The Birch Remembers Frank Worthington
Regarded as one of the most entertaining players ever to represent the Club, Worthington signed for Leicester City from Huddersfield Town for £80,000 in August 1972. A future England international, he was powerful, aggressive and had all the traits of the traditional centre forward, but also carried sublime skill and talent.
On debut, Worthington scored at Old Trafford during a 1-1 draw with Manchester United and would continue to take centre stage in Jimmy Bloomfield’s iconic side, a team which became an attractive footballing unit with the likes of Peter Shilton, Steve Whitworth, Keith Weller, Lenny Glover, Jon Sammels - and Birchenall.
Reminiscing about his close friend, the Club Ambassador recalled the fondest moments he shared on and off the pitch with Frank ‘Elvis’ Worthington, one of football’s most charismatic figures.
“For Leicester fans, he’s important – he’s Franky Wortho,” Birchenall began, speaking in 2021. “I could be here for three days explaining what he was like, but it makes me smile. I remember his first day, at Filbert Street, and I’d just pulled up. All of a sudden, this Mustang – the sports car of the day – pulled up alongside me.
“I thought this cowboy had got out, but it wasn’t a cowboy… it was Elvis! It started from that day. I was one of the first ones to meet him after he’d come down from Huddersfield. I’d heard Liverpool had signed him, and he told me later on that he’d been on holiday for three months in Marbella before!
“Bill Shankly didn’t sign him, and Jimmy Bloomfield nicked in. With all due respect, in the last 50 or so years that I’ve been around the place, he was probably the start of what I’d call the top players that I’ve seen pass through.
Scoring past Liverpool goalkeeper Ray Clemence at Filbert Street in March 1975 - the team he almost joined before signing for the Foxes.
“From that first morning, he was unique. There was only one with his ability. I remember having a chat with him a few years back. He always used to wind me up because if I tried anything with my right foot, it would never come off and he’d start laughing at me! If I tried to pass, and it went wrong, he’d come up to me and have a laugh!
“He’d say: ‘Don’t try and do that, Birch – that’s what you can’t do!’. Could you imagine that today? I’d be waiting to have a go back at him, but then he’d bring a ball down from the hemisphere and in one movement, control it and knock it out to Len Glover! You just can’t argue with people like that.
“I used to shout at him like hell when I was in centre midfield. Somebody would break on him and he’d never close them down or chase back. We were big friends, but I always used to shout: ‘Why don’t you chase back?’. He’d say: ‘Listen, you’re the ordinary player, that’s your job! I go the other way.
“‘Give me the ball and I’ll do something special’. I had to work hard to justify myself, but he could just do something extraordinary in the game. He did the odd gallop now and again, but you’d ping the ball into him and he could hold onto it for a week if he wanted to because of his ability.
“I can see him now, getting the ball, bringing it down on his chest, and swinging it out to Lenny Glover. He’d dummy one way and ping it out the other way to Keith Weller. I used to stand there in the centre of midfield looking at him thinking: ‘What I’d give to have a bit of his ability’.
“There wasn’t a Leicester City fan in those days that came down to Filbert Street and didn’t see something special. They had so much enjoyment because they saw some great football, and that’s it at the end of the day. Winning things is a bonus, but back then it was about entertainment and we were the best at that.”
He was a fabulous character with an unbelievable skillset – he let you know how good he was as well!Alan Birchenall on Frank Worthington
Featuring in every match across his first three years with Leicester, Worthington only missed a handful of games in his five-year spell at Filbert Street. Playing close to 250 times, he managed 78 goals, including 24 across all competitions in 1973/74 to be named as top scorer and earn the first of his eight England caps, which brought two goals.
Leaving Leicester in 1977, he went on to play for Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Leeds United, Sunderland, Southampton, Brighton & Hove Albion, Tranmere Rovers, Preston North End and Stockport County, as well as in the USA and South Africa during an extensive career.
Without doubt, though, the most successful five years of Frank’s career were spent at Leicester City. His entertaining centre-forward play will forever live on in the minds of those fans lucky enough to have seen him showcase his talents and others that were told of his showmanship through tales, recollections and anecdotes.
Birchenall continued: “In life, I think you warm to characters. When you come across somebody like Frank, they’re special, but also different in the way he conducted himself. He lived day-to-day, did Elvis.
“I remember the first week he came in and after the game we used to have a beer in one of the offices, and the boys would go in win, lose or draw. Sometimes, the opponents were in, and it was the size of an ordinary lounge, it wasn’t a big place like they have today.
“There were about half-a-dozen players that would go in after the game, but the next home game, that room was packed because they’d heard Frank was in town! He’d come dressed in his cowboy boots and a flowery shirt.
“The first time he turned up, because you didn’t have club suits in those days, he wore a velvet jacket with little red hearts dotted all over it. We looked at each other and just smiled – that was Elvis’ style.
Frank Worthington & Alan Birchenall
The pair, pictured contesting a ball at a training session in 1976, became great friends.
“Jimmy Bloomfield liked the cassettes in those days, and he liked David Bowie. As we’d set off up or down the motorway on a Friday for the away game, the manager would put David Bowie on. We’d had a couple of Bowie songs, but when Frank joined us, that was it then – he’d walk down the front of the coach and we’d have Elvis on for the rest of the journey!
“I wasn’t an Elvis fan, but I’d been indoctrinated. Wherever we went, it was Elvis Presley, because you just let him get on with it. He was in his own world at times, but what a character, what a player and what a lovely man.
“One time, we’d spent all day in Marbella looking for a cowboy hat. We went over there, and he wanted a Stetson hat. I told him: ‘You won’t find a cowboy hat over here, Elvis’. He said: ‘I’m not going anywhere until I do!’. We all went back to the hotel and he was still out there, and a few hours later in he walks with his Stetson on.
“I eventually went and played for the Memphis Rogues, and when he found out I was going to Memphis, and I went inside Graceland, he went potty! He couldn’t believe it. He asked me to bring him something back, and across from Graceland was a gift shop. I went in there and I bought bells, t-shirts, pictures, mugs – anything I could lay my hands on.
“I parcelled it up and brought it back with me, and he went absolutely mad! He was kissing me and hugging me because I had a case full of it. He said: ‘How much do I owe you?’, and I said: ‘About £5 for that load of rubbish!’. Any time I’d ring him up, we’d answer the phone and impersonate Elvis! Fancy that, two grown up men, but we had that affinity with each other.
“We had a team meeting at Belvoir Drive once, and Jim called us in because he was having a go at us for the game on the weekend. He gathered us around, and he went through the team. Then, when he called out Frank’s name, we all looked around and over Jim’s shoulder, Frank had two of our apprentices crossing balls and he was volleying them into an empty net. We all thought he was going to get a telling off, but Jim just said: ‘Just leave him, he doesn’t listen anyway!’.
“He loved life, like we all do. He experienced everything, and I spent six or seven years of that time with Frank. He was a fabulous character with an unbelievable skillset – he let you know how good he was as well! We could never aspire to his level of what he could do.”
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