamonds 5-0, at home. The return fixture had been drawn. As both Workington and Moss Bay had taken three points from their matches against the Diamonds, the two remaining matches between the clubs would decide the destination of the championship.

As it happened both matches were drawn, 0-0 at Moss Bay and 1-1 at Ashfield, meaning that the two clubs were level at the top of the table with five points, and a play-off was required. This was held over to the following season.

The season ended with a prestigious, high-profile, friendly against Sheffield United at Ashfield. The Workington team were actually labelled ‘Workington and District’, as they included three guests in this line-up;

Dawson: Brown, Chatters, Connor, Deakin (Moss Bay), Harwood, Hullock (Black Diamonds), J. Smith, Steele, Wilkinson and Heald (Wigton).

In goal for Sheffield United was legendary goalkeeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke. Weighing in at well over twenty stones, he is reputed to be the heaviest ever player to have played International Football for England. He gained one international cap in 1897, and after playing 299 games for Sheffield United he moved on to Chelsea and Bradford City. He died, aged just forty-two, in 1916. Contemporary reports of the match simply describe him as ‘huge’, and noted that ‘no Reds player was brave enough to challenge him.’ He amused the large crowd by ‘regularly fly-kicking the ball from one end of the pitch to the other!’

For the record, Sheffield United won 4-1, with the guest from Wigton, Heald, scoring the District’s consolation goal.

So ended what had been a traumatic season. Once again, the club were going to have to re-group.

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