Forty years ago this week , on 23 August 1972, one of the most entertaining players ever to sign for the Foxes scored on his Leicester City debut at Old Trafford. His name was Frank Worthington.
Frank was signed from Huddersfield Town. He arrived in Leicester in the same week as full-back Denis Rofe from Orient who had been signed with a view to replacing David Nish, who was about to leave the Club.
Jimmy Bloomfield had been interested in signing 23-year-old Frank for some time. The matchday programme for Frank’s home debut against Coventry described new signing Worthington as ‘an aggressive powerful striker very much in the traditional centre-forward mould who has just completed a very successful close-season tour with the England Under-23 side’. As subsequent years were to show, this rather understated Frank’s ability as a flair player who entertained the crowd with sublime skill in his role as a rampaging striker.
The programme then alluded to the story behind Frank’s transfer to Leicester City by stating that ‘Now that he has been passed fully fit, he should be just the man to add that extra bite to the City attack’. What the programme did not say was that during the close season it had looked as though Frank would be signing for Bill Shankly at Liverpool. When Frank returned from the England Under-23 tour, Jimmy Bloomfield was waiting for him at Heathrow. So was Bill Shankly. Frank flew to Merseyside with the intention of signing for Liverpool. However, that deal fell through due to Frank’s high blood pressure. This was not unconnected to his good-living lifestyle. Jimmy Bloomfield came back in for Frank, and signed him for £80,000, only two thirds of the amount that Liverpool had been prepared to pay. It was to prove a great deal, both for the Club and the player.
A few days later, Frank had a dream debut for his new club. He scored at Old Trafford in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United. After 25 minutes, following a throw-in from Weller, a ball from Birchenall into the box rattled the United defence. Worthington seized the chance by evading Dunne’s tackle, cracking in a left foot shot in at the near post, well away from Stepney in United’s goal. Just before half-time George Best equalised for United, his penalty just beating Peter Shilton.
In the years which followed, Frank’s performances epitomised the style of play that became associated with Jimmy Bloomfield’s time at Leicester. He took centre-stage in a Leicester City side which became one of the most attractive footballing sides in the country. It included such stars as Keith Weller, Lenny Glover, Jon Sammels and Alan Birchenall.
Despite the entertainment, and despite some top-ten finishes and an FA Cup semi -final, Bloomfield’s side never won any silverware. This did not stop Frank from being a great success at Leicester. He played in every match in his first three years at the Club, only missing a handful of games in his five years at Filbert Street during which he played in nearly 250 games, scoring 78 goals. He was top scorer in 1973/74 with 24 goals in the Cup and the League. This form earned him eight England caps between May and November 1974. He scored two goals for England, against Argentina and Bulgaria. For three of these games, his Leicester City team mates Keith Weller and Peter Shilton were in the same England side.
The Bloomfield era ended in disillusionment in 1977, even though Leicester finished 11th in the old First Division. Frank respected Jimmy enormously. Bloomfield’s resignation, combined with Frank’s own personal financial troubles, and the Club losing some of its best players through age and transfers, meant that, eight games into Frank McLintock’s spell as manager in 1977, Frank went to Bolton Wanderers. He later embarked on a footballing odyssey which took him to over a dozen other clubs in England. He also had spells in the USA and South Africa.
Without doubt, though, the most successful five years of Frank’s career were spent at Leicester City. His goal-scoring debut for the Foxes at Old Trafford 40 years ago this week heralded a glorious era of entertaining centre-forward play which will live forever in the minds of those fans lucky enough to have seen him.