History 1945 - 2021
Workington Town RLFC was formed in December 1944 at a meeting held in the Royal Oak Hotel, Workington (now the Labour Club) and in attendance was Mr John Wilson the then secretary of the Rugby League. It was decided at the meeting that the club should be registered as a business and that an application for membership of the Rugby League should be submitted. From those in attendance at that meeting the first Board of Directors was formed and the application for membership of the senior section of the Rugby League was agreed at a meeting held on 23rd January 1945 at the Grosvenor Hotel, Manchester.
The rise to the top was nothing short of miraculous. Gus Risman joined Workington Town as player-coach in August 1946, club legends like Billy Ivison and Eppie Gibson were on the journey too and within six years of the first win, at home to Broughton Rangers in front of 4,100 fans, Town had risen to the pinnacle of Rugby League and were crowned Champions when they defeated Warrington in the final in front of over 60,000 spectators at Maine Road, home of Manchester City FC, on 5th May 1951.
The following season they then went on to defeat Featherstone Rovers at Wembley on 19th April 1952 to become Challenge Cup Winners in front of 72,093 spectators in the first televised final! No other club, before or after, has lifted both these trophies within such a short period of their formation. But it did not stop there, they also appeared at Wembley on two more occasions, unfortunately losing in 1955 to Barrow and in 1958 versus the mighty Wigan RLFC, nevertheless they were great achievements for what was still a fledgling club. The legends that were Ike Southward and Harry Archer began their careers at Town in 1952 and went on to have an amazing careers. Other club legends like Sol Roper, Brian Edgar and also came to the fore.
Town initially played their fixtures at Borough Park alongside Workington Reds but owing to tension between the football club's manager Bill Shankly and the Town manager Gus Risman and director Tom Mitchell, Town took the step to secure a 150-year lease on the land at Derwent Park and built a new stadium. They moved out of Borough Park in 1956, also the year John 'Loppy' O'Neill started out in Town colours.
But things did not always go their way as in their first season they attained the status of being defeated by an amateur side, a very rare occurrence in those days. This defeated came at the hands of Sharlston Rovers in the fist round of the Challenge Cup. Fortunately for Town the first round was a two leg affair, and they were able to make amends in the return leg and progress to the second round, but it gave the club a stark reminder that it was not always going to be easy.
After the successes of the fifties, the shortage of silverware during the sixties would lead those looking back to think that Town had gone down in strength, but to many the opposite is the fact as, while the only trophy to be won was the Western Division Final in November 1962 when the now retired Ivison masterminded the win as Coach. It was during this period that Town attained the reputation of other sides fearing the journey over Dunmail Raise to confront one of the most fearsome packs in the league. If several of the first choice players were out through injury, or the like, the replacements were just as formidable and at full back Paul Charlton was carving his own career as one of the finest No 1's to play the game. By the mid 1960's the silky skills of stand off turned centre Ian Wright had joined the ranks.
The record attendance at Derwent Park was set in 1965 when 17,741 spectators turned up for a third round Challenge Cup match against Wigan.
The early seventies brought the demise of Town as a power in the game although their pack now boasted the likes of Eddie Bowman and the Gorley brothers Les and Peter but the fans support dropped off making it very difficult for the management to come up with the cash to bring in top class players. The legendary Paul Charlton had took over as player-coach in 1975 and guided them to promotion with loose forward Big Billy Pattinson now making his way in the game.
Local players returned to the club and started to bring back glory to Town by appearing in a Lancashire Cup Final in October 1976. Indeed the wealth of talent which was still in the Cumbrian scene were being enticed out of the county to other clubs, and the rise back to the top only came when a top class team consisting mainly of home grown player started to bring back glory to the Town by appearing in a Lancashire Cup Final in October 1976 and although they were defeated by Widnes on that day, in winning their way to a Lancashire Cup Final, this team had achieved what the great sides of the fifties and sixties could not. And it did not stop there, for they appeared in a further three finals in consecutive season winning the trophy by defeating Wigan in the 1977 final under the coaching combination of Ike Southward and Paul Charlton. The era was full of outstanding players like the aforementioned player-coach and captain Charlton, Eddie Bowman, the Gorley brothers Les and Peter, Billy Pattinson and the enduring Arnold 'Boxer' Walker to name a few but in truth every single one was a top talent!
Again, this great side broke up as Town's pack was immense and it caught the eye of the wealthy Lancashire clubs and Town went into decline, and while there were some small successes, the eighties were the lowest era in the clubs history as it saw Town mainly as a yoyo side going in and out of the first division but mostly wallowing half way down the second. During this period, the fan base practically disappeared altogether with crowds often less than 300, and as the nineties arrived it was a third division rugby which they found themselves in. This was the low point and things had to change, which they did quite dramatically.
After some sterling but initially unspectacular work by player coach Ray Ashton, Town started to become competitive and very hard to beat, laying some strong foundations based on some key personnel from out of the county, some mightily impressive backs from overseas in centre pairing Ken Kerr and New Zealand Test centre Paddy Tumiavave and a strong recruitment from the amateur scene saw Town get things moving forward in a positive direction. However things unexpectedly turned against Ashton and he was relieved of his duties.
