Workington '81 - Bagley's Gamble
Think of Workington nowadays and the perception is of a well run, professional and successful club. This reputation owes much to the investment of Tony Mole, the promotional skills of Ian Thomas and the one man sensation that is Carl Stonehewer. One man, Ron Bagley, once hoped that he could lead the club into such happy times.
Bagley took over the Workington promotion during the 1980-1981 winter. He had previously enjoyed success as team manager with Mildenhall and Ipswich and was keen to try his hand at promoting. He couldn't have picked a harder place to start. Workington had finished stone last in the league in 1980 and had only managed to win two matches. They had also suffered the humiliation of a 65-12 defeat away to Crayford. Unsurprisingly this pitiful record had badly affected the attendance figures.
Bagley was convinced that a respectable side was the key to tempting back the missing thousands. He made this his top priority and gradually pieced together a side that looked capable of holding its own.
His main capture was Nicky Allott. The experienced Buxton based rider was a capable performer who was expected to fill the number one racejacket. He looked the part at practice but stunned Bagley by quitting before the first meeting of the season. He moved on to Scunthorpe where he turned in the kind of solid scoring that Bagley had been looking for. It wasn't the best start for the new promoter.
Allott's main backup was intended to come from Chris Pusey. Pusey had missed the 1979 season after a fall out with Halifax and had spent 1980 with Weymouth. His average was below the six point mark but this was largely attributed to the travelling from his Manchester home and his lack of experience on National League circuits. Bagley was confident that a rider of Pusey's experience and talent couldn't fail to deliver.
Bagley's faith proved to be misplaced. Pusey's form was very disappointing and he struggled to score any points at all. He was a shadow of the rider he had once been and soon lost his place in the side.
Bagley's third heatleader, Ian Hindle, didn't fare much better. Hindle had held the side together in 1980 and deserved to have much more support this time around. Unfortunately he took a nasty tumble early in the season and broke his leg. This ended not only his season but also his career.
A similar injury and fate befell Mike Hiftle. Hiftle was tempted out of retirement to add some middle order strength to the side. He had last ridden for Berwick in 1979 where he was famous for his high home scores and miserable away performances. The same kind of pattern would have satisfied Bagley, performing well at Derwent Park was the first target for this side. Hiftle's season was over as early as the second match.
The new promoter found himself in the middle of a nightmare. One by one his top four had all fallen by the wayside and the season had barely started.
Bagley's Comets battled on gamely but the results were understandably poor. Terry Kelly and Wayne Jackson, signed as lower order riders, were thrust into the spotlight and responded well. Their scores prevented many heavy defeats from becoming total humiliations. The remainder of the side consisted of promising youngsters and riders discarded by other clubs.
The team managed to avoid the wooden spoon but the fans didn't respond in sufficient numbers. The BSPA refused to allow the club to continue unless all debts were cleared. Bagley's attempts to raise the cash fell short and the club closed down.
In truth the task of rebuilding the club was simply too big for one man. Bagley suffered from bad luck, bad judgement and the damaged reputation of the club he inherited. His gamble of reviving the club was a brave one, it deserved to succeed.
This article was first published on 30th April 2005
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