Chapter 19 – 1901/02
At the end of the 1900/01 season for a variety of reasons several clubs left the Lancashire League, which had been in existence since 1889, effectively reducing the number of teams in the league to just seven. In order to make the league viable, applications were invited from other clubs to make up the numbers. Seeing an opportunity to expand their horizons beyond purely playing local teams the Reds applied, and, along with Barrow, Rochdale Town, St Helens Town, Prescot, and Bacup, they were accepted, thus taking the league up to thirteen teams. It was a brave step, as the travelling and costs involved would be far greater than had previously been experienced playing purely local sides.
It should be remembered that travelling in the early 1900’s was far more of an issue than it is today, with no motorways and little motorized transport. In fact, if you couldn’t use horse drawn transport you had to go by train. The Reds being allowed to join the Lancashire League wasn’t universally popular, especially with the other clubs, who resented having to travel to such a far-flung outpost. One club’s chairman was heard to comment that the Reds wouldn’t be in the league for more than one season for this reason. Workington’s perceived remote location remained an issue for the club for many years. To try to mitigate the problem, and as a stipulation of their league membership, Workington were required to pay the visiting club’s travelling expenses. This meant that big crowds needed to be attracted to Ashfield to balance the books, and it was a huge gamble for the club.
In addition to joining the Lancashire League the Reds, as part of their membership of the Cumberland Football Association, were still required to enter a team in both the County League and County Cup. Local opinion was that if the Reds had to put two teams out on the same day for both Lancashire League and Cumberland Senior League matches, they would struggle. They were right!
The season started on the 7 September with a 2-0 home defeat against Darwen, followed by an away defeat at Wigan. A home draw against Prescot was followed by an unexpected first win of the season, 4-2 at Stalybridge. However, the Reds were struggling, and won only one more match up to late December. At that stage Workington had just six points from nine matches. The majority of the side had been playing in the Cumberland League the previous season and were finding it hard to cope at the higher level.
Travelling wasn’t just an issue for teams visiting Workington. Goalkeeper Pratt was missing from the Reds line-up at Bacup on the 14 December. The reason? He’d missed his train! Reds lost 3-1.
On the 21 December Reds obtained a decent result by beating St Helens 4-0, but came back down to earth on Christmas Day by losing 6-0 at Darwen, followed by three further defeats over the new year period.
On the 28 December the Reds were at home to Stalybridge and, after having beaten them 4-2 away, hopes were high for a decent result. However, the weather was awful, and although there were doubts about the wisdom of playing the game at all, a start was made. The weather if anything deteriorated, and what few spectators there were either left or sheltered at the back of the stand or under a hedge. After 65 minutes the Reds found themselves 4-1 down and attempted to get the referee to stop the game. Hardly surprisingly Stalybridge wanted to continue, and the referee agreed to continue. At this point the Reds players simply walked off and refused to return. There was then no option other than to abandon the game. Not surprisingly the League took a dim view of the episode. The Reds were fined and censured, and the result was allowed to stand.
After losing heavily at Rochdale on the 4 January, Reds fortunes took an unexpected upturn, losing just twice in their final ten Lancashire League matches. Wins were obtained against Bacup (5-0), Barrow (5-3 away and 3-1 at home), Chorley (5-0), and Haydock (4-1 at home and 10-1 away!) As a result, they finished in a creditable 8th place with a total of 22 points from their 24 games.
There was little joy in the FA Cup, and, after beating Shaddongate in the 3rd Qualifying Round, Reds travelled to Southport Central for the second year running and lost 4-0.
In the County Cup, after receiving a bye in the first round, and fielding basically a reserve team, Reds were knocked out by Frizington United.
At the end of the season Workington organised a match against a Cumberland X1 with the proceeds going to the Ibrox Disaster Fund.
As expected, having to play in two leagues with a limited number of players proved tough for the club. Despite having won two out of their first three County Senior League matches (Keswick 4-2 and Frizington United 3-1), the Reds reserves only won one other match all season (Cockermouth 4-0). In addition, they suffered some heavy defeats along the way, including 0-8 at both Keswick and Frizington. Even when they beat Keekle 8-0 at home it counted for nothing as Keekle subsequently withdrew from the league. On the 30 November, and having no Lancashire League fixture, the first team were fielded against local rivals Black Diamonds. Expecting a morale boosting win, the Reds lost 2-1!
As often happened, the County League was not completed, with the Reds alone having five matches outstanding. On the basis of the matches played Reds finished bottom of the league with just six points from 13 games.