Football in the seventies often took place on pitches and in stadia that were completely at odds to a decade that had given us garish colours, big hair, and oversized ties and collars. Likewise, amongst the workmanlike cloggers of the day, flamboyant footballers stood out as much as the blades of grass did in the quagmires that the game was played on.
In such players, we often saw a footballing manifestation of the character that existed off the pitch. With the flair, flicks and party tricks came just plain partying. In the last year of the decade we were treated to a goal that defined all the excesses of the seventies, from one of its most majestic mavericks.
Frank Worthington’s story is familiar. A working-class boy with an incredible footballing talent, his love of the high life which that talent afforded him was to be his undoing.
In the early seventies, Liverpool – who were about to enter a golden period of dominance domestically and in Europe – attempted to sign Worthington twice. He failed his medical both times.
It is quite often difficult to fit such players into a team ethic. Some managers forgive all and try to build teams around them, causing resentment amongst other players. Perhaps this can explain the lack of international caps that Worthington won – surely a crying shame for such a skilful player.
He admitted himself, though, that he had failed to impress a couple of England managers due to his individuality.
“I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a peacock.” he once commented upon being asked about the time he shocked Sir Alf Ramsey when he arrived for under-23 international duty wearing cowboy boots and a red silk shirt.
Later, he believed his England career was cut short under Don Revie because “He didn’t like the individuals, the characters, the rebels.”
It is easy to empathise with the managers when you also hear that he also once remarked to the Daily Mail that he believed that the way he played was “more important than the team winning.” All of which makes you wonder why anyone put up with him at all.
Frank Worthington Wonder Goal
On 21st April 1979, Frank Worthington showed exactly why clubs still persisted, with a goal for Bolton Wanderers that defined his career, and possibly defined a whole decade:
Just as the ball begins to drop near him, you can see Worthington’s head wobble a little, as he gauges its flight. Once he has locked on to its trajectory, he heads it away from goal softly, so it remains within reach, and performs a little volley that takes him further away from the penalty spot, towards the edge of the area. Four defenders chase after him.
Worthington takes a third touch. Still with his back to goal, he now has the ball completely under his control, on a string, as they say.
At first glance that third touch looks unnecessary but in hindsight, the pause in proceedings that it provided make the whole scene seem perfectly planned.
The four defenders move towards him, but don’t show signs of panic. He is facing the wrong way, surely there is no harm that can be done?
With that extra touch, Worthington was biding his time and collecting his thoughts. The defenders had taken one step closer and he had teed himself up perfectly. His devastating plan was now in action.
A quick third volley back over his head and before the whole of the defence, the watching commentator and the crowd can work out what has happened, he turns and runs back through the defence, parting the opposition players like Moses parting the red sea.
The confused defenders are still moving in the wrong direction when, before it can hit the ground, Frank impudently “thwacks” the ball past the ‘keeper and into the bottom right hand corner of the goal, to gasps delight from the Bolton supporters.
As the camera follows his celebration in the footage below, you can clearly see that even the referee is applauding what he has just seen.
It is a goal of such rare and undeniable beauty that it leaves us lesser footballing mortals open-mouthed at the thought that he would even attempt such a move during a match. One of the game’s most extravagant players had scored one of the game’s most outlandish goals.
He has since commented in after-dinner speeches that he felt sorry for Terry Butcher, one of the Ipswich defenders, but that he couldn’t resist pointing to the main stand and saying to him “you would have had a better view of it from over there!”
In another interview, when asked to name his toughest opponent, Worthington replied “My ex-wife.” After finishing his career without winning a major trophy and with a much lower number of international caps than his talent warranted, it could be said that his toughest opponent was actually himself.
His goal for Bolton Wanderers that day was the greatest he would ever score. Perhaps fittingly for Frank’s story, on the day that he scored his wonder goal, his team lost.
Image: author:bplanet freedigitalphotos.net