´WORTHY´: of remembrance.
by Norman Warwick
A goal that was caught on tv by The Big Match, or whatever it was, went in to the back of the net while the defenders were all wondering where the ball was. Had he laid it back? Had he lost control? He was on the edge of their box, looking back at his own goal downfield when the ball was pinged to him. He had a defender on each shoulder and one tightly behind him, but they all soon looked pretty silly. For as they were wondering where the ball was, Frankie, Frankie, Frankie Worthington had flipped the ball up with his in-step, lightly bounced it twice more on his thigh, and let it roll down again to his instep before kicking it higher, but still lightly into the air. It went back gently over his shoulder and seemed to drop more slowly than was actually possible, so that before it reached the ground the Bolton Wanderers player had time to turn one hundred and eighty degrees between defenders still looking down to the wrong end of the pitch. The ball fell to a perfect height to volley and any other player would have then had a rush of blood to the head and taken a wild whack at it. With scruffy hair halfway down his back and his shirt flapping around over his shorts he looked uncultured enough to do just that, the Ipswich Town fans probably thought, who from their position on high in the Manchester Road stand probably saw a lot more clearly than their defenders what Worthington was trying to do.
They wouldn´t have been worried, though, because nobody, surely nobody, could actually do what Worthington was attempting to do. Suddenly though, he was facing their goal while all their defenders were looking at ours. As the ball fell in a breath-held slow motion it dropped to within six inches of the ground. This would be the moment, the fans of the tractor boys must have thought, for them to burst into laughter and loud ridicule, when Worthington would belt it high and wide. Instead of putting his foot through the ball, though, he caressed it into the bottom corner of a net twenty five yards away. It seemed that only when the ground plunged into an astonished silence did the defenders turn round to look for the ball. And they looked everywhere before they saw it nestled in the back of their net. It was a street-football goal, following a bit of keepy-uppy as you took the mick out of your mates. It was the kind of goal you dream of scoring and that you do score just at the moment you wake up to find yourself standing by your bed in your pyjamas with one hand in the air shouting ´and he SCORES !!´
In that one split second a brilliant piece of skill had baffled three defenders and a sweet, low shot had plunged nearly 30,000 people into stunned silence , … who then erupted. I swear I saw even Ipswich fans applauding, admiringly and admirably, and Bolton fans laughing, not for the first or last time, at the sheer footballing audacity of Frank Worthington.
And for those of you wondering why any of this should be on the Sidetracks & Detours pages that usually provide a platform for the arts, let me tell you. This wasn´t football we had just witnessed, it was the poise and balance and pirouette of a Nureyev, it was a piece of juggling such as we had become used to seeing from skilled performers at The London Palladium, and it wasn´t scored by a footballer.
It was scored by a Roy Of The Rovers, Tuff of The Track kind of figure and yet it was scored by a man who would be king, or at least the man who would be Elvis. It was scored by oh, Frankie, Frankie ! Frankie, Frankie, Frankie Worth-ing-ton.
I had seen Denis Law bicycle kicks and would have seen a few Bobby Charlton goals if he hadn´t hit the ball faster than the eye could follow.
I had seen a George Best goal against Sheffield United a few years earlier that had my dad tearing up his programme and using the kind of language I didn´t know my dad knew as he danced with the bemused-looking dog-collared vicar who always sat behind us. That same George Best by the way became associated with the greatest, wittiest and most accurate epithet Worthington could have ever been given.
Even on the fortieth anniversary of that goal, The Bolton Evening News reminded us of it as The ‘I was there when..’ moment. It certainly was for me. That moment was part of my first adult season-ticket season at a club that I would eventually work at for twenty five years.
However as the B.E.N. editor said in 2016, to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the goal,
´Nothing can beat the feeling of witnessing something you know will stand the test of time. A singular piece of finesse that will be talked about forever. When you go to watch your team week in, week out, you go in the hope that you’ll see that extraordinary moment.
Depending on the generation you grew up in, this moment differs.
If you were around in the 70s during the Ian Greaves era, (I was, I was) your defining moment is almost certainly Frank Worthington’s stunning solo goal against Ipswich Town in 1979. (it is, it is)
With his back to goal, Worthington flicked the ball over his head, running around two defenders before slamming the ball on the volley into the corner of the goal. It was a sensational goal in a less than sensational game. (hang on, hang on, this is my goal,…what are you doing to it? He didn´t run. He didn´t ´slam´ it!)
