Result: Workington 0-3 Basford United (Northern Premier League Premier Division)
Venue: Borough Park (Saturday 16th February 2019, 3pm)
The strikes are over!!! Finally, Northern rail is (hopefully, when and if they turn up) back up and running on a Saturday and with that comes the possibility of getting to places that had been out of reasonable reach for quite some time. One such place just happened to be Workington and with Borough Park not long for this world, I figured what better time to make the trip to the Cumbrian Coast and the historic old home of “the Reds”.
Catching the twenty-past eight train into Warrington during the morning, having to bypass the ticket machine due to its seemingly ever-present technical issues, the usual walk through the town to Bank Quay was made prior to catching the connection up to Carlisle. Arriving a few minutes late was beneficial for once, shrinking my waiting time a little before the ride over the rural route to the coast. Arriving at a little before midday, the staple ‘getting lost’ part of the trip was overcome with little overall waywardness and upon coming to Wetherspoons, I figured I’d start off in their tried and tested environment. An old theatre/cinema building (not as impressive as others I’ve been in, though), it was a pleasant enough place to plan out the rest of the day’s itinerary over a Punk IPA, alongside a bit of people-watching/being a weird line drinker, depending on whose point of view you want to look at it from!
As a little drizzle began to fall from the sky, I headed over to a back-road that was the strangest place for a pub hotbed I’ve ever come across. 4 pubs are located in pretty much a straight line, with three all but neighbouring each other. After visiting the local-centric Miners Arms for a Kronenbourg, the next pub along by the name of the Grapes was quiet though welcoming and, more interestingly, had Singha on draught. Of course, with that being one of the lesser-spotted draught beers – outside of Indian restaurants – , I opted for a pint of that, with it coming in at a pocket pleasing £3.10
Finishing up, I headed the few doors down to the neighbours of the Blue Bell and the Old Red House, though neither were overly blue or red, which I suppose is to not put off any Worky or Carlisle fans from either establishment! Both were decent, the former having only racing on for their punters (Coors £3.20), but the latter had the early kick-off on to get me in the football mood. A pint of Amstel and its old Champions League connotations, also at £3.20, helped this feeling along too, before I walked over to Borough Park to secure a programme (I was kindly allowed inside to do so) before back-tracking for a final pre-match drink of Dark Fruits at the nearby Waverley Hotel.
Workington is a coastal town and civil parish on the mouth of the River Derwent and is on the West Coast of Cumbria. Historically in Cumberland in the Borough of Allerdale, it has history from the Roman era in defences and forts protecting from attacks by the Irish Scoti and Scottish Caledonii. A Viking sword was also found on the Northside of the River Derwent, suggesting a settlement may have been sited there during the era of their invading and later settling. The Roman fort (likely Magis), now known as Burrows Walls, was also on the North side of the river and further fortifications and watch towers suggest that the era was an extension of Hadrian’s Wall to protect from sea invasions. The town’s current name is derived from the old-English “Weorc” (likely a man’s name) and the suffixes “ingas” (people or sons of) and “tun” (settlement). The settlers were followers of Weorc and would have named themselves “Weorcingas” (Weorc’s People), though the town’s name has since been written in 105 different ways over a millennia. Later, it was beleieved monks connected to those at Lindisfarne had a community in the area and lost their gospels on trying to cross to Ireland, though returned safely themselves.
The Curwens, Lords of the Manor of Workington, were heavily involved in the First War of Scottish Independence and their motto is said to derive from the arrival of their troops at the Battle of Falkirk – turning the battle in favour of the English King Edward. It was here William Wallace was defeated and it’s been claimed since that Sir Gilbert de Curwen left his arrival strategically late as to join the winning side, as he had allegiances in both armies. Upon Wallace’s execution, Robert the Bruce was duly crowned King of Scotland and would go on to contest the Second War, also against King Edward. After claiming his knighthood in battle in France – fighting on behalf of King Edward III’s cause to take the French throne, he would become a victim of the infamous Black Death in 1403, which also claimed his son who’d taken on his mantle. The family would also (allegedly) feature at the Battle of Agincourt, later fights against the Scots and the Wars of the Roses, supporting both sides where the crown went. Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her first night in England in Workington Hall after defeat at the Battle of Langside prior to being escorted to Carlisle Castle to begin her ill-fated imprisonment.
