The Original Reds

Chapter 23 – 1905/06

Over the years, at whatever level the club has been playing, Workington have had many prolific goal scorers. However, never have the club had such a collectively prolific forward line as they had in 1905/06, their second season in the Lancashire Combination. The quartet of Graham, Hurst, Pearson and Pickett struck fear in every opposition’s defence, and between them scored over eighty out of the Reds total of 102 league goals. Not only were Workington the league’s top scorers, only two sides conceded fewer goals, and the club’s Ashfield ground became an absolute fortress. There is no doubt that, on merit, the club should have ended the season with promotion. Sadly, a temporary change of league rules denied them any reward for what was an incredible season.

Due to various comings and goings the Lancashire Combination Division 2 showed a number of changes, with new clubs, including Burnley Reserves and Cumberland neighbours Carlisle United, joining. 

Before the season started Workington improved their squad with a number of quality signings; John Graham (an ex Black Diamonds player) joined from Bradford City, Pickett arrived from Bristol, goalkeeper Tom Stewart from Barrow, and Archie Smith from Burnley.

After two trial matches, the following team was selected for the opening league match, at home to Blackpool Reserves on the 2nd September:

Stewart; Bassett, Brown, Campbell, Evans, McCann, Morley, Graham, Pickett, White and Hunter.

The result gave no indication of what was to come as, despite a goal from Hunter, Blackpool won quite easily by three goals to one. Not only was that Workington’s only home defeat of the season (only four points were dropped in eighteen league matches at Ashfield), it was to ultimately prove extremely costly.

Immediate changes were made as a result of this defeat, with Bassett, Evans, Morley and Hunter being dropped. Of these, only Morley, briefly, was to play for the Reds again. The changes made to the team had an instant effect, with Workington winning seven and drawing one of their next eight matches. 

Despite the change in fortune, the Workington management were still looking to improve the side, and in October they made two inspired signings. Harry Pearson, who’d been at Arsenal, arrived, and Dan Hurst, the previous season’s top scorer, was convinced to return.

Workington’s season then really took off, and, despite away defeats at Skelmersdale, Burnley and Blackpool, it was clear that they were in a three-way fight with Colne and Blackpool for the title. The goals flowed freely, with the defeat at Skelmersdale being avenged to the tune of 8-0, and seven being put past both Lancaster and Hyde St George’s.

Despite the side doing well, the attendances at Ashfield were not as high as was hoped. As a result, and in order to increase revenue, in early December the club announced that the price of admission was being increased by fifty percent from (in old pence!) 4d to 6d. With the area suffering from low wages and high unemployment, this was seen as being counter-productive.

The only disappointment in the first half of the season was being put out of the FA Cup in September, at the first hurdle and at home, by Barrow. 

On the 23rd December, for the second year running, Newton-le-Willows missed their train. They eventually turned up, but so late that the match finished in total darkness.

On Christmas Day, as a bit of light relief, Workington arranged a charity match against an ‘All England X1’. All the players wore fancy dress, and a total of £12 was raised. The Reds (dressed as pantomime characters) lost 4-1.

On Boxing Day Hyde St George’s were at Workington for a league match. It wouldn’t happen nowadays, but Hyde had spent the whole of Christmas in Cumberland, having played at Carlisle United on Christmas Day. By the time they arrived at Ashfield they only had eight fit players, and in order to field a team, they ‘had to borrow three locals’.  If Workington felt any sympathy, they didn’t show it and Graham, Hurst, Pearson and Pickett shared the goals in a 7-2 win.

In previous years the top four teams at the end of the season had all been promoted to the Combination League’s first division. However, the league announced that, for just one season, only the top two teams would go up. This meant that Workington could not afford to drop many more points.

As often happens during the course of a season, the Reds hit a sticky patch at the start of the new year, winning just one of five matches. They then got back on track, losing just twice in the final twelve league matches. 

The season ended on the 30th April with Pearson scoring four of Workington’s goals in a 5-4 win over Ashton Town. Sadly, they fell just short, finishing in third place with forty-nine points, just one point behind Blackpool who were promoted along with champions Colne. That first day home defeat against Blackpool had come back to haunt them.

Although it hasn’t been possible to trace the scorers in two matches, Pearson finished as top scorer with 24, followed by Graham and Pickett with 18, and Hurst with 16. Equally impressive was Tom Stewart’s eleven clean sheets.

Due to fixture clashes Workington were unable to field their first team in the County Cup. The reserve/fringe players managed to reach the semi-finals, having disposed of Moresby Parks and Keswick on the way, before losing 7-1 on aggregate to Carlisle Red Rose.

Sadly, the Reds were unable to keep all of their star players, and at the end of the season both Hurst and Pickett left the club. They would be hard to replace.

On the 5th May the Newcastle United chairman invited Workington and representatives of fifteen other, mainly North-Eastern, clubs to a meeting. This was to discuss the possible formation of a new Northern Counties League. The idea being that this would ‘reduce travelling and produce a better class of football’.

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