At the time, the man who scored the goal was as infamous for his lifestyle off the pitch as he was for the skilful player he was on it.
Luckily those (like the B.E.N. editor, obviously) who were born well after that game against Ipswich, the goal was captured on film, a rarity for the era.
You see, before football was invented in 1992, not everything was captured on camera, to be preserved and rewound for eternity.
Thankfully, the Big Match cameras were there to witness the goal which is widely considered to be the greatest scored in the clubs’ history.
Multiple fans & also his playing colleague Peter Reid and Worthington himself have proclaimed that the Ipswich goal wasn’t even the best one he scored for Wanderers. Though those other goals are forever lost in time, only living on in the stories of fans who were there to witness them. (Actually I would argue it wasn´t even the best goal scored by Bolton in that match. My memory these days doesn´t work according to chronology but I feel sure Sam Allardyce also scored.)
tt all only adds to the mystique of Worthington as a player.
Frank Worthington’s arrival at Bolton couldn’t have come at a better time, for both the club & the player.
Ian Greaves, Worthington’s manager previously at Huddersfield, had taken over at Bolton in 1974 from Jimmy Armfield.
Greaves inherited a core squad of talented youngsters, including Sam Allardyce, Paul Jones, Peter Reid & Neil Whatmore.
Having almost guided Wanderers to promotion three years in a row, Greaves knew he needed that extra spark to make the jump to the First Division.
So in came Frank Worthington for a club record fee of £90,000 in 1977. He changed the team. He was Cantona before we even knew that was a French name.
Worthington stated at the time: ´I’d been in desperate need of a lifeline and this was it. From being down in the dumps I was suddenly feeling on top of the world.´
Worthy made an instant impact and rightly justified his price tag, scoring the winning goal against Blackburn Rovers to seal promotion back to the First Division. The Championship was secured a week later, though Worthington’s preparations for the game were interrupted with a night in prison before the match. (don´t ask)
Worthington then wrote his name into Bolton folklore forever the season after, scoring a very impressive 24 goals as Wanderers finished 17th in the top flight. His 24 goals ensured he won the Golden Boot, beating the likes of Kenny Dalglish to the award.
Frank Worthington became just the 5th Bolton player to be the Golden Boot winner in the top flight & will probably be the last, (at least for the next four or five years)
He may have only been a Wanderer for two years, but he is widely regarded as one of the greatest players to wear the white shirt. For many, he is the ultimate Wanderer and a true maverick of a player.
Worthy lived his life exactly how he wanted. From handing half eaten meat pies to fans, to his renditions of Elvis songs, Frank Worthington was a one of a kind.
He could have played for Liverpool at one time, but thankfully he didn’t (after a dodgy health assessment) and ended up at Bolton.
When Worthy scored the goal, Bolton Wanderers lost 3-2 to Ipswich Town. Nobody remembers that.
Nobody remembers the fact that Alan Brazil scored a brace for Ipswich.
They remember Julian Darby, a ball boy who later became a player, leaping for joy behind the goal.
They remember the referee applauding.
They remember Frank Worthington and his sensational goal.
They will always remember 1979, as will I, and, of course, I will always remember that one glorious ninety-minute long split-second during my first season as a season ticket holder at a club I would later work at for twenty five years
Former England international striker Frank Worthington, one of the great showmen of English football, died aged 72 after a long illness, his family announced on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021.
Worthington, described by one of his former managers as ´the working man’s George Best´* won all of his eight caps in 1974 scoring two goals. (* that´s the wonderful epithet I mentioned earlier).
´Frank brought joy to so many people throughout his career and in his private life,´ said his widow Carol Worthington, in a statement to the Press Association. ´He will be greatly missed by everyone who loved him so much.´
Worthington played in 22 consecutive Football League seasons from 1966-87, scoring 266 goals in 882 appearances in all competitions.
In 14 of those seasons he played in the top division, getting 150 goals in 466 matches, and won the Golden Boot as the leading scorer playing for Bolton in 1978-79 ahead of Kenny Dalglish and Frank Stapleton.
Sporting the long hair fashionable at the time, the striker’s most productive spell was the five years he spent at Leicester City.