Later, politician John Curwen introduced acts to lift restrictions on the Catholic community in the country in the late 18th century and helped to forest the area around Windermere. He would also be a strong supporter of the abolition of slavery and introduced social security and mutual benefit schemes for his farm and colliery workers, of which coal would continue to be a long-term industry along with iron ore and steelworks throughout later years and centuries. Most of these would depart the area in recent times, with chemical, cardboard, the docks and recycling companies largely becoming local employers along with the nearby nuclear facility at Sellafield and those that go with it. The British Cattle Movement Service (a government agency which oversees the beef and dairy industry) is also based in Workington and the town also produced Leyland Buses and the much-maligned Pacer trains, the bus factory later taken on by Eddie Stobart. The Cumbrian Coast rail line gives connections to Lancaster/Preston and Carlisle and a temporary station was once hosted here (Workington North) which operated during the flood recovery times in 2009, connecting the main Workington station and Maryport.
After heading back to Borough Park once again, I paid my student discount (thank God that’s back for even further savings) of £7 and was into the sprawling expanses of the covered terrace. The old main stand which was closed and largely dismantled after the Bradford fire, though it remains in spirit with the bottom part still standing and housing the dressing rooms, clubhouse and other facilities. The opposite side is home to what had become the defacto main stand, a covered seating and standing affair, with the standing area at the rear separated by a wall bearing the W. A. F. C initials upon it. To the front is further terracing protruding from under the cover, with the far end (and intermittent parts) all being expanses of uncovered terracing. That’s Borough Park in a nutshell, and this is the story of Workington A.F.C….
History Lesson :
Workington A.F.C. was founded in 1921, though, in very early and different guises, the game of football dates back from at least the 18th century, with one of the earliest records of a match dating from 1775, which states the match is “long contested”, suggesting the game’s history goes back further than this. A local game of “Uppies and Downies” continues to be contested annually alongside Workington’s Borough Park home. Association football was brought to the town in the 1880’s and it’s thought a group of migrating steel workers from Dronfield (current home to Sheffield F.C. of course) further popularised the game and eventually founded the original Workington AFC in 1888.
The original side became a founding member of the Cumberland Association League shortly after their own founding, playing at Lonsdale Park, and remained in the League through to 1894 when they moved to the Cumberland Senior League, before a further switch of scenery saw the club move to the Lancashire League in 1901. However, the League would fold just two years later and thus Workington returned to the Cumberland Senior League for one season prior to their admission into the Lancashire Combination in 1904, remaining there until 1910 when switching leagues one last time to compete for a sole season in the North East League before folding. Post-war, the Workington AFC name was re-introduced, with the current club starting life where their predecessor ended its own. In 1933-’34, the club achieved their best FA Cup run, making the Fourth Round before bowing out to Preston North End. Workington won two North Eastern League Challenge Cups in 1935 &’ 37 too and lifted their first Cumberland Senior Cup in 1887, the first of five consecutive triumphs, winning the Cup on 24 occasions up to 2009.
Moving to Borough Park just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and in 1951 the club were voted in to join the Football League’s Third Division North at the expense of Wirral-based New Brighton. However they would struggle in their initial couple of years, finishing the first two seasons in bottom and second-bottom place respectively. But fortunes changed when they appointed a man who would go down in management folklore – Bill Shankly. He would only remain at the club for just under two seasons before moving on to pastures new, but Workington had somewhat settled into Football League life by that point. In 1957-’58, Workington hosted the famed Busby babes of Manchester United, just a month before the Munich Air Disaster, a match which attracted a record 21,000 fans to Borough Park to watch the ill-fated young side.
Come the end of that same season, Workington would be placed in Division 4 of the reorganised Football League and in 1964, the Reds would finish up in 3rd place and achieve promotion to the nationalised Third Division. During that season, as well as the following campaign, Workington reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup – bowing out to West Ham United and Chelsea (after a replay) respectively, the ’64 run seeing them overcome Blackburn Rovers 5-1, though the following season would see an occurrence go from being remembered fondly to one tinged with sadness years later, as Workington’s Tony Geidmintis was given his Football League bow aged just 15 but would sadly pass away at the young age of just 43. This period also saw the club field Peter Foley, who’d go on to receive an OBE for his work in combating racism in football.
1966 would see Workington reach their best-ever finish, 5th in the Third Division, before slipping down to bottom of the table the next year to return to the Fourth Division. They would never bounce back from this and would eventually become something of a staple at the wrong end of the table, ending up second-bottom in each of 1974 and 1975, prior to ending up bottom of the League in 1976. They would be re-elected on that occasion, but the following season saw the Reds record just four league wins all year in again finishing bottom, and this would be a contributing factor for the death knell of Workington as a Football League club, as they were replaced by Wimbledon. In being relegated, Workington became the penultimate side to be ousted from the League by this rule.
