Fan's Eye View: No 197; Workington
Saturday 21 December 1996
It was special - it gave you a sense of identity when trying to explain where you came from. If you were into football, it was natural to assume that all other sane humans were as well, so you said: "I'm from Workington, you know, Division Three" but more usually "Four." My relationship with the Reds started sometime in the 1957-58 season when, as a nine-year-old, I became aware that adults kicked a ball seriously and that the ground was quite near to my home.
At that time I was neither aware of history, nor the scope of the game beyond my immediate reality. The cost of such immaturity meant that I missed the famous FA Cup third-round tie in January 1958 when "we" were knocked out by the "Busby Babes" in one of the last games they played before Munich.
As the 60s and adolescence arrived, history and context began to take a greater hold on our lives. Shankly had been our manager and we had missed it, but the stories sounded good when told by our elders. Then there had been Joe Harvey, who was allowed to leave to take over at Newcastle. We had drifted from the Third Division North to the Fourth Division, and I had become aware of the process of re-election. In that time I saw the demise of Gateshead, Accrington Stanley, Bradford Park Avenue and then, nearer to home, Barrow. Life was now not so simple, innocent or straightforward.
In the summer of 1963 the club appointed a new player-manager, and there were a number of new signings. Little did we realise that Ken Furphy would produce a team that not only would give us promotion to the Third Division, but for a short time would threaten to win that league.
Furphy gave me my adolescent heroes, names that can still flavour conversations in pubs with friends when I got home. He gave us dreams of greatness, dreams that were stolen by arch rivals Carlisle and a disputed Kit Napier goal in a Christmas derby that was disallowed because he hit it so hard it rebounded off the back stanchion.
Furphy was attracted to Watford, pre Elton John, and took some of the stars with him. We returned to our roots in the Fourth Division. I left for higher education in 1968 to Manchester at its football best - but I was often to be found following my heart in places such as Stockport and Rochdale.
After graduation I found myself working in Oxford, so my relationship was maintained via the local weekly paper sent by my parents and carefully chosen visits home for holidays. The 1970s were bad times - each September promised a new opportunity, but the quality of the team appeared to get worse.
The last time that I saw them in that elite group of 92 was in the latter part of the 1976-77 season. I was in my Hertford period, so the nearest game was Cambridge. They went on to win the division that season, so we were just another home win for them, 4-1. A spirited performance from a team that was not good enough... but there was always next season!
But this time there wasn't. We only applied for re-election seven times, there are 12 teams who matched that number or beat it, eight of whom are still in the "club." We went - and in came Wimbledon.
The trauma is still with us, even after 19 seasons. We missed the opportunities now offered by the GM Vauxhall Conference, plummeting to the lower levels of the Northern Premier League. A ground that once held 21,000 is now capped at 2,500, with the grandstand losing its roof as a consequence of Taylor. But they are still my team.
I now live in Liverpool and my nine-year-old son supports the local "Reds." However, he joins his dad to visit exotic places such as Warrington, Witton Albion, Curzon Ashton, Eastwood Town and other welcoming grounds. Several weeks ago we had a weekend in Workington. He did what I always wanted to and was mascot for the home game with Worksop Town, watched by his grandad. Happy dreams...
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