Groundhopper : Workington – Blyth (Malcolm Stephenson)

Workington 1 Blyth Spartans 1 

Easter Monday is always a good day to watch football. I left my wife cooking dinner for everyone while I was out for most of the day. Watching football yet again but she never complains.

Blyth had played Workington back on Boxing day and they were a good side. The Reds are in a play off place and Spartans are just outside now, only three points behind Curzon Ashton. 

Borough Park is over 100 miles from Blyth but Workington still qualify as a derby game with them being our nearest ‘rivals‘. Its not a new ground for me and I was here the first time back in 1982. Oddly though, Workington were not playing that day. Because of a waterlogged pitch at Brunton Park, Carlisle Utds FA cup 2nd round tie with Bishop Auckland had been switched to Workington. The game had originally been played at Carlisle but was abandoned on 75 minutes due to severe rain and water on the pitch. Bad weather had hampered the game getting played and it was not put on until January of the 1981-82 season. Carlisle won that day courtesy of a goal by a certain Peter Beardsley.

Workington were formed in 1921 and later joined the football league in 1952. In their first league match at their ground they beat Chesterfield 3-1 in front of 11,000 fans. In 1958 Workington played Manchester United in front of 21,000 spectators. Just a few weeks later some of those Manchester players were killed in the air crash at Munich.

Unfortunately their reign in the Professional ranks lasted only 25 years and they failed to gain re-election. Those days teams stayed in the football league or were kicked out on other clubs votes. My personal opinion is that not many Southern based clubs disliked the journey this far North of Watford.

In 1977 Workington joined the Northern Premier league. Twenty one years later they dropped down into the North West Counties league. Later they were promoted back into the Northern Premier league first division and eventually made their way up to the Conference North. They dropped into the Northern Premier league Premier division at the end of last season.

The ground has changed since I was first here. The main stand was taken down in 1988 although the changing rooms and bar remain underneath. At one end of the ground a roof covers part of the terrace. There used to be a similar cover behind the other goal as well but that has been long since gone. On the opposite side to the changing rooms is a quite a large former terrace which is still covered. With the demise of the old stand, part of this terrace has now been converted into a seated area to meet regulations. Modern floodlights are now in place down either side of the pitch. Previously there used to be the old fashioned corner square lights so familiar at many a football ground.

Former Blyth player manager and much journeyed John Burridge started his career here at Borough Park. He played his first game here back in 1969.

Today was a very important top of the table clash. Spartans have not won here since 2009 when Anthony Shandron scored the only goal on an Easter Saturday. Since then Workington seemed to have had the better of us every time in both the league and FA cup.

The game kick off was delayed by 45 minutes as the referee had been stuck in traffic. Despite that Spartans got off to a flying start after Michael Richardson scored after two minutes. That sent the excellent travelling support jumping with delight. They had travelled in numbers today by car, train and coach.

You could see that Workington were not going to lie down and die. Far from it. They are a good football side and clearly want to get back to the Conference North at the first attempt. On this performance they are strong contenders. Workington plied pressure and they had some good clear cut chances which were not converted. You could see what was coming and I heard a voice behind me during yet another Workington attack. “They are going to score here” which they duly did in the next 5 seconds. On 38 minutes it was 1-1 and the home side continued to attack. Half time whistle went and we were at least not losing.

The second half produced few chances for either side. A few Blyth fans were shouting for Jarrett Rivers/Ash Davies to come on and support the Blyth front runners. They did but it was not to be. It was a spirited draw and possibly one of the hardest fought points this season against a very organised side.

Curzon Ashton had also got a point against FC Manchester so everything was still square on the league table. Both Blyth and Curzon have five games left. Both have three at home and two away matches. (Blyth- Nantwich, Matlock, and Marine at home. Witton and Trafford away. Curzon- Kings Lynn, Ramsbottom and Halesowen at home. Marine and Frickley away). Blyth could win all five matches and still not qualify for the play offs. On the other hand we could lose three and just win two matches and still qualify.

Spartans have now only lost once in the last 21 matches. If we do not do it this season lets hope we can start next season where we left off this one. If we do qualify it will be an outstanding achievement nevertheless in Blyths history. If we do not reach the play off I think we could safely say we are the ‘Best team in the Northern premier league not to reach the play-offs’. Time yet. Watch this space.

Attendance 871

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