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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where are they now - Workington?

In the first of a new series, we look at what happened to clubs who used to grace the Football League in the dim and distant past.

Nobes kicks things off with a look at Workington.

For people of my generation it's hard to imagine that, once upon a time, the largely rural county of Cumbria had three Football League clubs.

Of course, these days it's only an away fixture at Carlisle United which prompts fans to embark on those long - and seemingly never-ending - trips up the M6 to follow their side.

However, for 20 years between the 1950s and '70s, United were joined in the Football League by both Barrow and Workington.

For the former - currently back in the Conference Premier - their FA Trophy success at Wembley in May, as well as good recent FA Cup runs, have brought them back into people's minds.

Workington have not been as fortunate. However, between
1951 and 1977, they spent a quarter of the century in the Football League - and almost made it all the way into the second tier.

Workington AFC were voted into the Football League at the expense of New Brighton. However, they struggled in their first season in the regional Division Three North - finishing bottom - just below Darlington and Accrington Stanley.

Twelve months later, and they finished next to bottom - this time just above Accrington. Adjusting to life in the higher divisions was proving tricky for the Borough Park outfit.

By 1955, they had firmly established themselves though - finishing 8th and, crucially, above local rivals Carlisle for the first ever time. It was achieved under the management of the legendary Bill Shankly - the one season he spent at the club.

Post-Shankly, Workington finished 10th and then 4th in a division which, at one time or another, included the likes of Barnsley and Derby - both in today's Championship.

With the restructuring of the pyramid in 1958, they became inaugural members of the new Fourth Division, but finished a disappointing 17th.

After years of regional competition, they were now adjusting to long away trips to Watford, Aldershot, Millwall, and Exeter, as well as more regular northern opponents Bradford Park Avenue and Southport.

Ken Furphy led Workington to their one and only Football League promotion

Eventually, the Reds, as the club are known, got to grips with their new platform - holding down a place in the top half until securing their one and only Football League promotion.

In 1964, player-manager Ken Furphy's team finished third - behind Gillingham and Carlisle - and made the jump to the third tier.

After consolidating in their first season, the Reds finished 5th in the Third Division - finishing above future top flight clubs Reading, Swindon, and Brighton & Hove Albion.

They also enjoyed great success in the League Cup at this time - reaching the last eight in successive years before bowing out to West Ham and Chelsea respectively.

It was to prove Workington's zenith. As, a year after missing out on promotion to the second tier, they finished bottom of the Third Division and were relegated back to the Fourth Division after just three seasons away.

The decline continued, and the Reds finished just a place off the bottom of the Football League the next term.

In the next years, their best finish was 6th and their last four Football League seasons were a tale of woe.

Successive finishes of 23rd were followed by finishing bottom the next two terms. In 1977, with attendances dropping and the team performing poorly on the pitch, the Cumbrian side were voted out of the Football League.

Borough Park - home to the Reds - and, once upon a time, the Football League

Interestingly, the club who replaced them were a small outfit from London who would go on to enjoy unbelievable success. They were called Wimbledon.

Back in the Non Leagues, Workington struggled on their return to the Northern Premier League, ending their first campaign back in 19th.

Ten years later, they dropped down to the Northern Premier League First Division and then, another decade later, the Reds were relegated to the North West Counties League in 1998.

However, they immediately won their place back in the First Division the next season and, after restructuring of the Non League pyramid in 2004, they were moved into the Northern Premier League.

With some upward momentum at last, the revival on the Cumbrian coast continued twelve months later as they made the inaugural NPL play offs.

After beating Prescot Cables in the semi final, Tommy Cassidy's side saw off Farsley on penalties to gain a place in the Conference North - the second tier of the Non Leagues.

Since then, they've twice finished in the play offs losing out in 2007 to Hinckley in the semi finals and then, last season, Darren Edmondson's men were beaten by Alfreton at the same stage.

After falling so far down though, the Cumbrian club are now in their strongest position for more than 30 years.

It may not be days of holding Chelsea at Borough Park, but Reds fans can once more be proud of their present as they are of their past.


  1. An enjoyable article. Thank you.

    Worth pointing out that Cumbria (established 1974) never had three FL teams. Barrow were a Lancashire team; it may be argued that they still are - see www.forl.co.uk

    Cumberland (and Cumbria, if you must) had two (1951 to 1977). Barrow were a league club frm 1921 (founder members of Division Three North, pre-dating Carlisle United - who replaced Durham City in 1928 - as members) to 1972.

  2. Ah, true that. Well spotted. I suppose "what we now know as Cumbria" would have been more apposite.

    As someone who vehemently defends the area of old Lincolnshire, I should have recognised there were those were felt as strongly about the old Cumberland/Westmorland/Lancashire boundaries.