Birthplace of Morecambe football club on a cricket pitch

Morecambe FC celebrates its centenary today, and in the first of a two-part special, club historian Lawrence Bland takes a look back at the club’s history starting from 1920
Morecambe FC team 1920-21.Morecambe FC team 1920-21.
Morecambe FC team 1920-21.

he White Lund Recreation Football Club was the team drawn from the munitions factory which exploded in 1917.

Despite a disaster, which claimed 10 lives, the plant was still in business and the workers’ team was playing the 1919-20 season on Woodhill Lane’s cricket ground.

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On April 1, 1920, members organised a meeting at the West View Hotel to restart the cricket as Morecambe Cricket Club had closed down after war broke out in 1914.

Morecambe FC team 1921-22.Morecambe FC team 1921-22.
Morecambe FC team 1921-22.

Also on the agenda was the formation of a strong Morecambe Football Club to be drawn from Poulton Athletic, Wards and White Lund football clubs.

Together they formed the Morecambe Cricket, Tennis and Athletic Club with a football section to compete in what they called ‘the chief leagues’.

Morecambe Football Club was officially re-formed at a meeting on May 7, 1920 at the West View Hotel, which decided to apply to enter a team in the Lancashire Combination, an application which was accepted and the Cricket Club’s ground at Woodhill Lane was used for the first season 1920-21.

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The opening match on August 28 saw a gate of 3,000 watch a 1-4 home defeat by Fleetwood, with P Lewis scoring Morecambe’s first ever goal. The first team was Gaskell, Peel, Anderson, O’Brien, Cooper, Whittaker, Stevenson, Smith J, Lewis, Thompson and Holgate.

Joseph Barnes ChristieJoseph Barnes Christie
Joseph Barnes Christie

In the next match, on Monday, August 30, a 0-4 defeat at Barrow saw the debut of Jackie Farnworth, a fine right-half, who was an almost ever present for Morecambe for nine full seasons, making a pre-war record of 368 appearances.

The first five games were lost before the first point was obtained in a 2-2 draw at Darwen on September 13.

After an early exit from the FA Cup 0-2 at home to Brieghtmet United of the West Lancashire League in a replay, Morecambe’s first win, was away to Lancaster Town 1-0 on October 2.

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Home form was terrible, with seven consecutive defeats before the first home point on New Years Day, a 2-2 draw with Dick, Kerr’s, this being followed on January 22 by the first home win, 6-3 over Great Harwood.

There were many difficulties that first year, with 56 players being called upon, but form improved in the latter half of the season, with good results lifting the side up to 13th.

Playing football on the cricket field was not popular, and when the FA told the football section to separate itself from the cricket section and become independent, the club had to find a new ground.

After looking at some land behind the horse tram depot where Asda is now located in Lancaster Road, this was earmarked for housing, so they went further out on Lancaster Road to near the Half-Way House, and some rough pasture was acquired, with the president of the supporters’ club Mr Christie arranging the rent of the field.

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Originally it was planned to be railed like an oval, in a similar style to the old layout at Lancaster’s Giant Axe, but it wasn’t built that way, with stands planned for all four sides, with a capacity of 8,000 to 10,000 when finished. A wooden stand was built to hold 700 which remained in place until 1962, with a covered standing area at the Lancaster end known as the ‘Scratching Shed’ soon constructed which, with much repair, lasted until 1967. The ground was called Rosebery Park, I assume after the nearby Rosebery Avenue, which was probably built when Lord Rosebery was the Liberal Prime Minster from 1894 to 1895.

After two trial matches on the new field, the ground was officially opened on August 27, 1921 with another visit from Fleetwood, who again won, this time 4-0.

Morecambe’s team being Sloane, Johnstone, Kirkbright, Peel, Whittaker, Farnworth, Cope, Gornall, Aldred, Gradwell and Morris.

The match attracted great interest with a boat sailing from Fleetwood to Heysham which linked up with the electric trains to Promenade Station, from where charabancs ferried fans to the ground.

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The horse tram company ran extra buses from Lancaster, which lifted the gate to about 3,500. Norman Whittaker scored Morecambe’s first goal on the new ground, on September 10 in a 1-1 draw with Bacup Borough. A total of 47 players were used for what was another struggling season, which saw no cup wins and the league position dropping to 14th.

But fortunes changed over the next couple of years and in 1924-25 Morecambe became champions of the Lancashire Combination securing 55 points from 36 games. Their success continued with back-to-back victories in the Lancashire Junior Cup, the second of which in 1926-27 saw them beat Lancaster 1-0 at Preston North End, and also win the Lancashire Combination Cup against the same opposition in a replay. The club became an incorporated company at the end of this season.

In September 1927 the Football Club became a limited company, however, 1927-28 was a difficult season both on and of the pitch with Morecambe finishing above mid-table.

With many players injured, indifferent performances and bad weather, 1928 proved to be a crisis year, financially, for the club, who seek help from Club President Jospeh Barnes Christie (pictured, inset).

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He bought the ground and gave it to the club, with a covenant that land would be used for football. In his honour the ground was renamed Christie Park. Sadly 1929 saw the death of the club president and its great benefactor.

And the period up to the end of the Second World War saw little success, with the team finishing no higher than mid-table.