Australian Peter Walsh joined Town as Head Coach in the summer of 1992 and brought with him the legend that was Fijian prop Jimmy Pickering who was to create his own legacy, his impact was the catalyst on the pitch for sharp up turn in fortunes. Town were beaten finalists in the 1992–93 Divisional Premiership going down to Featherstone Rovers from the Division above as Town at that time were in the Third Division. Having gained promotion as runners up, Workington then won the Second Division Championship and Divisional Premiership trophy double in 1993–94. The Divisional Premiership was secured with a win over London Crusaders at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, roared on by thousands of Town fans!
The team was a superb combination of local grit with Colin 'Buck' Armstrong, Martin Oglanby, Paul Penrice and Peter Riley amongst others, supplemented by ex-Wigan star Ged Byrne, hooker Phil McKenzie who was snapped up from Widnes. In addition to that mercurial Australian Mark Mulligan was majestic at full back and with the hard hitting Brad Hepi joining Pickering in the pack the period saw Town play a tough but entertaining brand of Rugby League. The style wowed the fans who had returned in their thousands to follow the club.
The promotion took Town them into the top flight of rugby league and a 9th place finish in the Stones Bitter Championship beating some of the best sides in the country along the way. Unfortunately Peter Walsh quit as the coach of Workington Town to return to Australia in July 1995 to take the assistant coaches job at top flight Illawarra Steelers in the AFL which has developed into todays NRL competition.
1996 - 2011 :Summer Rugby and Super League
When the Super League was set up, it was proposed that Town merge with Barrow, Carlisle Border Raiders and Whitehaven to form a Cumbrian Super club to be based at Workington. This was, however, resisted and an unmerged Workington Town with Ross O'Reilly at the helm took part in Super League but went on to record only two wins all season.
They finished bottom of the table and were relegated with significant debts. Australian Rob Tew replaced O'Reilly but it was a brief tenure, he was followed by Andy Platt, again it was a brief arrangement. With no real progress on the field Workington appointed successful local coach Gary Murdock and fortunes picked up before Gary left the club in April 2002. Martin Wood was appointed but things didn't work out for him and he left as the Town and then the club dropped into National League Two as a result of losing to Dewsbury in what was the fore-runner of the NL2 Grand Final.
In 2003, Ged Stokes was in charge of the New Zealand A-team on their tour of England, at the end of the tour, he was offered the vacant coaching job at Town. Workington were at a low ebb and had only seven players in their squad. Ged however had some excellent contacts through his experiences with his country and brought with him the multi talented Lusi Sione, influential hooker Jonny Limmer and blockbusting prop John 'JT' Tuimaualuga who went on to become one of the most feared props in the division after a slow start. A Challenge Cup game against Leeds brought a bumper crowd that allowed the club to clear their debts.
The club prospered and went through the full home 2005 campaign without losing a game as some scintilating attacking play usually with the elusive Sione at the fore saw Town a dominant force at Derwent Park.
Ged Stokes left the club and eventually ended up coaching up the road at Whitehaven RLFC and whilst in the UK his son Ben took up cricket at Cockermouth C.C and is now a full England International all-rounder.
Assistant coaches Craig Barker and Les Ashe took over and led the team to the Elimination Semi-final but they were defeated by Oldham. A few weeks after Town's 2007 season had come to a close, Town appointed Whitehaven RL coach Dave Rotheram as their new coach.
In Rotheram's first season in charge Town finished 8th in National League Two with only six wins from their twenty two games and were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs at Keighley.
Following a poor start to the 2009 season, with Town only gaining two wins up to that point, Dave Rotherham decided to step down. He was replaced in July 2009 by joint coaches Gary Charlton and Martin Oglanby.
2011 was a much better year with Town reaching the 2011 Championship 1 Grand Final by defeating Keighley Cougars 19–10 away in the elimination semi-final before ultimately falling short losing the promotional final to the same opponents 32-12 which saw club stalwart Neil Fraser cap his final appearance in his beloved blue & white with a late try.
In 2012 Charlton and Oglanby guided Town managed promotion back to the Championship with strong signings from the local scene like current back Elliott Miller from Millom ARLFC combining with seasoned stars like Ewan Dowes and Mark Calderwood giving Town a side to be proud of once again.
Charlton and Oglanby held the reigns until 2013 but at the end of the 2013 season Martin Oglanby decided it was time to leave and Charlton was coach at the commencement of the 2014 season but dramatically after 1 game he chose to quit citing he had taken the club as far as he could.
The search for a coach brought Phil Vievers the ex-St Helens star fullback to the club and 2014 saw the club consolidate their position in the Championship and a strong finish to 2015 season coinciding with the loan arrival of maverick half Jarrod Sammut saw Town finish in the playoffs before going down to Featherstone Rovers in the semi-final. 2016 saw Sammut secured on a permanent deal and the club was hoping to push on but financial trouble hit the club unexpectedly and ultimately the team was relegated and many players including Sammut left as did Phil Veivers.
