Frank Worthington - First Division top scorer 35 years ago this season with Bolton Wanderers
This is an extract from Golden Boot book that was written by Tony Matthews and Mark Metcalf and which was published in 2011 by Amberley publishing.
Five Bolton Wanderers players have finished as top scorer in the top flight of English football since League football started in 1888/89. The last to achieve the feat was Frank Worthington in 1978/79 with 24 League goals.
Frank Worthington netted on his Bolton Wanderers debut against Stoke City in October 1977. After two frustrating near misses, manager Ian Greaves hoped his arrival would bring promotion into the top flight. The England international, costing just £90,000 from Leicester City, did not disappoint and on 26 April 1978, his goal away to Blackburn Rovers won the Wanderers the two points they needed to confirm promotion.
Back in Division One after a fifteen-season absence Worthington’s goal threat and ability to bring others into the game with his sublime passing skills were going to be important if Bolton were to stay there. Joining him up front was former Newcastle United man Alan Gowling, and they were to form a fine partnership. The latter struck the opening goal against Bristol City on the season’s first day, only for Bolton to lose 2-1.
There was therefore relief when a point was earned from a hard fought 2-2 draw at Southampton. After a summer in which some great free-kicks had been scored at the World Cup Finals in Argentina, the man who started his career at Huddersfield wanted to demonstrate he had his own special ways of netting from a dead-ball situation. He did so twice leading Greaves to comment that “he loves skill and if he comes across someone who can bend a free kick 4 feet he will want to do it better.”
Another goal of real quality came at home to Leeds United. With the away side searching for an equaliser Willie Morgan sent Worthington free, and he beat David Harvey with a fierce low drive to make it 3-1. Interviewed in the Bolton Evening News, Worthington played down his goalscoring achievements saying, “Really I think like a midfield player as I am constantly trying to help the players around him.”
On 7 October 1978, the Bolton Evening News Special Correspondent wrote, ‘Quality is the feature that runs through Worthington’s play. His subtle touches and high entertainment value thrill supporters of other clubs.’
Gowling too was hitting the net, and when he and Worthington both netted for the third consecutive match in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City the two established a reputation as ‘goal twins.’ In 1978/79, the pair scored 39 League goals between them.
Three came in a 3-1 win at QPR. Worthington was magnificent and scored twice. One was a marvellous solo effort. He was also accused of spitting at Ernie Howe and John Hollins and when the former committed a bad foul on him, the Bolton centre forward was fortunate to stay on the pitch after throwing a retaliatory punch. Fortunately, it wasn’t as good as his shooting as he missed!
He scored another double as Bolton demolished Manchester United 3-0 just before Christmas. Inevitably, Gowling got the other goal. Bad weather meant it wasn’t until March that Worthington netted again when his curling free kick deceived Manchester City ‘keeper Joe Corrigan.
Playing so well, it was no surprise Worthington was in demand. Attempts to rebuild the USA Soccer League saw Philadelphia Fury offering him big money to play there during the summer. He was determined to go. Greaves didn’t want him to, but conceded he had no choice “because with his contract expiring at the season’s end I’d have probably lost Frank for good by refusing to let him go.”
Worthington, at thirty, was looking to the future, but he continued to enjoy himself at Bolton as Gowling and he both bagged two each in a 4-2 beating of Arsenal. Continuing their double act, both scored as QPR were beaten 2-1 in a fine game.
Bolton also won the next match 2-1. As it was at Old Trafford it ensured a famous ‘double’ against Manchester United. Worthington scored both at the Stretford End. Martin Buchan made it 1-0 at half-time and then, after Worthington had equalised, Gordon McQueen missed a penalty.
Bolton, though, remained under considerable pressure. Then, with little more than a minute to go, a fine Brian Smith run and pass was flicked beyond the keeper for the winning goal to the delight of Wanderers fans everywhere.
Against Ipswich Town at home, Frank Worthington scored the goal of the season.
“In front of the TV cameras Worthington scored a goal fit to grace any occasion. He was on the edge of the box, back to goal with the Ipswich defenders snapping at his heels. Calmly he flicked the ball up twice, lifted it over his head and turned to fire a shot past Cooper’s left hand into the corner of the net.” (Gordon Sharrock, reporting in the Bolton Evening News)
Worthington netted his final goal of the season against Tottenham Hotspur. For once, he was outshone by the all-round abilities of Argentinean Osvaldo Ardiles. Few though were the players in 1978-79 who could say they’d played better than Frank Worthington. Yet within months he’d departed Burnden Park when, after arriving back late from America, he failed to produce anything like his previous form. He was quickly sold to Birmingham City. Three seasons there were followed by a tour of the country with spells at a host of clubs before he finally finished playing in 1991, 25-years after his first Huddersfield appearance.