Widnes Vikings, Select Security Stadium Halton, Lower House Lane, Widnes, Cheshire, WA8 7DZ
The Early Years
The Farnworth & Appleton Cricket Club was formed in 1871 and four years later the members decided to embrace the burgeoning football code. At their fourth annual evening party in the Drill Hall, Widnes, in November 1875, club Chairman Henry Lea "gave a short account of the club since it commenced about four years ago, and indicated that they had now started a football club in conexion (sic) with it, and hoped all would join".
The first known game for the new Farnworth and Appleton FC was in Widnes in January 1876 played under rugby rules against Northwich Victoria. A few weeks later a return match was played at Drill Field, Northwich, under soccer rules. Vics won both games. These are the only two known fixtures in that truncated first season.
By May 1876 the club had changed its name to Widnes FC and the cricket side of the organsiation had disbanded, presumably to concentrate on football activities. By the late 1870s the club was being referred to as "The Chemicals" - subsequently shortened to 'The Chemics'.
The club played at a number of grounds before moving to the present site at Lowerhouse Lane in 1895.
In 1895, Widnes were founder members of the Northern Union which broke away from the rugby union to create the sport of rugby league. The first game was an away fixture at Canal Street, Runcorn which was lost 15-4.
During the early years, the club often struggled financially and often had to sell players to balance the books. The strength of junior rugby league in the area meant the club had a steady stream of local talent to offset the losses.
Between the wars
The team's first ever success came with the winning of the Lancashire League trophy in the 1919-20 season. This did not lead on to better things, however and the twenties saw the club almost go to the wall. Local rivals Warrington donated their share of the traditional Easter and Christmas derby matches to keep Widnes afloat in 1927-8.
It was around this time that the Kingsway housing scheme posed the real threat of the club losing its ground. After several years of fund-raising, made especially difficult by the advent of the great depression, the sum of 3250 pounds was raised to save the ground. This came at the cost of a stipulation that the ground could be sold only to the local council, for the original price. This factor affected the club's attitude to ground improvements for many years. The ground (newly named Naughton Park, after the man responsible for the fund-raising) was opened in 1932.
A major boost for the club and town was Widnes' first ever trip to the Challenge Cup Final, staged at Wembley for only the 2nd time. Their opponents were local rivals St.Helens, a team of stars, including 3 New Zealanders. By contrast, Widnes contained 12 locals and 37 yr old giant South African George Van Rooyen. Saints scored after 6 minutes to take a 3-0 lead, but Widnes hit back with a penalty try, a further try and a penalty to take a 10-3 half-time lead. A scoreless second half meant Widnes had won the cup.
One of the stars of the game was loose-forward Jimmy Hoey who, in 1932-3, played in and scored in all 40 games of the season, a record which was not equalled by any player for 26 years. Widnes became the first club to make 2 trips to Wembley, with a loss to Hunslet in the 1934 cup final. The side was composed entirely of local players, with nothing having been spent on transfer fees.
In 1935-6, the team came close to being RL champions. Having finished 3rd in the table, Liverpool were defeated 10-9. Widnes then lost to Hull, in the championship final, a defeat partially attributed to the loss of key players Silcock and McCue to the already departed GB tour squad. A third trip to Wembley came in 1937, with an 18-5 win over Keighley. The team for this win contained 12 Widnes-born players with the odd man out being from Runcorn (2 miles away). This was to be the last success for some time, with the advent of world war 2.
The post-war years
Veteran captain Tommy McCue led the club to its first ever Lancashire cup win, with a 7-3 victory against Wigan in 1945. Back at Wembley in 1950, the team was beaten 19-0 by Warrington. During this period, the club reverted to selling its players to richer teams. One exception to this was stand-off Frank Myler, who set a club record with 34 tries in the 1958-9 season. The 1964 Challenge cup campaign was certainly one of the high points in the team's history. No team has ever played more games in reaching Wembley. In the first round, 2 replays were necessary before beating Leigh. Liverpool were beaten in the second round, then Widnes played Swinton before 19 000 at Naughton Park. A 5-5 draw meant another replay, which was scoreless. A second replay was watched by 21 369 and was won 15-3 by Widnes. A semi-final against Castleford was the result and this was drawn 7-7. 28 732 watched the replay, which was won by Widnes. A wembley crowd of 84 488 saw Widnes win the cup for the 3rd time with a 14-5 victory. This was the club's only success in the sixties.
The seventies saw the first really outstanding Widnes team. A host of young local players (eg Reg Bowden, Mick Adams, Ray Dutton, Eric Hughes, Keith Elwell, Doug Laughton) developed into the "Cup Kings", a golden age for the club. The first cup-final was a loss in the 1971-2 Lancashire Cup. The following 2 seasons, the finals of the BBC2 Floodlit trophy were reached. The first real success came the year after that, though, with a Challenge Cup Final game at Wembley in 1975. Widnes had already won the Lancashire Cup by beating Salford that season. The cup final, versus Warrington, was won 14-7.