2017 saw Town back in the 3rd tier and ex-Barrow hooker Dave Clark was appointed as coach and with that a year of consolidating the club with a limited budget and relatively small squad was undertaken. A solid season saw a mid table finish but the board of directors chose to end Clark's tenure and appointed ex- Super League superstar Leon Pryce as Head Coach for the 2018 season.
Pryce's first season saw Town start slowly as he found his feet but when his undefeated old club Bradford Bulls headed to Derwent Park Town produced a fantastic performance to topple the Bulls 17-16 and with superstar prop Fuifui Moimoi joining the ranks alongside Sean Penkywicz who was rolling back the years at hooker Town surged through the second half of the season and incredibly blew the title race wide open when the completed a memorable 24-18 win at Odsal to virtually hand the title to James Ford's York City Knights. Town finished in the playoffs but in a dramatic late change to the promotion format ended up having two bites at promotion. Firstly we travelled to Odsal again but a fired up Bulls and early injuries to Wilkes and Penkywicz followed by Moimoi being sent off as Town were getting back in the game ended in a 27-8 defeat.
The second attempt at promotion was a long shot, hit heavily by injuries, suspensions and pre-booked holidays due to the extension of the season by one week Town ran out of steam and eventually lost in a close game to Swinton Lions who retained their Championship status.
In 2019 Town were installed as favourites by the bookies for promotion but after an unexpected slow start with Town languishing outside the playoff's and a heavy home loss to eventual Champions and bitter rivals Whitehaven saw the club and Pryce mutually agree to part company.
In May after an extensive search by the club ex-Huddersfield Giants interim coach and ex-Super League star Chris Thorman was appointed initially to the end of the season. Thorman set about his task of achieving the play-offs and that was achieved with Town eventually losing out to a strong Newcastle Thunder 38-18.
Thorman was appointed on a 3 year contract as he aims to resurrect the club's fortunes and re-establish Town in the Championship.
The 2020 season started promisingly with excellent home victories against Doncaster and Keighley before the Covid19 pandemic struck!
This chapter in Workington Town's history is still to be written.....
10th October 2021
Promotion to the Championship!
After a season where Chris Thorman's young team started well from the off with convincing wins against London Skolars and North Wales Crusaders and with form maintained throughout an interupted campaign because of the Covid pandemic still affecting the fixtures we saw ourselves at the peak of the table and the only team to take a point from eventual Champions Barrow Raiders with a draw at Craven Park in a pulsating clash. Our form dipped and we lost top spot and finished the regular season in 2nd place, a place in the play offs was the reward and a home fixture with Keighley Cougars who we overcame with a golden point penalty goal from Carl Forber.
The victory allowed us an extra weeks preparation and in glorious Sunday sunshine October 10th 2021 will live long in the memory Town comprehensively beat Doncaster RLFC 36-12 to secure a return to the Championship.
The performance was watched by just under 3000 fans in another show of the potential in the area when we get things right.
2022 - present!
The season started with Chris Thorman's Town regaining the Ike Southward Memorial Trophy with a try on the hooter by hooker Matty Henson to secure a memorable victory.
An opening day home game against Newcastle Thunder was an opportunity to get off to a good start with over 1200 fans in attendance filled with early season optimism but Town lost in horrendous weather conditions in a game they should have won. A strong home performance in defeat followed against the much fancied Featherstone Rovers again in front of over 1000 fans in terrible weather but as the season evolved and as injuries hit the first victory eluded Town before a Challenge Cup win v Dewsbury gave an indication of better things to come.
Unfortunately poor home performances against Yorkshire sides Sheffield Eagles, Halifax Panthers and York City Knights and the manner of those defeats were damaging. Squad strengthening temporarily raised performance and results became closer but that league win evaded Town and average crowds reduced by over 30% , eventually Town got over the line and beat London Broncos comfortably 32-18 to give hope but what followed was a 7 game sequence where Town shipped over 350 points and only scored 38 in response to effectively confirm the inevitable and a return to League One was confirmed when we lost away to London Broncos with 5 games still to play!
Financial issues hit the club and club staff and players were all asked to take pay cuts, the action allowed the club to navigate the season and complete it's fixtures as sponsors, supporters clubs and the fanbase rallied to help the Board of Directors steer the club through this period. As this is written those challenges remain in place. The club would not be here without the actions of the coaches and players to accept their pay cuts and the club, irrespective of relegation will forever be indebted to Chris Thorman and the players for their financial sacrifice to ensure Workington Town survived.
The review of the season and structures of the club has seen change at the club, Head Coach Chris Thorman opted to depart for an opportunity at Newcastle Thunder in the Championship. Town appointed Gary Murdock as Director of Rugby and with club structure at the top of the agenda as well as appointing a new Head Coach.
That appointment was made when Ex-North Wales Crusaders Head Coach Anthony Murray was given the reigns for 2023 and 2024.
The next page in the history of Workington Town is now waiting to be written!
Mentioned above are Workington Town legends who have been part of the clubs famous history, head to http://www.townrlfc.com/hall-o... to read about who has made it into the Hall of Fame.