The Original Reds

Chapter 24 – 1906/07

The outcome of May’s meeting in Newcastle was that Workington, along with nine other clubs, became founder members of the North-Eastern League. The membership consisted of the reserve sides of Newcastle United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Leeds City and Bradford City, along with stand-alone clubs West Stanley, Royal Rovers (Sunderland) and Hebburn Argyle, and the first teams of Workington and Carlisle.

As well as joining the new league, Workington made the decision to also stay in the Lancashire Combination, and to re-join the Cumberland County League. Incredibly they entered their first team in all three competitions (as did Carlisle United), making a total of sixty-six league matches they would have to play, along with the various cup competitions. 

The Club’s thinking was that they wanted the public to believe that the first team would be playing at Ashfield every Saturday, and the crowds would flock to watch them. If the North-Eastern  and County league sides were called ‘reserves’ that would minimise the appeal. That decision was either seriously deluded, or unbelievably naïve. 

In reality, after a few weeks, it became obvious that the first team were playing in the Combination, and by the end of the year, although not officially, the North-Eastern league side were widely known as the reserves.

Now, as well as having to pay the travelling expenses of the Lancashire Combination sides, the club were also having to pay the same (train fares from Newcastle in most cases) for the visiting North-Eastern league sides. The crowds didn’t increase dramatically, and the Reds were now losing money. One only has to look at the unemployment figures for the area at the time to see that Workington’s plan was never going to work, and, although hindsight is a wonderful thing, this was the start of an ultimately terminal downward spiral.

Nevertheless, the Workington board believed that if they could get promotion to the Combination’s first division then everything would be okay.

At the start of the season, in order to replace the goal-scoring prowess of the departed Hurst and Pickett, Workington recruited Sam Farrant from Stockport County and Jim Finnigan from Padiham. Other new arrivals included James and Richards from Southport, and thirty-four-year-old Walter Place, another ex-Burnley player. Alf Wood also returned from his spell at Burnley, but spent the season helping out the reserves.

The Combination second division now consisted of twenty clubs, and the league announced that it would be reverting to promoting the top four finishers. Having finished third, and thus missing out on promotion the previous season, Workington now had justifiable cause for optimism that they could join the big boys.

The season started on the 1st September with a home fixture against Bacup. The Reds got off to a flying start as Harry Pearson continued where he’d left off at the end of the previous season, scoring all of Workington’s goals in a 3-1 win.

The Reds team was:
Stewart: G. Brown, Ewing, McCann, Place, R. Smith, Farrant, Finnigan, Pearson, Graham and F. Pickett.

However, after winning three of their first four matches, the Reds then lost three on the trot, leaving them in a mid-table position. The one thing with the club at this time was that they were never afraid to make changes. Finnigan, despite scoring a hat-trick against Ashton, was discarded, and the Reds brought in experienced Joseph Cassidy from Middlesbrough. 

Scots born Cassidy, who could play anywhere in the forward line, had played 309 games for Newton Heath (pre-Manchester United), Manchester City and Middlesbrough, scoring 138 goals in the process. Now thirty-four, he was seen as an ideal forward partner for Harry Pearson, Sam Farrant and John Graham.

Results improved dramatically, and of the next twelve games Workington won nine, scoring thirty-eight goals in the process.

In November, when Finnigan scored his hat-trick, Ashton only turned up with nine players. A few weeks later, and for the third year running, Newton-le-Willows missed their train and turned up late, meaning the game ended in darkness. Although Workington won both of these matches, incidents like these were hardly guaranteed to impress the paying public.

In the new year, Workington continued to score goals and win matches especially at home. In fact, only Burnley Reserves and Carlisle United left Ashfield with maximum points, meaning that in three seasons in the Combination League the Reds had lost just four out of fifty-four home matches.

In March the Reds had a free Saturday. So, with the North-Eastern league side being at Bradford, and following the club’s policy of having a home game every week, Burnley were invited to send their first team to Ashfield for a prestigious (and hopefully money making!) friendly. Typically, despite having lost twice to Burnley Reserves in the league, Workington saw off Burnley’s first team to the tune of 4-1, with Joe Cassidy getting a hat-trick!

On the 2nd April Workington lost 2-1 at home to Carlisle United. This left them, with five league games left, in a straight fight with Chorley, St Helens Town and Bacup for the last two places in the top four. Carlisle United, as Champions, and Earlestown had already guaranteed themselves promotion. 

In the next match the Reds did themselves a power of good by hammering St Helens 8-0, before taking a point off Earlestown. 

Workington had used their North-Eastern League side in the early rounds of the County Cup and, after scraping past Penrith and Granville Star, they had reached the final. Carlisle United had also reached the final, and the two clubs were to meet on the 13th April. As neither club had a league match that day, and as the rules meant that they had to put out their strongest team, both clubs fielded their Combination League sides.

The match took place, once again, at the Warwick Road Rugby Ground in Carlisle, and the Workington team was:
Stewart: McCann (capt), Brown, Richards, Robertson, Duffy, Graham, Cassidy, Pearson, Farrant and Smith.

An own goal after just two minutes, and a penalty scored by Cassidy, gave Workington a 2-0 half-time lead against a side who’d already beaten them twice in the league. Despite a second half goal from Carlisle’s Sanderson, Workington hung on to win the cup for the tenth time.

The following week Workington beat Port Sunlight 4-0 at home to almost guarantee promotion. However, a single goal defeat at Clitheroe meant that, going into their final game, they needed to beat Brynn Central to finish in fourth place. Despite a nervy start, goals from Farrant (2), Cassidy and Pearson ensured that the goal of promotion had been achieved.

Once again Workington had scored a century of goals, and only champions Carlisle had conceded less. Harry Pearson was again top scorer with 22 league goals, followed by Farrant with 20.

The one problem the Reds did have was with penalties. They were awarded thirteen penalties in the league, and Pearson, Graham, McCann, Farrant and Cassidy managed to miss seven between them.

The inaugural North-Eastern league was won by Newcastle United Reserves. Reds finished fifth out of the ten teams, with a record of: Won 6, Drawn 6, Lost 6, For 31, Against 32.

The Cumberland County league had been reduced to just six teams after Keswick had withdrawn before a ball had been kicked. Workington finished in third place with thirteen points from their ten games.

Jim McNicholl finished as top scorer for the team in both leagues with a total of fifteen goals, plus another three in the County Cup.

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