Widnes visited Wembley in the following two seasons, losing to St. Helens and then Leeds. However, this was made up for by victories in the Lancashire Cup and John Player Trophy. The season after this (1977-78) saw Naughton Park's first ever league championship. The team went through the season unbeaten at home in the league. There were also trips to the John Player and Premiership finals.
The 1978-79 season saw no less than 4 cups come to Widnes - the BBC2 floodlit trophy, Lancashire Cup, Premiership and a win at Wembley over Wakefield Trinity in front of a crowd of 93,218. Other notable achievements of the season were those of Keith Elwell and Mal Aspey who each played in all 50 of the team's games.
The season after this saw Widnes beat Bradford in the Premiership final, but come second to them in the league and John Player Trophy. The Lancashire cup was won for the fifth time in the seventies.
The decade started with a Wembley win over Hull KR in 1980-81, the club's fifth appearance in seven Challenge Cup finals. The season after this, Widnes again returned to Wembley, to face Hull FC. Widnes led 14-6 with less than 20 minutes to go, but the game finished 14-14 and Hull won the replay 18-9 at Elland Road. The team maintained it's record of winning a cup every season by defeating Hull 23-8 in the Premiership final. The next season saw Hull again beaten by Widnes in the Premiership final.
The 1983-4 season saw appearances in the finals of the Lancashire Cup and John Player Trophy and another Wembley appearance, this time against Wigan. A comfortable 19-6 victory saw the Chemics fourth Challenge Cup win in 9 years. There were no further successes until the 1987-8 season.
The Laughton Years
Former captain & coach Doug Laughton returned to the club in January 1986 and began a series of signings of players from both other clubs and from rugby union. One of his first captures was Martin Offiah, who in his first season (1987-88) scored a club record 42 tries. The team went on to win the championship that season, clinching it with an exciting 16-6 victory over local rivals St. Helens on Easter Monday. This just left a draw required from the last game away to Hunslet, which was duly won by over 50 pts. St. Helens were then beaten in the Premiership Final at Old Trafford, a game in which Scotsman Alan Tait made his debut.
The 1988-89 season saw the club achieve it's greatest ever media coverage with the signing of rugby union star Jonathan Davies from Llanelli. Wigan were beaten in the Charity Shield but had their revenge in the Regal Trophy Final. The Championship came down to the last game of the season, a capacity crowd at Naughton Park saw Widnes beat Wigan 32-18 to win the title for the second year running. The Premiership was again won, with over 40 000 at Old Trafford to see Hull beaten 18-10.
The following season saw Widnes play at Anfield, beating Wigan 27-22. However, the high point of the season and perhaps the history of the club was the world club challenge victory over Australia's Canberra Raiders. A shambolic trip to France to play Le Pontet saw Widnes chosen as the Northen Hemisphere representatives to meet Australia's Grand Final winners. The raiders took a 12-0 lead but were then swept aside as Widnes stormed home 30-18.
The nineties saw further Premiership appearances and a disappointing Challenge Cup loss to Wigan in 1993 under ex-GB coach Phil Larder. However, the key features of the mid-nineties for the club were the twin threats of bankruptcy and exclusion from the newly formed Superleague.
The club's precarious financial situation was obvious by the early nineties and to balance the books, over 25 first team players were sold to other teams. This resulted in the club sinking to 12th in the division one table, avoiding relegation. When the RFL announce that a new 12 team Superleague was to be formed a chaotic period ensued in which the club was out, then in, then out, then in merged with local rivals Warrington and then finally out again. Further player and coaching departures ensued and it was a much weakened club which struggled in the new first division, the club's first season in it's 100+ year history outside of the top flight. The club's first ever finish in the relegation zone followed.
During this time, great strides were taken off-the-field, with more prudent business policies followed and the complete rebuilding of the playing arena. Funded primarily by the local council, the club (which became a limited company) and the national lottery, the old stands, terraces and facilities were demolished to be replaced with a state-of-the-art all seater stadium. This was also re-named from Naughton Park to the Halton Community Stadium.
The Stadium was renamed the Auto Quest Stadium after sponsorship was gained from the Car Dealership Auto Quest which had a showroom in the town. The time the Vikings have spent in the Northern Ford Premiership have been pretty dire to say the least with only really one season, 1999, where any sort of potential was shown. In 1999 Widnes only narrowly missed out on a place in the Grand Final. They were finally promoted to Superleague under coach Neil Kelly in 2001. Their debut season in Super League was in 2002, Superleague VII, and the Vikings surprised everyone by narrowly missing out on a play-off place, and finishing 7th.
