Rewind with us please to this week in 1972 when Stoke City were in a transfer triangle with Liverpool and Huddersfield Town.
The subject was Frank Worthington and Stoke boss Tony Waddington, fresh from winning the League Cup, put a six-figure bid on the table 48 years ago today.
It would have broken the club’s £100,000 transfer record that they had paid Birmingham City for Jimmy Greenhoff three years previously – but Worthington, then aged 23, was one of the hottest prospects in football.
He had stuck out in a dire season for Huddersfield, who hadn’t won since December as they were relegated from the top flight with barely a whimper. They only scored four times after January 8 and two of those were own goals.
But then came Liverpool, nipping in with a higher £150,000 offer, Bill Shankly’s gift of the gab and the guaranteed prospect of a title challenge.
Worthington hot footed to Anfield and was even photographed signing his forms… before he failed a medical.
The public reason was given as high blood pressure – some reports suggest it was for a sexually transmitted disease – and Shankly told him to take a break for a few days before coming back for another check up.
So Worthington took his break in Majorca.
The Huddersfield Examiner takes up the story: “A week later – after seven days of carousing, which involved two Swedish blondes, a night with Miss Great Britain, a casual encounter at the airport with a woman whose name he didn’t catch and a night with a young Belgian beauty – he retook the medical. His blood pressure was even higher. A bemused Shankly cancelled the deal and sent his mother some flowers.”
By this time, Waddington was spending his summer budget – he’d sold Mike Bernard to Everton for £140,000 – on signing Geoff Hurst from West Ham and Jimmy Robertson from Ipswich Town.
So Worthington instead ended up joining Leicester for £70,000
Alan Hudson, who signed for Stoke in January 1974, later recalled: “It was one of the most sensational medicals of all time was when Shankly wanted to sign my great pal Frank Worthington, a signing which would have make Frank even more of a legend in front of the Kop.
“Frank was also diagnosed as having a heart problem when, in truth, he had the heart of a lion.
“There was nothing wrong with Frank, who had a liking for the ladies, and he would have had the true Liverpool fans eating out of his hands just as Eric Cantona did at Old Trafford.
“If they had put names on the back of shirts in those days Frank, a self-confessed Elvis Presley fruit and nut, would have outsold everyone with the exception of George Best.”
Worthington went on to score 78 league and cup goals in a 240-game spell with Leicester, but there was one he remembered more fondly than the rest.
“One goal that does stick in my memory was against Stoke,’’ he said.
“It was the only goal of the game, but what made it special was that it was a 25-yarder which went into the top corner against Peter Shilton, one of the best keepers in the world.
“I have scored a lot of goals but to beat Shilts from that distance was a big thrill for me.’’