They Played for Both Clubs: Frank Worthington, Bolton & Brighton

Brendon Thorne

Chris takes a look back at Frank Worthington's fascinating career, both on and off the field

Now as a sprightly 30 year old, I was clearly unable to see Frank Worthington play, but as a Bolton Wanderers fan and a fan of football in general then the life and times of Frank have become familiar to me over the years. However, what I didn't know was that amongst Frank's many many clubs are both Bolton Wanderers and Saturday's opponent Brighton & Hove Albion. Without further ado, and with thanks to the internet, this is Frank Worthington.

Frank Stewart Worthington was born in November 1948,in Shelf near Halifax into a footballing family. Both of his parents had played the game and his two older brothers became professional footballers, whilst his nephew Gary was also a professional footballer.

He began his career at Huddersfield Town as a prodigiously talented 18 year old forward, before moving to Leicester City in1972 where he really began to make his name, scoring 72 goals in 210 games. He joined Bolton in 1977 and would be equally successful in his two years at the club, notching 35 goals in 84 games.

His manager at Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers, Ian Greaves, in an interview for the book The Mavericks, said:

"We stood there, looking at each other, eye to eye. He was talking to me and his eyes never left mine, but he must have flicked the ball up 47 times. He flicked it up and caught it behind him on his neck, down the back of his neck, hoofed it over his back and caught it on his foot, something I could never do if I played forever. I thought, 'How do you give him a telling-off when he's doing that?' That's Frank."

The respect between the pair was obvious. Another famous story is how on a pre-season tour of Germany shortly after Worthington's arrival, Greaves threw the forward's Elvis cassette out of the coach window after being subjected to nine hours of Elvis tunes. The Presley fanatic Worthington refused to speak to Greaves for a week.

However, under his tutelage, Worthington's behaviour improved, and helped tone down his social engagements after turning 30: "I admit I used to get about a bit, but I am quieter these days. Instead of going out seven nights a week, I keep it to six."

Having helped Bolton to promotion in his first season, he scored 24 goals in 1979, including the career-defining effort in a 3-2 home defeat to Ipswich in that April, when he controlled the ball with his head, twice juggled the ball with his left foot, flicked it over his shoulder and then fired it into the net from the edge of the area. The goal has gone down in club and footballing folklore.

Worthingtongoal_medium

Despite his success at Wanderers,  Worthington famously made a loan switch to Philadelphia Fury in the NASL that summer, having been persuaded to make the move when the negotiators spoke to Elvis' people "to get me one of those necklaces Elvis used to give to his friends". He fell out with the coach there after refusing to go on a sightseeing tour to a vineyard, but said he loved the American lifestyle. He returned to Bolton for the start of the 1979-80 season but, after struggling for form, was offloaded to Second Division side Birmingham for £150,000 in November.

It would take until the mid-eighties, and stints at eclectic places such as Philadelphia, Bimingham, Mjallby of Sweden, Trampmere Rovers, Leeds United and Sunderland before Frank pitched up at Brighton in 1984, where a solitary season brought him seven goals in 31 games. Following his spell there the wanderer in Frank came out again and he would take in another 13 clubs in the following eight years - plying his trade in England, Ireland, South Africa and Wales before finally giving up the ghost in 1991.

His career resulted in over 500 appearances and 200 goals. A paltry eight England caps with two goals scored was a poor return for one of English football's great entertainers. Worthington was called into the England Under-23 squad and apparently made a poor impression from the start, arriving at Heathrow airport in high-heeled cowboy boots, a red silk shirt and a lime velvet jacket.

However good he was on the field - and he certainly was - it will be his "off field" antics that leave an indelible mark on the British football fans psyche. Whilst playing he often showed flair and no lack of skill, ensuring that he was always noticeable but he also had the reputation for enjoying the high life. An icon of his era, he was instantly recognisable by his shock of swept back hair much in the style of his great hero Elvis Presley, along with the sideburns and designer stubble.

His love for showmanship followed him throughout his career. Famously, after joining  Leicester, Worthington embarrassed Leeds star Johnny Giles with a moment of magic.

"I was down by the corner flag and flipped the ball over my shoulder and over his head. He just turned to me and said, in a cold, calculating, matter-of-fact sort of way, 'If you ever take the piss out of me or Leeds United again, I'll break your legs'."

Worthington's post-retirement autobiography "One Hump or Two" published in 1994, provided an insight into the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle he enjoyed during his time in the game. It is the revelations about sex and drugs which made tabloid headlines immediately after publication, with Frank himself saying:

"I thought it was about time I put some of the wild times I spent in football down in print. I wanted people to know that Paul Merson wasn't the first to be involved in drugs. I admit I snorted cocaine and smoked dope. It was all part of the crazy scene at the time."

Frank also writes about how he scored (pardon the pun) with a whole host of supermodels, including Miss Barbados:

"George Best had a reputation with the ladies but I had more than my fair share. There's one story in the book about how I managed to seduce a Swedish teenager and her mother. They were great days."

A notorious womaniser, the breakdown of his move to Liverpool in 1972 is one of the game's enduring urban legends. Having all but signed, the deal fell through because he failed a medical.

The rumour was that he was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease. In fact he had high blood pressure - but that was brought on by excessive sexual activity. Bill Shankly told him to have a break, and return for a second medical. Worthington went to Majorca as per Shankly's instructions, and instead continued his lifestyle... and failed the medical again.

A fascinating character, no doubt, and one who continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Bolton Wanderers fans.

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