For a while during the 1970s, Frank Worthington was the coolest man on the planet. At least, that’s what I thought. He was a striker with sublime skills and outrageous levels of self-confidence. His beautifully coiffured hair and fulsome moustache combination was straight out of a barber’s window, and his stylish fashion sense certainly did a great job of concealing the fact that he was actually from Halifax. Oh, and the birds – as they were called back then – loved him. He might have only ever played for crap clubs (Huddersfield, Leicester, Bolton and Brighton, to name but a few), but wherever he plied his trade, the supporters took him to their hearts. And why did he only ever play for crap clubs? Because the man whose autobiography was entitled One Hump or Two? failed a medical through high blood pressure when Bill Shankly tried to take him from Leicester to Liverpool. The reason for his high blood pressure on the day of his medical can be derived from the title of his book.
Worthington was already approaching veteran status when he appeared for Bolton Wanderers in the season of 1978/79, but the immaculate skills remained. Early in that campaign he scored the goal against Ipswich Town for which he will always be remembered: as a ball was partially cleared from a set-piece to the edge of the Ipswich box, Worthington collected it with his back to goal and indulged in a quick spot of keepy-uppy, before flicking the ball over his own head and swivelling to rifle a sweet left-foot volley into the bottom corner of the net. Sublime.
In December 1978, my school in sunny Shepherds Bush was given a batch of tickets for a match between QPR and Bolton at Loftus Road, and I was one of the lucky ones to be invited along. It was a grey, cold day and Wanderers led 2-1 as an uninspiring game reached its closing stages, when Worthington, who already had his name on the scoresheet, decided to liven things up. Receiving the ball forty yards from goal, the big striker turned past one mesmerised defender and twisted past another before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Phil Parkes in the Rangers goal. He celebrated with a slide along the turf on his knees directly in front of where I was sitting in the South Africa Road Stand. At that moment, I wanted to be Frank Worthington.
Later that evening I was wandering along Kensington High Street on my way to a disco (oh, how very 70s) in a church hall, and as I sauntered past the Royal Garden Hotel, who did I see in the forecourt but Mr Frank Worthington, all suited and booted and no doubt waiting for some glamorous female companion to arrive. I never got within 50 yards of him, but some of his magic must have rubbed off because there were two ‘birds’ at the church disco that I fancied, and that night I snogged them both. It might have all been very innocent in hindsight, but at the time I felt like a 13-year-old Oliver Tobias! Cheers, Frank.
Prior to Bolton’s trip to Loftus Road, their last visit to west London had been a couple of months earlier, and although Worthington almost certainly didn’t let the result spoil his Saturday night on the town, that match in October would prove to be one of the most incredible ever seen at Stamford Bridge.
There’s no disguising it: Chelsea were crap in 1978/79. Bolton arrived at the Bridge having already knocked the Blues out of the League Cup courtesy of two Frank Worthington goals to one Tommy Langley strike, and half-time in the Stamford Bridge clash, the Trotters led by three goals to nil. Of course, Frank had scored one of them – a penalty – and the other two had been notched by Alan Gowling, the man with the longest head I’ve ever seen.
With twenty minutes remaining, and the score unchanged, manager Ken Shellito made the most inspired substitution of his disappointing tenure. He sent on his twelfth man, Clive Walker – sporting an outrageous tight perm that he can only dream of these days – and watched his super-sub turn the game in a flash. You see, when you’re writing about Walker, you simply have to slip in a reference to flashing somewhere in the piece. It would be rude not to.
Five minutes after Walker’s introduction, Tommy Langley scored what appeared to be no more than a consolation, before Kenny Swain swept the ball home from ten yards to put Chelsea within a goal of the visitors with eight minutes remaining. Three minutes from time, Walker sprinted past Bolton’s right-back, Paul Jones, and slotted the ball beyond Jim McDonagh to bring the scores level, and send the vast majority within the 20,000 crowd delirious. But there was more to come. In the final minute, Walker found himself one-on-one with Jones again. The Chelsea man knocked the ball past his opponent and sprinted beyond him, before sending in a low cross which was shanked into his own net by that star of Panorama, Sam Allardyce.
The final whistle blew seconds later, and hundreds of fans raced onto the hallowed Stamford Bridge turf to celebrate the Blues’ third win of the campaign with their heroes. The fourth win came at Manchester City in December, but victory number five did not follow until April, by which time Chelsea had been relegated back to Division Two, eventually ending the season with a miserly 20 points. You see, Chelsea really were crap in 1978/79. And so was I on the day of that famous 4-3 win over Bolton. And this is why…
Sadly, despite already being a regular at the Bridge by this time, I had to miss the Bolton match for a pretty bizarre reason: my gran was getting married! And as if missing out on the comeback of the century wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t manage to cop off with even one girl, let alone two, at the reception that night. Now it’s pure speculation of course, but I just wonder what might have happened had I been in the same location as Frank Worthington earlier that day. You know what? – I bet I would have been beating them off with a stick!