Workington 1 Altrincham 2 (14/01/2012)
“It’s grim up north” is the usual stereotypical southern view of anywhere beyond the South Midlands, and it doesn’t got much more northern than the Cumbrian coastal town of Workington. A quick shufty round the town on google streetview gave the impression that there are few towns more grim either. Despite being a very small town, even finding the town centre was difficult. The bleak streets looked like the google car had driven round in 1974, and that the opening of a sex shop and tattoo parlour would be regarded as an example of gentrification. It wasn’t an obvious place to visit for pleasure.
The reality was pleasingly different, however. For a start, to even reach Workington requires around one and half hours of driving through some of the best landscape in Britain, through the rolling hills of the Lake District. The magnificent scenery certainly made at least some of the arduous five and a half our drive up something to savour. Driving through the town also skirted the new pedestrianised – no streetview cars there – shopping precinct, which made the town rather less reminscent of an Alan Bleasdale theme park.
It also offered the committed (in both senses of the word) groundhopper the chance to visit three grounds almost next to each other, even if one hadn’t actually been a ground since 1937. Somewhat disappointingly, Lonsdale Park, the former home of Workington AFC and the town’s speedway team, hadn’t actually been a complete site for the last two years either. A bridge across the River Derwent, directly next to Workington’s Borough Park, had been washed away in floods in 2009. The route from the replacement bridge was driven rather unceremoniously through Lonsdale Park, destroying any trace of the terrace banking at that end. A tree-lined semi-oval with a hint of banking remains, to give those with vivid imagination a chance to speculate on what the place used to look like.
Workington moved directly next door to Borough Park in 1937, and eight years later the directors decided to form a rugby league club, with both clubs sharing Borough Park. Despite Workingon’s election to the football league in 1951, The rugby club were rather more successful, being national champions the same year, and challenge cup winners the year after. Tension between the two clubs caused Workington Town RLFC to move to Derwent Park, 200 yards to the east. Wikipedia claims this tension was caused by an up-an-coming young manager called Bill Shankly, at Workington for just one season in 1955/56. Wikipedia also claims Borough Park has a capacity of 3 million and that Workington are Barclays Premier League champions 2012/13, so how valid that claim is is up for question.
Walking across a Tesco car park, sitting between the two grounds like a parent separating squabbling siblings, the approach to WTRLFC’s Derwent Park suggests the ground has had better days. Much of the back fencing has been replaced by sheeting from old shipping containers. A gap in the railings seemed to offer the only change of a glimpse inside, but a friendly director of the club was outside, just coming out of the main stand. He was just locking up after doing some preparations for the local derby v Whitehaven the following day, but kindly unlocked a side gate to lets us to take a few photos, and give a bit of info about the club.
Derwent Park, itself, is a fair-sized oval of a ground due to sharing with the town’s speedway team. Crush-barrier strewn terracing curves around one end and down one side, with the side terrace being the one backed up with what looks like container ship leftovers. The other end has a grassy incline which looks no longer to be in use.
An ageing main stand, stoically defiant against attack from the elements, looks much larger than the 1200 seats it apparently holds. At only around 60 yards long at its deepest point, the sides are angled towards the corners to allow them a view of the whole pitch. The end block of seats has 26 seats at the front, yet the angle means this has reduced to just 14 seats seven rows back.
Even though I was only in the ground for about three minutes, it was good to be allowed a proper look. I’m not really a fan of rugby league, but if Co-Operative Championship 1 rugby league comes to my attention again (admittedly, not hugely likely in my neck of the woods), Workington Town will be the team I’ll look out for.
Back across Tesco’s car park, and if the rugby club had seen better days, the football club couldn’t claim any superiority on that front. The ambience wasn’t really helped by part of the main road beside the ground being dug up, seemingly as part of the ongoing works to rebuild the now non-existent bridge 100 yards to the north.
