The far north-west of England had a bad time of things in the 1970s, in football terms. In 1970, there were three clubs from (as it was to become known in 1974) Cumbria. By the end of the decade, that would be down to just the one club and, in the 1990s, even the one remaining club, Carlisle United, would go on to spend most of their recent history struggling to keep losing their place, even losing it for a season in 2004 before winning it back. There’ll be more on the other club, Barrow, on here later in the week, but tonight we’ll be taking a look at Cumbria’s forgotten club – Workington AFC. Stuck up on the north-west coast, and (perilously, some would say) near to the Sellafield Nuclear Power Plant, Workington managed twenty-years in the Football League club without much conspicuous success, though their recent form seems to suggest that they might finally be on the up again.
Founded in 1921, they spent their first thirty years playing in various regional leagues, before being voted into the Football League in 1951, in place of New Brighton. Their early years were a struggle, although they managed the occasional run in the FA Cup. In 1958, they became one of the last clubs to play against Matt Busby’s original Busby Babes team in the Third Round of the FA Cup, shortly before the Munich air disaster, that killed the majority of the United team. The 1960s were the club’s heyday. In both 1964 and 1965, they made the quarter-finals of the League Cup (taking Chelsea to a replay), and in 1964 they earned promotion to the Third Division for the first time. In 1966, they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Second Division but, the following year, were relegated back into Division Four.
Falling crowds at Borough Park started to take their toll and, although the club rallied to mid-table a couple of times in the early 1970s, the decade was mostly a torrid time for the club. They finished in the re-election positions for four seasons in a row, and finished the 1976-77 with just nineteen points from forty-six matches, and were regularly playing matches in front of crowds of well under 1,000. They were replaced by Wimbledon, whose FA Cup exploits over the previous couple of seasons had earned them considerable national attention. As often happened at the time, Workington struggled to adapt the the harsh reality of life as a non-league club. They regularly struggled in their new home, the Northern Premier League, and were relegated again in 1988. The following decade wasn’t much better, and in 1998 they fell through the trapdoor again, this time into the North West Counties League – the bottom rung of senior football in that part of the world.
This time, though, the steady decline was arrested. They lasted just one season in the NWCL before winning promotion and stabilising themselves in the Northern Premier League. In 2004, they were shuffled into the Premier Division of what was by then called the Unibond League and, the following season, went up again to the Conference North, this time via the play-offs. Last season they finished in third place, and made the play-offs for a place in the Conference, but were less successful this time, losing to Hinckley United. They start this season as fifth favourites for the Blue Square North, in a division alongside Tamworth and Southport (both relegated from the Conference), Boston United (relegated from the Football League in a Monopoly-esque “go directly to jail style at the end of last season) and the upward looking Trust-run club, AFC Telford United. They’ll have their work cut out to succeed against that little lot, but their future is the most secure that it has been in three decades.
Five Famous Former Reds
Bill Shankley – The legendary manager would be the manager at Borough Park from January 1954 until December 1955, before taking over at Huddersfield Town. He ended up at… somewhere or other.
Keith Burkinshaw – He would later go on to win two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup at Spurs, but he started out his managerial career at Workington, where he played almost 300 games and spent six months as player-manager.
Scott Carson – The erratic Liverpool reserve goalkeeper was spotted playing for Workington Youth team and offered a transfer to Leeds United’s academy in 2002. Within a year, he was the England under-21 goalkeeper.
Ken Furphy – The manager that took Watford to an FA Cup semi-final in 1970 whilst in the Third Division (beating Liverpool on the way) and also had a spell in charge at Sheffield United also started his managerial career at Borough Park.
Alan Ashman – The former West Bromwich Albion manager, who won the FA Cup with The Baggies in 1968 and was, famously, sacked by them in 1971 while he was on holiday in Greece (and found out from a Greek waiter) finished his managerial career in England before moving into scouting.