Frank Worthington: More than a working man’s George Best

His lifestyle probably contributed to him not being perceived as one of the all-time greats, but Worthington remains a legend at the clubs he played for during a colourful career.

Matthew Crist

Frank Worthington never used shin pads, wore his socks round his ankles, scored some amazing goals and entertained thousands during a career spanning 25 years. 

One of his generation’s most colourful players both on and off the pitch, he enjoyed a career that took in 20 clubs and saw him win eight England caps.

Famously described as “the working man’s George Best,” Worthington played for the likes of Huddersfield, Leicester and Bolton during a 24-year playing career.

Renowned for enjoying the high life when at the peak of his powers, Worthington stood out on the field for wearing his shirt outside his shorts with his trademark hair falling over his shoulders.

Born in 1948 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Frank Worthington had football in his blood. His father played professionally and his mother and brothers were also involved in the game in one form or another.

ALAN BIRCHENAL & FRANK WORTHINGTON, BOTH FORMER LEICESTER CITY PLAYERS

Beginning his career at Huddersfield in 1966, he enjoyed spells at Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers as well as playing in America, Sweden and South Africa.

A flamboyant striker, he played in 22 consecutive Football League seasons from 1966 to 1987, scoring 266 goals in 882 appearances in all competitions.

In 14 of those seasons, he played in the top division, notching 150 goals in 466 matches, and won the Golden Boot award in 1978/79 as the leading scorer ahead of the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Frank Stapleton.

His performances at Huddersfield inevitably meant that bigger clubs were soon taking notice of this talented forward and, in 1972, Liverpool came calling.

A fee of £150,000 was agreed, but Frank failed his medical due to high blood pressure and put this down to the recent death of his father.

Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, was determined to get his man and promptly sent Frank off to Majorca to relax for a week, but when he returned to Liverpool for a second medical, his blood pressure was higher than when he left.

Bill Shankly, Liverpool manager

Instead, Frank signed for Leicester City for  £130,000 in 1972 and spent the next five years at Filbert Street, becoming a hero in the process – scoring 72 goals in 210 appearances.

He joined Bolton Wanderers in 1977 and scored 35 goals in two years at Burnden Park, the first a glorious promotion-winning campaign and the second consolidation in the First Division,

Nobody can deny that Frank entertained and expressed himself throughout his career, but his footballing days could have been so much more if his transfer to Liverpool had been approved – a move which surely would have spearheaded England’s attack for many years.

As it was, like many of the flamboyant players of his generation, Worthington was somewhat overlooked by his country, winning just eight caps and scoring twice in friendlies against Bulgaria and Argentina.

When he was called up to the England Under 23 squad he arrived at the airport to join up with the rest of the squad wearing high-heeled cowboy boots, a silk shirt and lime velvet jacket, a look that far from impressed boss Alf Ramsey.

“It didn’t really matter whether people accepted me or not, I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a peacock,” Worthington would later say.

England manager Don Revie

When Don Revie became manager of the national side in 1974 and failed to pick him Worthington claimed; “He wanted the yes men. He didn’t like the individuals, the characters, the rebels.”

Worthington was player-manager of Tranmere between 1985-87 before having a number of short spells at non-league clubs including Chorley and Weymouth. He was player-coach at hometown club Halifax in the 1991-92 season.

In 1984 he made three guest appearances for Manchester United on their post-season tour of Australia – despite being a Southampton player at the time – and turned-out for the Red Devils again in May 1985, for a testimonial against Oxford United.

Although brilliant in his day and probably second only to George Best, his career could – and maybe should – have included many more trophies, medals, plaudits and England caps than it did.

His cavalier attitude and playboy lifestyle probably contributed to him not being perceived one of the all-time greats, though Worthington remains a legend at the clubs he played for while epitomising the football maverick of English football in the 1970s.

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