Originally I was due to take my eight year old cousin to his first Bolton match (v Middlesbrough) but after being set some work, it was a quick change of plan. I was being very middle class at college on Wednesday afternoon when I found out I’d be going to Workington. There I was, in the middle of the college conservatory, enjoying a camomile tea with my Scouse friends when my phone buzzed. It was Sam from the Non-League Paper asking if I fancied covering Workington v Colwyn Bay.
I feel ashamed, and slightly ignorant to the fact I had never heard of Workington. I am a self-confessed Geography and Non-League buff, and I had never heard of a team in the Blue Square North. I did at first presume his phone had auto-corrected Warrington Town to Workington, but that wasn’t the case. I grabbed my laptop out of my bag, and typed in Workington to discover
it’s practically in Scotland it’s in Cumbria.
A quick phone call to my Dad, and we were set to go.
I couldn’t do much research on Workington as a football club, as it appears no other groundhoppers have done a blog on the place. Photographs were limited, but from what I had seen, it looked like a nice traditional ground. Emil at Atherton Collieries texted me saying we once played a Lancashire Reserves League match there on a Friday night, winning 3-0.
The club has had quite an interesting history, with the mid 50’s being the most exciting in the clubs long history. Notably, Bill Shankly was the manager at Borough Park for a year in 1954. In 1958, Workington played Manchester United at home in the Third Round of the FA Cup. They played the Busby Babes. A full strength side made the long, winding trip up to Cumbria, and more than 21,000 spectators turned out to watch the match. Workington lost 3-1, with Dennis Viollet scoring a hat-trick. The full line up for United that day was as follows: Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, Duncan Edwards, Kenny Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet and Albert Scanlon. It was THE Busy Babes, and it’s a day some of the regulars at Workington have never forgotten.
Another notable piece of club history is that Norwich striker Grant Holt played for Workington back in 1999, when he was just 18 years old. Back then the club were in the North West Counties Football League. It was in fact Grant Holt who scored the goal that took Workington back into the Northern Premier League after winning 2-1 away at Mossley.
In 2004, after a mass restructuring of non-league football, Workington were placed into the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League. They gained promotion into the Conference North after winning the play-off final. Since joining the Blue Square North, the Cumbrian side have reached the play-offs twice, and have come up short on both occasions.
I was really looking forward to going to Workington. It was a bit like going into the unknown, and I love that when I’m groundhopping. We set off from a very sunny Atherton at 11:30. The journey was fine, and we were able to admire the beauty of the Lake District as we reached the end of our journey. BBC Radio Cumbria was supplying the entertainment (only because that’s the only station we could pick up). Unfortunately they were having an afternoon of hits from 1958-1966. Brilliant.
When driving close to Cockermouth I learnt a lot about the infrastructure of the area. I found out they actually have bus routes up in Cumbria! My Dad rightly pointed out that Alfred Wainwright used to get buses when starting his peak walks… but I just came out with another ignorant comment that I assumed Alfred Wainwright walked to his starting points.
Arriving in Workington, the GPS decided to give up navigating us. It appears a brand new bridge has been opened since the map was created. This brand new, gleaming bridge led the way over the River Derwent straight to the football ground. We pulled up at the ground at 13:40 and a group of stewards showed us where to stick the car. A quick walk around to take photographs and it was time to go into the ground.
We approached the turnstile and I told them we were from the Non-League Paper. A lovely woman piped up “Oh are you? You need to see the bloke with the paper in his hand! I’ll show you, come on!” Off we wandered to the front of the ground where a man (true to her word) was stood there with a piece of paper in his hand. I again told them we were from the Non-League Paper. Without any hesitation or questions, he opened the players entrance and invited us in.
The smell of Deep Heat was rife, and the music from the players changing rooms was filling the corridors. There was a large sign on the roof which read “Welcome to Borough Park” with some of the usual post match interview background stuck on to the wall. It all looked very well kept and cosy. Up a flight of steps we went, and we were in the ground with full pitchside access.
I then went in search for a matchday programme. Now, I do appreciate the time and effort put into making a matchday programme… but Workington! How does your programme constitute a price of £2.50? Really… come on! There was precious little in the way of content and the majority of the programme was adverts. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the fact a programme was produced (unlike at Rochdale Town v Atherton Collieries).
Colwyn Bay had arrived in their large coach, plastered with Welsh Dragons and other signs and words which I couldn’t understand. Their player/manager was former Chelsea and Leicester player Frank Sinclair. The Welsh side had been through an unstable period from a managerial perspective. In January they sacked Jon Newby, before his successor Lee Williams resigned after just four matches in charge. Up stepped Sinclair to take over the reigns at the relegation threatened side.
