Frank Worthington RIP A Saints Legend For A Season
Tuesday, 23rd Mar 2021 11:40
Frank Worthington arrived at the Dell with his best days behind him, although he could not be called a Saints legend he played a part in our best ever League season and is rightly considered a footballing Legend.
I was going to say that Frank Worthington arrived at Southampton at the tail end of his career, but that would be a little inaccurate, although he was only a few months off his 35th birthday when he signed for Lawrie McMenemy , when he left Saints in the summer of 1984 he would continue to play in the Football League for another 4 years and then non league for 4 years after that.
Saints were Franks 7th league club and it has to be said that his best years were at Huddersfield Town where he started and then at Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers before joining Birmingham City in 1979 where he spent 1/2 years, whether at this stage it was money or football he seemed now to take every opportunity to go out on loan in the summer.
When he arrived at the Dell in the summer of 1983, it was not a signing that inspired, 1982/83 season had been a damp squib, we had hoped to challenge for the League but the departure of Kevin Keegan meant we ended up in 12th spot.
We still had quality at the club but the truth was we were at a crossroads and lacking a centre forward to compliment Steve Moran and Danny Wallace and a central defender to replace Chris Nicholl, the fans were not impressed when Ken Armstrong came from Kilmarnock for £50,000 and Frank Worthington from Sunderland where in his half a season he had scored just twice in 19 games.
The fans were in a negative mood, it was hard to see how we could finish above 12th again, the social media of the time, the pub toilet was full of Saints slurs, you couldn't go in there without graffiti slamming Saints transfer policy, sound familiar ?
But we started the season well, Frank made his debut away to Nottingham Forest on the opening day and we were up and running with a 1-0 win, in our opening 6 games we won 4 and drew 2.
But Frank was yet to score and it was clear his role was not of a swashbuckling Joe Jordan style centre forward but a deep lying fox around the box, his game was all about creating space and opportunities for Steve Moran and Danny Wallace, but some Saints fans were not convinced they measured his contribution in goals scored and as we went into the 8th game he was yet to score.
His first goal came at home to Wolves the team who would finish rock bottom that season, it was a narrow 1-0 win at the Dell and Frank bundled the ball over the line in the 82nd minute, it wasn't a classic as were many of his goals in the 1970's but it got us the three points and that was all that mattered.
Ironically Frank's return to old stomping ground Filbert Street the following week lasted only 22 minutes with the game being abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch.
When the match was replayed six weeks later Fran scored our consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat, ironically we conceded the first goal on 22 minutes the exact time the original game had been abandoned, Alan Smith was the scorer and when fellow TV pundit Gary Lineker scored on 74 minutes we looked dead and buried until Frank stabbed home another ball from close range but it was too little too late.
By now though the season was building and Saints were now firmly ensconced in the top 6 and we all dreamed of Europe, but we dreamed of an FA Cup win most of all, back then the cup was the most realistic chance we had of glory.
The most remembered game of this season was the trip to Fratton Park, 36,000 packed into the ground, 10,000 of them officially Saints fans, but a lot more had tickets in the home sections.
It was a tense match and it was settled in the final minute, Frank deep lying as normal got the ball and sent David Armstrong clear down the right, he crossed to the far post and there was Steve Moran, if you were there you know the feeling and scenes that followed.
The Cup was now priority but we still kept going in the League, a 3-0 win at Ipswich saw Frank's 3rd goal for the club, again another close range effort after the keeper missed a cross.
April saw our cup run ended at Highbury and a last minute of extra time goal by Adrian Heath breaking Saints hearts, but it spurred us on in the League, a UEFA cup spot was a distinct possibility and on 28th April came perhaps the best game of the season, Coventry City came and were despatched 8-2, Frank had perhaps his best game for the club, it was Steve Moran and Danny Wallace who took the glory with 3 goals each, Dave Armstrong adding another and Frank after creating the space with his movement nodded in a cross to make it 5-1 with 20 minutes to go.
Little did an ecstatic Saints crowd know, but this would be the last glimpse of Frank Worthington we would get, the following week we travelled to Stoke and according to reports Frank was confronted in the hotel room of two female Saints fans on the night before the game, ever the chancer he claimed he was only making tea, but he was sent home the next morning.
We bumped into him at a service station on the M6 on our way to the game, thus becoming the first Saints supporters to hear the story and the photo below was taken there on May 5th 1984.
But Frank's career at the Dell was over, 34 League games and 4 goals plus another 8 games in the cup without scoring.
Although on paper Frank's contribution to the season doesn't look great for a centre forward, the truth is he wasn't there to score he was there to create, make space for others, hold the ball up and lay it off, in fact his last duty was to actually score himself, Steve Moran ended up with 21 goals in the League, Dave Armstrong 15 and Danny Wallace 11, they were the people to get the goals, without Frank they would not have got half as many.
So rest in peace Frank Worthington, there are some who say you never truly achieved your potential, that you were always the showman and too flamboyant, but over 800 games at club level yielding around 300 goals says otherwise, 8 caps and 2 goals for England was far too few and in that respect you suffered from Don Revie's tenure as England manager being at your peak and he didn't like big shots.
But at age 72 you have lived life as you played the game, with your socks rolled down and no shin pads, the title of your autobiography was "One Hump or Two" the cover showed you putting sugar in a cup of tea, but you have to wonder whether these were the words uttered by Lawrie McMenemy upon entering that hotel room in Stoke back in 1984, he might not have been laughing at the time, but hopefully he like Saints supporters of that era and indeed all football fans from back then will smile when the name Frank Worthington is mentioned, we were lucky to have him play for us.
Photo: Action Images
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