*BS*Born on October 22nd 1962 in Portsmouth, David Leworthy signed for his hometown club as a youngster and still holds the record for the shortest first-team careers in Pompey’s history – just twelve minutes as a substitute, in a match against Newport County in October 1981, was the striker’s only appearance for the South Coast side.*BF*
His release from Portsmouth left Leworthy feeling naturally despondent: “I was very disappointed when I left Pompey, as I started there at 10 years of age and left at 19 – as any local player will tell you, playing for your home town team is a great honour. I still go to watch them now.”
Leworthy signed for non-league Fareham Town and enjoyed two years at the current Wessex League side. Despite dropping down into non-league football, the striker was always confident of returning to play at a higher level: “When I first signed for Fareham, it took me a while to accept that I was no longer a professional football to be honest.
“However, I had a very strong self-belief and I knew that if I got my head down and worked hard, I would get back into the professional game – but I couldn’t have ever expected my next move.”
His prolific goalscoring brought him to the attention of Tottenham Hotspur, who paid Fareham a then non-league record fee of £43,000. Leworthy made his debut for Spurs in a 2-0 home defeat against arch-rivals Arsenal in front of over 40,000 fans at White Hart Lane, and went on to make a further ten appearances for the North London side – finding the net on three occasions.
David’s first game for Tottenham understandably ranks as one of his career highlights, describing it as an experience he will “never forget”.*Q1*
Leworthy then moved to Oxford United, a fellow top-flight club, and scored eight goals in 37 appearances – most notably finding the net against Manchester United, another highlight of his: “Playing against United, and scoring, was special.”
Spells with Shrewsbury Town, Reading and Colchester United followed, with Leworthy adding 14 more goals to his collection as a professional footballer.
In 1991, ‘The Legend’ dropped down into non-league football once more. Whilst his last period out of the Football League had only lasted for two years, this decade-long spell would lead to over one hundred goals. This time, Leworthy was more upbeat about coming out of the professional game: “I didn’t have a problem dropping into non-league with the experience I had before, and Farnborough were a great club to move to.”
Moving to Farnborough Town midway through the 1991/92 season, Leworthy made 20 appearances for the Hampshire side and scored 13 goals, including all four in a 4-2 win over Macclesfield Town in March of that season.
Having played every minute of every game since joining Town, Leworthy had established himself as a potent striker and this excellent form carried on into the following season. A further 48 goals in 54 appearances, playing the full 90 minutes in all of these, established a strike rate of 0.82 goals per game, a figure most players – both professional and semi-professional – can only dream of.
Despite being the top scorer in the Conference in his second season at Farnborough, the side were relegated – I’d be interested to know if a relegated side, in any division, has ever boasted the league’s top scorer before – and Dover manager Chris Kinnear identified Leworthy as his main target in the summer that followed.
Signing for Dover for a non-league transfer record of £50,000, Kinnear had got his man. The signing made BBC’s national news, and, whilst the pressure of being signed for a high fee can sometimes weigh too heavily upon a player’s shoulders, this was certainly not the case with David: “I was flattered by what Dover paid for me at the time, but the price tag never affected me at all.
“I was still going to give my all for the club, as I always have. I think the opposition fans and defenders had a problem with the price though – I was always getting verbally abused about it, but that’s football.”
A glorious four years were spent at Crabble, and his 86 goals in just 152 starts (plus 6 as substitute) rightly saw Leworthy voted as the club’s best ever player on the excellent poll, ran on the unofficial club forum in 2011. Unofficial or not, there is surely no doubt that anyone who was privileged enough to see, or hear of, Leworthy’s ability during his spell at the club would class him as our best ever.
Speaking of his award, Leworthy said: “Winning the club’s best ever player award was a great honour, there have been so many quality players who have played for Dover over the years – so to win it was amazing.*Lpic1*
“I was very excited when I signed for Dover, as they had high hopes to challenge for promotion to the Football League, which I wanted to be a part of – especially with the amount of money the club spent on the ground to bring it up to the grading it needed. The club had amazing support too, and I made many friends there during my spell at the club.”
On a personal level, I feel blessed to have seen David play for my club and can’t help but wonder who, possibly, could ever take his mantle at the top. Yes, Adam Birchall was a fantastic player and his goals helped us to a record-breaking FA Cup run, and if he had stayed at the club instead of moving onto Gillingham to perhaps he could have rivalled Leworthy – but David is a deserved number one.
His record at Farnborough meant that rival players in the league knew of his talent and would do their utmost to mark him out of a game, but his quality was just too much.
In January 1997, he was signed by Rushden & Diamonds for £15,000 and scored the goal that kept the club in the Conference. It’s fair to say there was significant disappointment upon his departure, and when I asked David about the reasons for him leaving, he remained respectfully tight-lipped: “There is a reason why I left the club, but being the gentleman I am I promised a certain person I would never reveal it, and I will keep my word. That said, it was a very sad time for me when I left – I could see myself being there for a very long time.”
His time at the Northants club was short-lived, however, and the striker moved to Kingstonian four months later for a club record fee of £18,000. Some of his most successful and high-profile days were spent at Kingsmeadow, including two consecutive FA Trophy-winning appearances at Wembley Stadium in 1999 and 2000.
Subsequent managerial exploits at Havant & Waterlooville, Banstead Athletic and Croydon followed, but to no significant fruition – his best days were certainly spent on the field instead of in the dugout, and his 457 goals in 830 games – including reserve team matches for various clubs – ensures that Leworthy is one of the most prolific goalscorers in non-league football in the past two decades.
Speaking of his managerial days, Leworthy says: “The transition from player to manager was quite difficult, as you were now making decisions on players who, the week before, you were playing with. I did enjoy it, but I enjoyed the coaching more. At the moment, I have no plans to get involved in football again as I very much enjoy watching my old clubs – including Dover – and mixing with the fans on the terraces again.”
The striker’s career honours include being named at Tottenham Hotspur’s Young Player of the Year in the 1984/85 season, the afore-mentioned two FA Trophy winners’ medals, a Conference Charity Shield winners’ medal, a Ryman Premier League winners’ medal, the Golden Boot award in the Conference in 1993, selection in the Conference team of the year in that same year, and four England non-league team caps.*Lpic2*
Given the club’s forthcoming FA Cup tie against Milton Keynes Dons, I thought it wise to ask Leworthy about his own experiences with Dover in the competition: “We always seemed to get knocked out of the Cup in the fourth qualifying round, so to reach the second round proper is brilliant. For the club it helps financially, and for the players it gives them a chance to play at a big stadium and a decent crowd, and to see how they do against players who they may have been, or may become, one day.
“For the fans, it’s the excitement of the FA Cup and the chance to pull off an upset – and let’s not forget, a chance to meet one of the big boys in the next round.”
“For everyone involved, it’s a great day for all concerned – so enjoy the occasion, especially as there could be another round coming, and who knows what that could bring. For the players, don’t have any regrets – and win!
“My time in football was an amazing experience, both professionally and semi-professionally, and Dover will always hold a special place in my heart for my time spent there. It was an honour to play for the club and I will always remember my four goals against Woking as one of my favourite highlights.
“Thank you to everyone at the club who made my time there a special one – of this, I will always be very grateful. All the best.”
*BS*What are your favourite memories of David’s time at Dover Athletic? Use the ‘User Comments’ section below.*BF*