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Reds unlikely hero in the flu epidemic of 1959 PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Walsh   
Monday, 08 February 2021

alan blakeman.pngFebruary 1959 and we were in the grip of influenza – or certainly I was.

Asian flu had hit the country hard, although the death toll was nowhere near what today’s coronavirus has accounted for.

I remember it well, having just turned 13 in October and the absences at Cockermouth Grammar School had been mounting week by week.

Eventually I succumbed – dreadful night-time sweats, hallucinations, aching limbs but as I recall not much cold. I was in bed for over a week and very light-headed for a couple of days when I got back on my feet.

It always makes me smile when I hear people say they’ve had flu for a couple of days. No they haven’t, they’ve had a heavy cold.

Anyway, that’s as maybe, what brings me onto flu was the week-end item on the Workington Reds website - the popular On This Day series.

February 7th, 1959 and a game I recall so well, even though I was not there!

My dad, who first took me to Borough Park in 1953, had left me in bed while he went to watch the Reds in action against Watford.

Now remember this was the first season of the Fourth Division, and just over a year after we had played that magnificent FA Cup-tie with Manchester United.

Don’t forget there were no portable televisions, no Radio Cumbria, no mobile phones and you usually didn’t know the score until Sports Report on the radio at 5pm.

When my mother shouted upstairs that we had won 3-1I think my temperature and pulse rate must have gone up a notch – but that was nothing compared to the reaction when dad returned, came straight upstairs  and proceeded to give his report.

I remember it was dominated by reference to Alan Blakeman, our new centre-forward who had scored a hat-trick on his home debut.

We’d only recently signed him from Rotherham where he’d had two first team starts without scoring and had won 2-1 at Chester a week earlier in his first game.

“I think we’ve got a real-un,” gushed dad – a die-hard Reds fan who had never got over us selling Jimmy Dailey to Rochdale in October 1957.

When Blakeman scored twice the following week in a 3-0 win at Hartlepool it looked as though he might be right. We won his first four games.

Unfortunately the run could not be maintained. We finished 17th of 24in the inaugural season of the Fourth Division and although he scored seven goals in 14 games it proved a short stay. In the summer he moved on to join Southport – who had actually finished bottom.

In actual fact Blakeman had a job in his home town of Oldham and that wasn’t compatible with playing for the Reds, and so it proved at Southport. Although he signed for them, he never actually played and moved into non-League with Ashton United and virtual obscurity.

Never mind, for one glorious Saturday in February he was “a real un” and helped an Ellenborough teenager through the flu epidemic.

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