The Original Reds

Chapter 5 – 1888/89

Tom Biltcliffe retained the Reds’ captaincy for the new season, which started in September with home and away friendlies against Frizington Rovers. 

The club had done some work on the Schoose Close ground during the close season, and proudly announced that they ‘have now wired the ground off to give every satisfaction to the visitors’. The problem was that this ‘wire’ only existed behind the two goals, meaning that spectators were still able to encroach from the side-lines, and they frequently did! Sadly, nothing however could be done about the slope. 

Despite the previous season’s humbling experience, Workington again entered the FA Cup, and in the First Qualifying Round they again had to travel toward Liverpool. This time being drawn away to a club called Stanley (Liverpool). The match took place on October 6th, and resulted in another defeat, but this time only by 3-0.  

The line-up being: 

T. Brown: J. Armitage, T. Biltcliffe (capt), T. Botham, A. Guirdham, J. Harpwood, T. Hayes, J. Henn, L. Kaye, A. McLuckie and ? Taylor. 

It isn’t known if T. Hayes was any relation to Fred, or who Taylor (making his only appearance for the club) was. 

The County Cup continued to expand with thirteen clubs entering the competition for the 1888/89 season. The County Association at last seemed to have got their act together as far as the draw went, and at least there were two semi-finals! 

Workington’s First Round opponents were Wigton, with the match taking place at Workington on the 8th December. The match, such as it was, resulted in a walk-over for the Reds who rattled up their highest cup score to date, winning by 11-1, with centre-forward Guirdham getting no less than seven of them! 

The second round gave Workington another home draw, this time against Arlecdon in January, and captain Biltcliffe helped himself to a hat-trick in a 4-2 win. However, as could be almost expected, and for the third year running, the beaten team lodged an appeal against the result, claiming the now notorious slope gave Workington an unfair advantage. 

As both sides obviously had the advantage of the slope for forty-five minutes each, and as the County Association and the member clubs, including Arlecdon, had previously said the ground was fine, it was fully expected that the appeal, as with those made previously, would fail. It therefore came as a huge shock when the Committee found in Arlecdon’s favour, and ordered the match to be replayed, at Arlecdon. 

This had now set a precedent, and effectively gave the go ahead to any club beaten by the Reds in a competitive fixture to successfully appeal. Something had to be done. 

The replay took place on the 16th February, and justice was done when the Reds won again, this time by 3-1. 

Workington’s semi-final opponents were Frizington Rovers, with the two sides having already met three times in friendlies earlier in the season. Despite being drawn at home, the club made the wise decision to play the game on the relatively flat Workington Cricket Ground, as opposed to Schoose Close. Two more Guirdham goals helped Workington to a 5-1 win, and their fourth consecutive County Cup Final appearance. 

Workington’s opponents in the final were Distington, and the match was to take place on Maryport Rugby Ground on the 13th April. Tom Biltcliffe had picked up an injury some weeks previously in a game at Canonbie, so for the final the side was skippered by top scorer Guirdham. In another one-sided game the stand-in skipper netted his eleventh and twelfth goals of the tournament, and Workington retained their stranglehold on the cup, winning by 4-1. 

The cup-winning side was: 

T. Brown: A. McLuckie, Gilmour, H. Brown, J. Harpwood, T. Hayes, Palmer, L. Kaye, G. Morewood, A. Guirdham and T. Botham. 

Of the above, Guirdham, Kaye, Botham, Harpwood and Morewood had appeared for Workington in all four finals played to date. 

Apart from the cup matches, Workington played a full season of friendlies, losing just three out of nineteen, but not all without incident. 

The Reds turned up at Millom in October with just nine men. However nine was all they needed as they won easily by 5-0. 

The match at Frizington Rovers at the beginning of November was a very ‘competitive’ affair. Frizington were extremely physical, and a number of Workington players suffered injuries. When captain Biltcliffe was also badly fouled he decided he’d had enough. He simply walked off the pitch, and took the rest of the team with him! 

A month later another Frizington team, United, were Workington’s visitors. However they arrived late, and the decision was made to play just twenty minutes each-way. Even then the game finished in almost total darkness. Amazingly Workington won 9-0, meaning they scored a goal on average every four and a half minutes. 

As had become a tradition, the season ending visit to Keswick was an all-day affair, with the respective second X1s playing in the morning, and the first X1s playing in the afternoon. 

At the end of the season, no doubt in response to the continuing complaints about Schoose Close, the club announced that they were moving, and for the following season they had acquired the rights to play home matches on Workington Cricket Ground. This caused surprise and consternation in Rugby circles as that was where the Workington Rugby Club played! It was however a sign as to how powerful the Reds were becoming.

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