The Workington Football Club played its first match in November 1877, against the Whitehaven Club which had been formed in 1876. Although they lost, the press reported that the Workington footballers performed very creditably in their first game. The Club played at the Valentine Ground, (Workington Cricket Club) and like many football clubs, had been formed by cricketers looking for a winter game.
At the time, in England, football meant rugby and had evolved, via Rugby School, out of the "folk" football games played in England since earliest times. Folk football is still played in Workington every year around Easter, between teams from the upper and lower parts of the town (Uppies and Downies).
The Club continued to play at the cricket ground until 1893, when it opened its own stadium at Lonsdale Park (previously a greyhound stadium; now closed) at a cost of around Â£200; the 1880s and early 1890s were a time of increasing prosperity and population growth in Workington - from 5,000 to 25,000 in fifteen years and the Club grew as the town did, winning its first major competition, the Cumberland Shield, in 1896.
In 1895 came the split in the Rugby Football game and the formation of the Northern Football Union (now the Rugby League). Workington, along with all the other clubs in the North Western League - yes, Rugby Union had League competitions in the 1890s - went over to the new governing body in 1898. It was around this time that the Club acquired its nickname, the Zebras.
The Club have always played in black and white, originally in vertical stripes but later in horizontal hoops and, so the story goes, a group of soldiers returned from the Boer War, and not impressed by the Team's play that day, described them as running around like a herd of Zebras. The name stuck.
The Club went from strength to strength in the early 1900s winning Leagues and Cups in succession, but the Northern Union game as a whole was in trouble. Professionalism was unsustainable, and most clubs - about three quarters of the total went bankrupt or switched to the new game, soccer.
Workington held on until 1909, but lack of opposition teams to play got the Club into debt and the final straw was a row over the way Northern Union officials ran the Cup competition. In spite of winning the Cumberland Cup, League and Shield that year, the Club went into voluntary liquidation, to re-emerge as the Workington RUFC (incorporating the Workington Trades RUFC formed in 1907) playing, once again, at the Cricket Ground.
The Great War interrupted rugby for five years, but the Club embarked on its most successful era in the 192Os and 193Os, as one of the top Clubs in the North of England, playing (and beating) clubs now in the top Leagues in England and Scotland and with two players (the Lawson brothers) selected to play for England. In 1925, the club moved to its present ground, the Ellis Sports Ground, built at a cost of Â£10,000 and with a capacity (in those days) of 2,000 seated and sixteen thousand standing.
As well as many County Championship games and Cumberland Cup Finals, the Ground has staged games involving the Springboks, the Wallabies, Fiji and most notably, the All Blacks, who lost to an English provincial side for the first time, at Workington in 1972.
Famous players in recent times who started their club rugby career at Workington and went on to gain international honours elsewhere included Dickie Cowman, Ron McCarten (Ireland) and Peter Dixon who captained the Lions. Workington's fortunes declined in the late sixties and seventies, and when Leagues were re-introduced into English rugby union in 1985, the club found itself quite low down the structure, but won promotion in the first year and again 1O years later.
Having been in promotion positions 3 times but owing to re structuring not moving up far we finally gained promotion to N.W2 in 2000/1.However after a season in a very hard league we failed by 1 point to stay up resulting in the loss of several players to retirement or other clubs higher up. In the meantime we were in 3 consecutive cup finals losing to Penrith 99/2000,defeating Netherhall 2000/1 &Aspatria 2001/2 .Second team won the shield 1999/2000 &2002/3 ,under 21'swon 2001/2 & 2004/5.
Season 2005/06 saw us relegated to the Cumbria League which we won in 2006/07 together with the inaugural Cumbria Plate. A ladies team was also started, a first for the club.
In season 2007/08 we came through in the North Lancs and Cubria league and the seocnd team became "The Steelers" (due to the long association with the club of the old Workington Iron and Steel Company whose chief Mr Ellis built the ground in 1925). They played in the Cumbria league for the first time.