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Farewell, Frank – you were always worth the admission money!

Mark Egan of ITHICS Fanzine pays his own tribute to the maverick former Sunderland forward Frank Worthington - a player who was always worth the admission money.

Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

If you follow retro football sites on social media you will have seen THAT Frank Worthington goal. He scored it for Bolton against Ipswich in 1979. Sam Allardyce lobs a long throw into the Ipswich box, the ball is flicked up towards Worthington who heads it slightly away from goal, then controls the ball, juggles it for a bit while on the move then suddenly flicks it up, turns, runs towards the goal and hammers it home. The defenders have no idea what is happening. It’s a classic 1970s goal from a flamboyant centre forward.

The announcement of Frank’s death last week reminded me that he was in the Sunderland team around the time I first started going to Roker Park in 1982.

His signing was a strange one.

Frank had made his name at Huddersfield and Leicester before his spell at Bolton. Then he’d flitted off to the US before coming back to Birmingham followed by spells in Sweden and the US again, and then a season at Leeds (who were relegated).

Heading into his mid-30s, with a reputation for parties and showboatery, he wasn’t the typical Lads player of the era. Flair was not something Alan Durban looked for in a player. He wanted graft and grind, once famously telling reporters that if they wanted entertainment they should go to the circus.

Not that his assessment of what Sunderland needed to stay in the First Division was wrong: devoid of resources in the transfer market by a penny-pinching chairman, Durban had to make the best he could out of Sunderland’s youth system and a few seasoned pros.

However, for all his reputation as a playboy Worthington was a hard worker. He carried on playing football well into his 40s, finishing off with 846 senior appearances and 267 goals. He was straight into the thick of it at Roker, setting up a goal for Ian Atkins and scoring himself on his debut against Ipswich. He was a valuable member of a side which lost just one game in fourteen from mid-December 1982 to April 1983.

The run ended at Anfield, at a point where Sunderland were second in the form table to Liverpool – no mean feat in those days. But Frank’s time at Roker was coming to an end. His form had dipped and his goals contribution (just two) was felt to be inadequate, even if his experience and the quality of his approach play was still evident.

At the end of the season he moved on to Southampton.

In his autobiography, One Hump or Two, Frank revealed that he had suffered a hairline fracture in an ankle bone at Christmas and this was why his form suffered. He played on after the injury and the club didn’t arrange for an x-ray – Frank had to get it x-rayed himself.

It sounds extraordinary but then the facilities at Roker came as a “culture shock” compared to Elland Road, with no showers at the training ground at Cleadon, which felt like “a Siberian gulag”.

Frank enjoyed his time at Sunderland, though.

The fans were excellent, he got on with Durban (despite press speculation to the contrary) and the dressing room was friendly and enthusiastic.

That autobiography… if you can find a copy it’s one of the funniest there is. Apart from the tale of a long and varied career there are cocktail recipes, lists of Frank’s favourite Elvis songs, Frank as the Fonz, pictures of fancy suits, flash cars, Miss Great Britain, Miss Barbados, various wives in various states of undress and an au pair.

Oh and he hated Lawrie MacMenemy, so it’s all a Sunderland fan could hope for.

Farewell Frank – you were always worth the admission money.

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