Growing up in 1970s Shepherds Bush, playing football in the street or the school playground of Miles Coverdale Primary School, I only ever wanted to be one person: Ian Hutchinson. Or to give him his correct moniker, according to the good denizens of the Stamford Bridge terraces: Ian Ian Hutchinson – so good they named him twice.
Quite where the fascination with Hutchinson started is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he scored the winning goal in one of my earliest matches attended, or maybe I had a penchant for long-throw experts. It wasn’t because he is rumoured to have fathered a child with a well-known actress, who I can’t name here for legal reasons, because I only found out about this in recent years. But whatever the reason, Hutch was my first hero.
What Hutch did possess was a touch of naughtiness. He, like many of his team-mates and peers, was a maverick; and as an impressionable kid with football on his mind, these were the sort of guys I was drawn to.
Perhaps there were clues in my musical taste. A quick root through my record collection shows that the first seven-inch vinyl discs I bought were by Slade and Wizzard, and the first album to hit my shelf was Desolation Boulevard by Sweet, who for a time came close to matching Chelsea in my affections. Sweet were my only boyhood heroes that didn’t ply their trade at Stamford Bridge, and one of the highlights for me of the memorable Sunderland v Leeds FA Cup Final of 1973, was seeing lead-singer Brian Connolly and guitarist Andy Scott camping it up in front of the ITV cameras during the pre-match festivities backstage at Wembley. Sadly, both Connolly and Hutch have long-since departed this mortal coil, each falling victim to the dreaded booze. As a non-drinker myself, it’s ironic that my first two heroes should succumb in this way.
Anyway, I digress. What was clear from an early stage was that I would always have a liking for people and players who failed to conform. People and players with no respect for authority. People and players who would cause my elders to raise an eyebrow or two on a regular basis.
For me, one of the great things about 1970s football was that it was littered with mavericks, and every big team seemed to have at least one player who fitted the bill. Of course, with Hutchinson, Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson, Tommy Baldwin and a host of others amongst our number, Chelsea could boast the highest ratio of scallywags per squad, but in addition to our motley crew of bad boys, the two Manchester clubs, United and City, had George Best and Rodney Marsh respectively; and, incredibly, Second Division Fulham managed to pair them up for a while under the stewardship of Bobby Campbell during the mid-70s (this was the same Bobby Campbell who as Chelsea manager, sold Pat Nevin and Roy Wegerle, and replaced them with Graham Roberts and Peter Nicholas). Arsenal had Charlie George and QPR Stan Bowles, who was despised by Chelsea fans, but was well-known to many of us Shepherds Bush schoolkids as a friendly, pleasant bloke who never refused to sign an autograph on the many occasions we bumped into him on his way out of the William Hill bookmakers on Uxbridge Road.
Even some of the lesser-lights of top-flight football had their fair share of mavericks amongst their ranks. Sheffield United could boast London-born Tony Currie in their midfield, and he was once famously snogged in the middle of the pitch by Leicester’s own cheeky chappie, Alan Birchenall, who had earned his maverick stripes during a spell at Chelsea earlier in the decade. And then there was Frank Worthington…
Frank Worthington is, for my money, an absolute legend of the English game, and a player who would have been adored by the Stamford Bridge faithful had he played for Chelsea at any time in his career. He made his name at Huddersfield before moving to Leicester City. While at Filbert Street, Worthington caught the eye of none other than Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who was on the brink of signing him until he failed a medical due to raised blood pressure. The fact that Worthington claims his high blood pressure was caused by the previous night’s exertions only serves to increase his legendary status!
However, Worthington is probably best remembered by football supporters for a goal he scored in the colours of Bolton Wanderers early in the 1978/79 season, when he juggled the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the box, before flicking it over the head of an Ipswich Town defender and meeting it with an immaculate left-foot volley into the corner of the net.
It was later that season, in December 1978, that I attended a match between QPR and Bolton at Loftus Road with a few of my school friends, after our school received a number of free tickets for the game. Most of my friends were supporting QPR but I, naturally, was backing the visitors. Happily, Wanderers won 3-1, with Worthington scoring twice, including a sublime strike from 20-yards after skipping past three defenders. To make things even better, he came sliding over to the South Africa Road stand on his knees and gave a wave to the little guy sitting near the front of the stand, who was the only person in that part of the ground on his feet cheering.
Later that evening, I was making my way along Kensington High Street and as I ambled past the Royal Garden Hotel, there was Frank Worthington standing in the forecourt, resplendent in a green crushed velvet jacket and dickie-bow. No doubt he was on his way to meet some glamour model or other. I myself was on my way to a church disco for under-14s – which was hardly going to compare with the night Frank had ahead of him. Nonetheless, I pulled two girls that night, and I’m giving Frank much of the credit, because some of the old Worthington magic clearly rubbed off on me that night.
Sadly, the likes of Frank Worthington don’t exist in the game anymore. Perhaps the last of the real mavericks was Paul Gascoigne, and look at the state of him now. From a Chelsea point of view, the last man to come close to being a maverick was Dennis Wise, and to an extent you could include the loathsome Vinnie Jones. For real Chelsea mavericks, you have to cast your mind back further, to the likes of Mickey Thomas and Joey Jones, who had played at the top level in the 1970s and knew that life wasn’t for taking too seriously.
Football is big business in the 21st century, and it is unlikely that we will ever see a return to the good old days of the 1970s mavericks. The rewards for success are high, as are the demands of the clubs, and it is only right that the young men at the top of today’s game are expected to apply themselves to their trade and conduct themselves in the right way. But if there is a young Frank Worthington out there anywhere, can you please sign for Chelsea? We need someone like you to liven the place up a bit – and I need some of your magic to rub off on me again, because it just ain’t happening any more!