To have had an attic stuffed with silverware when he died peacefully in hospital aged 72 on Monday would have ruined his mythical status. Worthington was about giving memories, not receiving medals.
“It’s a game to be enjoyed, a game where the individual can express himself and entertain the public,” he once told the Sunderland programme.
The only thing that rivalled the playboy’s love of life was his love of football. The great entertainer came out of retirement to join home-town club Halifax Town aged 43. Unlike dad Eric and elder brothers Dave and Bob, he never played for the first team, but turned out for the reserves.
Given how many teams the forward did play for, it was remarkable Halifax never made it onto his cv. Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Guiseley featured but football took him to Leicester City, Bolton Wanderers, Philadelphia Fury, Birmingham City, Mjallby, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Sunderland, Southampton, Brighton and Hove Albion, Tranmere Rovers (including a second spell as player-manager in 1985-87), Preston North End, Stockport County, Cape Town Spurs, Chorley, Stalybridge Celtic, Galway United, Weymouth, Radcliffe Borough, Hinckley Town and Cemaes Bay, plus numerous guest appearances including for Manchester United in the mid-1980s.
Ian Greaves, who managed him (in the loosest sense) at Huddersfield, where he won his solitary team title, and Bolton, where he beat Kenny Dalgish to the 1978-79 golden boot, called Worthington “the working-class George Best”, although he probably would have preferred to be the working-class Elvis Presley. In an era of football mavericks, he was the king.
His off-field recklessness was reflected in bravery on it. He loved wearing medallions, never shinpads.
Worthington’s Leicester team-mate Alan Birchenall recalled: “Frank would often report to the ground at two (for a 3pm kick-off), then disappear for half an hour! More often than not he’d be signing autographs in the car park or grabbing the numbers of some admiring females!”
By the late 1970s, Worthington told The Guardian he had calmed down: “Instead of going out seven nights a week, I keep it to six.”
Forty goals in over 170 games for Huddersfield between 1966 and 1972 caught Bill Shankly’s eye and Liverpool agreed a £150,000 fee, only for Worthington to fail the medical due to high blood pressure. Shankly sent him to Majorca to relax but a week at the hedonistic island saw him return with it even higher.
Greaves got the best out of Worthington by refusing to look past his talent.
“We stood there, eye to eye,” he said, recalling one of many tellings-off. “He was talking to me and his eyes never left mine, but he must have flicked the ball up 47 times. He flicked it up and caught it behind him on his neck, down the back of his neck, hoofed it over his back and caught it on his foot, something I could never do if I played forever. I thought, ‘How do you give him a telling-off when he’s doing that?’”
That non-conformity worked against him at international level.
Alf Ramsey picked him for England Under-23s and was met at the airport by high-heeled cowboys boots, a silk shirt and lime velvet jacket. A senior debut only came after Ramsey.
He played six times for caretaker-manager Joe Mercer in the summer of 1974, scoring twice, but full-time successor Don Revie was no fonder of unconventional flair players. Worthington played in Revie’s first two matches, but that was it.
“He wanted the yes men,” said the epitome of a no man.
However much Worthington frustrated sticklers like Ramsey and Revie, he lived his life as he wanted and without bitterness about unfulfilled potential.
“I have no complaints about my life and my career so far and no regrets, apart from one thing,” he once said. “If only I had taken things a little easier early on, I would have gone to Liverpool and the sky would have been the limit, but I have never made excuses for anything because that is a weakness.”
The weaknesses were as much a part of Worthington as the skills watched relentlessly on YouTube since his sad passing.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive membiers-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.