Now back in the non-league ranks, the club would end up dropping into the Northern Premier League, but would never finish higher than 7th before dropping into the NPL’s First Division in 1988, though did win the league’s President’s Cup in 1984. However, their struggles wouldn’t end there and after a decade in the Division 1 of the NPL they were relegated to the North West Counties League’s top-level. Their stay in the NWCFL Division 1 would be a short one though, and they would win the title at the first attempt, defeating Mossley in a title decider (with Grant Holt on the Reds’ scoresheet) and, in doing so, lifting their first ever championship – some feat for a former league team!
Back in the NPL’s Division 1, the club would remain there until 2004 when a 7th placed finish was comfortably enough to ensure a spot back in the Premier Division upon the pyramid’s restructuring. This enabled Workington’s progress to continue and, after finishing as Premier Division runners-up the next season, would achieve promotion to the Conference North through the first-ever NPL play-offs. The Conference North would become a long-term home for Workington over the next decade, with the club reaching the play-off semi-finals in 2007 (losing out to Hinckley United) and 2010 (losing to Alfreton Town) before eventually being relegated in 2014 and returning to the NPL Premier Division. After reaching the following three season’s play-offs – losing out on each occasion to Ilkeston Town, Salford City and Stourbridge (the latter two in the semi-finals) respectively – 2017-’18 looked to be heading a similar way only for injuries to tell and Workington to drop away from 2nd to mid-table. This season has seen the struggles return, with the club battling the drop to the Division 1 again.
Getting underway after a minute’s appreciation for the legendary Gordon Banks, there was another “blast from the past” between the Basford sticks by the name of Saul Deeney who helped Burton Albion (when still a non-league outfit) secure a replay with Manchester United way back when. The Northern Irishman was called into action early on in the piece too, denying both Workington front men, before Basford were awarded a spot-kick upon a fairly needless trip and it was another veteran of the same Burton side, Shaun Harrad, who stepped up to confidently find the net. 1-0 Basford.
Workington would have the majority of the play during the remainder of the half, though it was only sparingly that they truly troubled the visitors’ defence. Niall Cowperthwaite had an effort blocked and Conor Tinnion headed over, before the latter had a shot brilliantly tipped over the bar by Deeney. A late first-half bit of aggro livened things up as I exited from the old stand rooms with a tray of chips and curry but the scoreline would remain the same as the referee’s whistle signalled the break.
The second half saw Basford seek to be more proactive in their attacking approach, as they took advantage of the hosts’ own forays forward in search of a game-clinching second. After Workington’s Brad Carroll had seen a disappointingly tame shot easily saved, Basford front man Watson broke clear but with only the ‘keeper to beat, he chose to go for a chip, which proved a poor decision akin to that of the guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade….okay, maybe not that bad, but the ball drifted a fair way wide and the chance had gone.
The hosts responded with some great chances to level – the dangerous Cowperthwaite firing across goal but the ball narrowly avoided the far side-netting, before fellow wide man Tinnion unleashed a great drive from 20 yards which Deeney again met with a brilliant stop. Tinnion would then also see a header loop up and off the top of the crossbar, but you felt these missed chances would come back to haunt the Reds, and so it proved when, with around twenty minutes left, Basford grabbed the all important second goal of the game when James Reid’s delivery was met by the unmarked substitute Zak Goodwin who duly nodded in. If that wasn’t game over, then it definitely was a couple of minutes later, as a free-kick was only half-cleared to Jack Thomas and he judged a chipped effort to perfection from a fair way out, the ball dipping in at just the right moment. 3-0 and game over.
A pair of late chances for both sides could have seen the score-line added too, Goodwin showed good footwork to work a chance for himself to double his tally, only to wastefully send his shot wide and Cowperthwaite was denied by Deeney in the last real action of the game but that was that and Workington’s recent resurgence was over. Basford’s quest for another promotion to continue their impressive rise up the pyramid continues on. Post-match saw me unable to find the pub out near the waterside the other side of the station and, as such, I thought I’d set off home a little earlier and pay a visit to Carlisle station’s 301 miles bar. On the way there, though, I was asked for travel guidance to get to Kendal by a girl from California (culture shock or what?!) and my attempts at initially explaining my reasons for being in Workington for football again ended up with it being taken that I was playing there. I didn’t lie, I just didn’t ruin the experience!
Eventually guiding her to the correct place (my unfamiliarity with Carlisle likely giving the unintentional ruse away), the visit to 301 miles was undertaken, a pint of Amstel (£4) had before it was back on the train to Manchester, which slightly broke down near Wigan. Lovely. Luckily, whatever the issue was, it was quickly rectified and the rest of the journey passed without issue and that was that. Good to get Borough Park done and it was a good experience too, the history really resonates around the ground. Workington as a town was OK, with food and programme beivg decent enough. Onto another culture job next week as I ferry myself Northwards…
Value For Money: 6