The following season saw them consolidate with a 9th place finish, but in 2004 they avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, with Castleford's defeat to Wakefield on the final day of the season saving Widnes' fate. But they had no such luck in 2005, and with 2 teams being relegated in 2005, Widnes' job was made tougher, and they eventually went back down to the second tier of the English game.
They built a new team in preparation for the 2006 season in National League 1 under coach Steve McCormack, who led Whitehaven to two consecutive NL1 Grand Finals. The club reached two successive Grand Finals and won the Northern Rail Cup in 2007, a season which saw much turmoil when on the day of the first game of season Stephen Vaughan announced he would be stepping down as Chairman because of the "apathy" of other board members with regards to board meetings and at the end of the campaign the Club went into administration.
After a period of uncertainty the Club was bought by local businessman Steve O'Connor in partnership with Halton Borough Council. A series of re-building both on and off the pitch took place as the Club bid for a Super League licence but was not one of the 14 successful applicants.
In 2009 the Club again won the Northern Rail Cup giving it the opportunity to apply for a Super League licence in 2012.
On 31 March 2011, the Vikings were awarded a Super League licence by the Rugby Football League for the 2012-14 seasons.
Rugby League Champions
1977-78, 1987-88, 1988-89
Challenge Cup Winners
1930, 1937, 1964, 1975, 1979, 1981, 1984
Runners Up, 1934, 1950, 1976, 1977, 1982, 1993
Lancashire League Winners
Lancashire Cup Winners
1945, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1991
Runners Up, 1929, 1940, 1956, 1972, 1982, 1984
Regal Trophy Winners
1976, 1979, 1992
Runners Up, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1989
1980, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990
Runners Up, 1978, 1991
Western Division Championship
Runners Up, 1962-1963
BBC Floodlit Trophy Winners
Runners Up, 1973, 1974
Charity Shield Winners
1988, 1989, 1990
World Club Champions
Northern Ford Premiership Grand Final Winners
National League 1 Grand Final
Runners Up, 2006, 2007
Northern Rail Cup Winners
Runners Up, 2010
Player and team records
Most tries in a match: 7 by Phil Cantillon vs York Wasps, 18 February 2001
Most goals in a match:14 by Mark Hewitt vs Oldham Roughyeds, 25 July 1999, Tim Hartley vs Saddleworth Rangers, 7 March 2009
Most points in a match: 38 by Gavin Dodd vs Doncaster Lakers, 10 June 2007
Most tries in a season: 58 by Martin Offiah, 1988-89
Most goals in a season: 161 by Mick Nanyn, 2007
Most points in a season: 434 by Mick Nanyn, 2007
Most career tries: 234 by Mal Aspey, 1964-80
Most career goals: 1083 by Ray Dutton 1966-78
Most career points: 2195 by Ray Dutton 1966-78
Most career appearances: 587+4 by Keith Elwell 1970-86
234 Mal Aspey 1964/65 - 1979/80
199 Eric Hughes [Centre] 1969/70 - 1983/84
181 Martin Offiah 1987/88 - 1990/91
161 David Hulme 1980/81 - 1996 & 2000 - 2001
151 Stuart Wright 1976/77 - 1986/87
144 Frank Myler 1955/56 - 1967/68
120 John Devereux 1989/90 - 1997
118 Andy Currier 1983/84 - 1992/93 & 1997
114 Phil Cantillon 1999 - 2003
112 Dennis O'Neill 1966/67 - 1978/79
111 Johnny Gaydon 1961/62 - 1971/72
110 William Thompson 1956/57 - 1964/65
108 Derek 'Mick' George 1971/72 - 1981/82
107 Darren Wright 1985/86 - 1996
106 Tommy McCue 1931/32 - 1948/49
103 John Basnett 1981/82 - 1986/87
102 William Reid 1909/10 - 1926/27
101 James "Jimmy" Hoey 1922/23 - 1934/35
1072 Ray Dutton 1965/66 - 1977/78
708 Mick Burke 1978/79 - 1986/87
434 Jonathan Davies 1988/89 - 1992/93
395 James "Jimmy" Hoey 1922/23 - 1934/35
389 Robert Randall 1960/61 - 1964/65
383 Harry Dawson 1951/52 - 1962/63
295 Mick Nanyn 2007-2008
243 John Myler  1976/77 - 1988/89
213 John Sale 1951/52 - 1957/58
209 Robin Whitfield 1961/62 - 1967/68
207 Arthur Pimblett 1957/58 - 1961/62
202 Mark Hewitt 1998 - 1999
201 Andy Currier 1983/84 - 1992/93 & 1997
195 Peter Topping 1927/28 - 1939/40
167 Colin Hutton 1945/46 - 1950/51
162 Harry Taylor 1908/09 - 1921/22
Biggest victory: 88-0 vs Saddleworth Rangers home, 7 March 2009
Worst defeat: 74-24 vs Bradford Bulls away, 7 August 2005
Highest attendance: 24,205 vs St Helens, 16 February 1961