With around half an hour to go until kick off, I stationed myself next to the away dugout. I plonked my Poundstretcher stool down, and gave my bag to my Dad who would be stood behind me again. I pulled on my fluorescent vest and had a wander on the pitch. The playing surface looked to be in a good condition, but the gusts coming from the coast looked to be causing the players a few problems.
Standing at the centre spot looking back towards the west side of the ground, I could see a small tunnel area peeping out in a vast red cladding structure. From looking on the internet, I think there used to be a wooden stand on this side of the ground, but it was partly demolished after the Bradford fire. The Shankly Bar and club offices remain with the changing rooms. This is what gives this side of the ground a strange shape.
Opposite this side of the ground is the Popular Side which houses an impressive looking Grandstand. It appears the whole of that side of the ground once used to be terracing. Now, there is a large stand which looms over the terracing beneath and to either side of it. The stand houses modern plastic seats, but many seats offer a restricted view. There is no extra payment needed to sit in this area of the ground like at other grounds in the division.
Behind one goal is a large terrace which really is impressive. It curves around the corner flag, meaning it encroaches on to the West Side of the ground.
Opposite stands a large open terrace which is the spitting image of the old terracing at Hilton Park, Leigh (minus the crush barriers). Overall, I felt like I was at the old Hilton Park ground… if only.
It was nearly time for the two sides to come out. BBC Radio Cumbria were commentating on the match just above the tunnel. I’m not sure how they are able to broadcast from such a small space right next to the fans, but it was impressive. The two sides were led out by referee Gary Beswick who had recently been appointed as one of the officials at the upcoming FA Cup Final between Wigan Athletic and Manchester City.
Workington were in the red home strip, and Colwyn Bay were in their away kit of yellow and blue.
The home side started off the better of the two sides, but were soon pinned back by Frank Sinclairs well organised and motivated side. I was surprised to see Shelton Payne on the wing for Colwyn Bay. He had impressed me a couple of months ago when I went to Burscough v Trafford. On that day he tore the Burscough back line to shreds, and he was keen to do the same against Workington.
After just 8 minutes Shelton Payne rushed down the line and skipped past Lee Andrews. He then pulled the ball back across the face of goal where Workington tried to scramble it away. Eventually Colwyn Bay captain Robert Hopley squeezed the ball home to give his side a much needed lead.
The equaliser came on 25 minutes after the referee had made a howler of a mistake. A Workington winger was brought down as the ball broke free. Workington were two on one closing down on goal, when they put the ball into the back of the net. The referee however then brought play back for a free kick. Luckily for him the resulting free kick was headed in by Dan Wordsworth who climbed higher than Frank Sinclair.
Colwyn Bay regained the lead on 38 minutes when Shelton Payne picked the ball up on the left wing. He knocked the ball past the right back, before cutting inside another two players. He had travelled across the whole of the penalty area, and he hit the ball towards the bottom right hand corner. It crept in and beat the goalkeeper.
The second half was a scrappy affair, and little football was played as the wind caused havoc for both sides. The one clear cut chance for Workington to equalise came halfway through the half when Jonny Wright volleyed well over the bar from just a few yards out. I think the ball ended up in the River Derwent which is found behind the terrace.
Colwyn Bay should have sealed the three points in the last minute when Reds keeper Taylor came up for a corner kick. The ball was cleared, and Shelton Payne picked it up in his own half. He bombed forward, but his effort was cleared off the line by Paul Johnson when he shot from the edge of the area.
The final whistle went, and the Colwyn Bay bench ran on to the pitch to celebrate. It was their fourth win in eight days, and it took them one point clear of the relegation zone. Frank Sinclair may not be the best of players anymore (and that is being nice) but he certainly knows how to motivate and organise his fellow players.
Dad and I were taken back through the players tunnel. We kind of got lost, and nearly ended up in the home changing room. I don’t think that would have gone down too well. Luckily a Workington player showed us the way out, and we were led back into the main entrance where a club representitive posed for a photo in front of his “Welcome to Borough Park” sign. He then left us on the words…
“Welcome to Workington… and you are f****** welcome to it!”
All that was left to do now was to start editing my photographs in the car on the way home and send them to the paper for the 20:30 deadline I had been given.
Overall I really enjoyed my trip to Workington. It is a lovely area of the country, and once you get past the fact you might not understand a word the locals say, you’re fine! The weather was brilliant for us. I’m sure if I’d have been told to go to Workington on a Tuesday night in January I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself as much. The ground is a real gem, and I love it.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 127 miles
- ADMISSION: Free as a Photographer
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2.50
- PIE: N/A