Despite that era being full of renowned hard-men defenders, Worthington eschewed playing with shin guards and often had his socks rolled down to his ankles.
He was also a member of the Southampton side that finished title runners-up in the 1983/84 campaign, finishing just three points adrift of the great Liverpool side.
Fellow former England and Leicester striker Gary Lineker tweeted: ´Profoundly saddened to hear that Frank Worthington has died. He was my boyhood hero when he was at @LCFC. A beautiful footballer, a maverick and a wonderful character who was so kind to this young apprentice when he joined the club. RIP Frank (Elvis).´
Worthington was one of a generation of entertaining maverick showmen such as Tony Currie, Charlie George, Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh.
He was renowned for his colourful life off the pitch and was a frequent visitor to nightclubs, sometimes crooning his favourite Elvis songs on stage. He took his crowd-pleasing talents to several other countries including the United States, Sweden, South Africa, the Republic of Ireland and Wales and played for numerous league and non-league clubs in England. He eventually hung up his boots after a period as Halifax Town player/coach in 1992.
Over a period of only a few weeks this year we have not only seen Worthy disappear down the tunnel, but have also lost Ian St. John and Peter Lorimer.
St. John (left) scored a cup final winning goal with a fantastic jack-knife header for Liverpool against Leeds in the 1965 final I watched on tv in black and white. He and Ron Yeats were early purchases for Bill Shankly who often said in interviews how he built his first great team around them. St. John, after his retirement, won a ´blind audition´ as a football commentator and went on to enjoy a lengthy tv career presenting On The Ball with Jimmy Greaves.
photo 4 Peter Patrick Lorimer was a Scottish professional footballer, best known for his time with Leeds United and Scotland during the late 1960s and early 1970s. An attacking midfielder, he was renowned for his powerful strikes from distance, and unless memory has nut-megged me, I think he was once recorded as having the hardest shot in football. From 1984 to 1985 he was club captain of Leeds, and still holds the club record for highest goal scorer with 238 goals in all competitions and was at one time their youngest-ever player. He has been voted the ninth-greatest Leeds player of all time and into the Greatest Leeds United team of all time.
photo 5 The ground where Worthington scored his mesmeric goal was Bolton´s home at Burnden Park in the town centre, and he scored his goal at a ´railway end´ that was subsequently replaced by a department store, though since then the whole ground has been demolished and you can drive down Manchester Road with no sign that it was ever the home of Bolton Wanderers and the scene of Lowry´s Going To The Match.
Instead, Wanderers are now playing in the lowest tier of league football in the UK in a modernistic stadium that has been renamed three or four times in its brief history to satisfy the demands of short term sponsors.
There is, outside the ´new´ ground, which actually stands in Horwich, some miles from Bolton Town Centre, an impressive statue (right) of Nat Lofthouse, a former argy-bargy, shoulder charging, goal-scoring centre forward who played for one club, Bolton Wanderers and who became known as The Lion Of Vienna for his exploits on the field for England.
Nat went on to serve Wanderers in many capacities, and was a superb ambassador. He was a gentle, softly spoken man, polite and courteous and always suited and booted. He, and his family, was much loved by all BWFC staff, from the directors down to the match day staff like me. Nat had a word and a greeting for everyone and no sporting statue has been more richly deserved,
Worthington was the hard cheese to Nat´s soft chalk, and whereas Nat was a loyal club man, Worthington was an itinerant player. Nat (left) somehow exceeded himself when he played for England, but Worthington never quite managed that. Nat was rough and tough on the pitch and silky smooth off it. Frank Worthington was silky smooth on the pitch and rough and tough off it. At least that was the public perception of him, though it was maybe one he deliberately created.
Those of us who were fans of any of the clubs he played for will remember Worthington forever, and many Bolton Wanderers fans feel that outside the other wing of whatever the stadium is now called there should be a statue of Worthington, looking in one direction, perhaps with replicas of the three Ipswich Town defenders who were statues in the match, (heh, heh), all looking in the wrong direction.
If the club ever decide to again commission Sean Hedges-Quinn, who sculpted the great Lofthouse image, to similarly immortalise a man equally as ´Worthy´ of a statue, they will hopefully be tactful, and remember that Sean is actually an Ipswich Town fan !