Past the road works and fences was the Workington main stand. Like Derwent Park, this stand also once had angled ends to compensate for not running the whole length of the pitch. Unlike Derwent Park, it wasn’t showing its age quite so well. It was condemned after the Bradford fire in 1985, with the roof was removed completely, and the seats boarded over with red corrugated sheeting. It’s truncated form remains to house the clubs offices and social club bar. This bar offered a welcome respite from the cold and equally welcoming time-warp beer prices. Also in a time warp was the tv, for some reasoning showing a 1950s American film of the type that would feature Jayne Mansfield, young men with Brylcreemed quiffs and that strange 1950s unnatural colour where the whole world exists in pastel shades.
With the main stand seats now gone, half of the flat-roofed covered terrace on the other side was converted to seats instead. It’s not as if they’d miss the terrace space. In terms of area (if not capacity) Borough Park must have about the most terracing in the country. Deep manly steps of terracing enclose three sides of the ground, offering a much better view than you’d normally get at this level. A complete lack of crush barriers clearly keeps the capacity down, unless that wikipedia entry is to be trusted.
The partially seated side, with seats in the rear half only, is covered for about 50 yards. The end nearest the town is deeper still and also partially covered. This cover though starts just inside the penalty box and covers from here, behind the goal, and then round the corner, almost until meeting the main stand. In front of the unusual-looking remain of the stand is a thin terrace paddock, which acts as a walkway to the social club as much as a vantage point. Additional angled supports for the pillars of this roof gives the impression this end doubles as a local gallows. Maybe the punshment for failure is rather severe round these parts.
The opposite end is open, offering a real gritty northern landscape of pylons, wind turbines, a smoke-belching factory, and a mechanical digger. Atop this terrace is a disused portakabin, where either wayward shots of the local youth have presumably decided the windows should have rather more direct fresh air ventilation. Also at this end, five other youths registered their objection to the £12 admission fee by watching from a couple of free vantage points over the fence. Despite the addition of modern pole-mounted lights, the old flood light pylons remain in each corner. These are incongruously short and capped flat at the top, as if a supporter-led pylon fund had run out of money with the work two-thirds completed.
Even for those not watching for free, the game was decent enough to be worth the money. True, the freezing conditions, the hard pitch, and a bobbly surface which could have been used to test car suspension in parts didn’t help, but it was end to end stuff for most of the game.
Workington may have been one of the form teams going into the match, but Altrincham, backed by a respectable contingent of fans who’d made what for even them was a two and half hour trip, made all the early running. Then weree well on top and it was no surprise when they took the lead. A good bit of control on the edge of the box allowed “Alty” to go in from with a low shot into the bottom corner after 25 minutes. With Altrincham dominating, they should have added more before half time, but indecision and a lack of composure limited them to just the one. A clumsy attempted chip, clearing the crossbar by several yards, was perhaps the pick of the wasted opportunities.
After 15 minutes of thawing out at half time, Workington came out with a great deal more determination, having barely troubled the Altrincham keeper in the first half. They still weren’t getting too many shots in, but should have scored 10 minutes into the half. A high ball was turned toward the goal acrobatically, but went almost straight to the hands of a fortunate goalkeeper. With that, and a wasted header put wide a few minutes earlier, it was again in the balance.
With two minutes Workington were punished. A clumsy attempted tackle in the area left a leg out that was begging to be tripped over, and a penalty was duly awarded, and scored.
From there it looked like game over, and the question looked to be how many Altrincham would score. That wasn’t how it worked out though. After a spell of pressure from Altrincham that came to nothing, Workington broke and fired a good low shot into the far corner to pull one back with 20 minutes left.
From there is could have been anybody’s with both sides looking for the next goal, but neither quite looked like getting it. The best chance fell to Workington in injury time. A chipped shot towards the far corner looked to just dropping in, until a fine full stretch save tipped the ball to safely. There was still time for an Altrincham player to slip twice on the icy track behind the goal, but no time for any more goals. Altrincham would be delighted with the win, but with three goals, two and half grounds and a whole lot of attractive scenery, it wasn’t just the away fans who’d enjoyed their trip to this corner of the far north.