The history of anything that’s 133 years old will always throw up its tales of intrigue and even tragedy, and where the latter is concerned the Cumberland Cup’s darkest hour came early in its life, in 1897.

The county competition, still contested keenly today, ought never to be a case of life and death, but on one bleak 19th century day it was disastrously that.

It is a tale sombrely remembered in west Cumbria and recounted in a new book on the cup. Author Barry Hoggarth describes how John Robert Fisher, a Workington player, was struck on the head when a “mob” of spectators threw stones at the winning side following the final against Carlisle.

“The deceased was knocked insensible,” reads a report from The Whitehaven News. Fisher, an ironworker, returned to work but was subsequently left paralysed and “bedfast” for 19 weeks, before dying from his injuries. Nobody was brought to justice for the blow that killed the 20-year-old.

Barry, who has painstakingly researched every final in the senior cup which was established in 1886 with five initial entrants (Carlisle, Workington, Wigton, Distington and Arlecdon), said he had been “a bit wary” of including this tragic tale, conscious of old ill-feeling between two of the county’s leading clubs. But its place in the competition’s long story is unavoidable.

“I remember going to the Helena Thompson Museum in Workington, and seeing a portrait of John Robert Fisher on the wall,” Barry says. “I asked if I could take a photograph.

“It was a tragic story I’d been aware of. Local football can still be a bit wild, in terms of supporters and abuse of referees, but certainly not to that extent any more...”

There are many more stories in Barry’s book that engross for happier reasons. The county game is served extremely well by his work, for it is a trove of information and anecdotes that were otherwise vanishing.

Unlikely episodes include the appearance of John Charles in the Cumberland Cup. It turns out the giant of Leeds, Juventus and Wales represented the 67th Training Regiment in the 1951/2 competition’s early rounds, whilst doing National Service at Hadrian’s Camp, Houghton.

Other striking individuals pop up in the cup’s colourful journey. Jackie Sewell, once the world’s most expensive footballer, was given dispensation by Notts County to play for his native Kells, helping them win the 1945 cup.

Harry Landells, one of the county’s first paid players, starred for Workington in 1896. Peter Beardsley represented Carlisle while the great Penrith all-rounder Albert Clapperton inevitably features. More recently, it is hard to imagine a more expensive Cumberland Cup side than the one which won it for United against Netherhall in 2011, featuring Nakhi Wells, who would later be transferred for millions, plus Paddy Madden and Graham Kavanagh.

It is far, though, from a tale of individuals. The finalists’ roll call captures many great team stories, and clubs lost in time. Carlisle Red Rose, who faded after the emergence of Shaddongate (subsequently Carlisle) United, were winners in 1906; later champions included Wanderers, a service division of the Border Regiment.

The rise and fall of Cumbrian industries can also be charted, with victories for Haig Colliery (1978, ’82 and ’85) and Marchon (1991). West Cumbrian history is further evoked with a win for Workington’s Marsh Boys Club in 1970. In Carlisle, Celtic Nation’s well-funded flame soon went out, but not before they got their name on the 2014 trophy. The more enduring Carlisle City won it in 1976, a year after forming.

Barry, from Frizington, was charmed by underdog tales from his corner of Cumbria. “Little Moor Row winning it [in 1921],” he says. “And Bigrigg, beating Carlisle United [in 1915]. You wouldn’t believe that now.” Three different Frizington clubs have also claimed glory: White Star, Athletic and Harriers.

Barry says his comprehensive list of winners is something not even the county FA had been able to compile. “To start with,” he says, “I’d written a little book about the history of football in Frizington. It sold out and helped buy the kids’ football team two strips.

“By that point I had a lot of info about the winners of various cups in Cumberland. I thought I should do something with it. One of the lads at work said, ‘You’ll never complete that, Hoggy’. It became a bit of a challenge, a labour of love.”

Some of the richest stories come from the early years, when crowds of thousands were not unknown. There were recurring controversies; the first final, won by Carlisle against Workington, was disputed for several weeks as the west Cumbrians claimed their opponents had not “appealed”, as in cricket, for one of their goals.

The following year, Distington lodged a complaint about Workington’s sloping pitch. In 1899, Frizington were thrown out after objecting to the replaying of a game where pitch markings had washed away.

In 1949, semi-finalists High Duty Alloys walked off in protest at opponents Parton being awarded three penalties. In 1892, Moss Bay Exchange’s surprise win against Workington was followed by unsubstantiated claims of match-fixing. The minnows later teased their victims by taking out a mock death notice in the newspapers: “In affectionate remembrance of Workington Association Football Club, who was put to sleep in Cup Competition by the Youngsters from Moss Bay...”

Other nuggets catch the eye – the 1923 final between Whitehaven Recreation and Penrith was refereed by David Asson from West Bromwich, shortly before he presided over the “White Horse” FA Cup final, where 200,000 swamped Wembley – as do some precious old photos, and accounts of the competition’s three trophies.

It confirms, were it ever doubted, the county’s rich story in the old game, in a cup which, as it continues with its current quarter-finals, continues to survive tumult and change. “Local football is on the decline,” Barry says, “especially at amateur level. Hopefully the book will rekindle a bit of interest for a few people. If it does that, it will have been worthwhile.”

*The Cumberland Senior Cup 1886 to 2019 can be purchased from Barry, who can be contacted via email at or on Twitter @Hoggy082.