Ex-Portsmouth, Spurs and Oxford man Dave Leworthy: My biggest regret in football was punching a Southampton player - it cost me my Fratton Park career

David Leworthy, pictured against Chelsea in April 1985, made 12 appearances and scored four goals during 18 months at Spurs. Picture: Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton ArchiveDavid Leworthy, pictured against Chelsea in April 1985, made 12 appearances and scored four goals during 18 months at Spurs. Picture: Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive
David Leworthy, pictured against Chelsea in April 1985, made 12 appearances and scored four goals during 18 months at Spurs. Picture: Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive
The greatest 12 minutes of David Leworthy’s football career have been captured in glorious black and white.

Displayed with pride at his Southsea home, the photograph depicts him as a wiry 18-year-old, seemingly transfixed by a thumping Steve Aizlewood aerial challenge.

The October 1981 fixture against Newport County represented the youngster’s Pompey debut, a moment to cherish for a fanatical supporter who grew up idolising Dave Kemp and dreaming of representing his city.

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Leworthy was later catapulted from Fareham Town to Spurs and handed a top-flight debut in the North London derby, numbering Glen Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Steve Perryman and Ray Clemence among team-mates.

The striker also turned out for Oxford United and Reading, before establishing himself as one of non-league’s most deadliest marksmen until retiring at 50.

Nonetheless, he regards that Pompey outing as the pinnacle of an eventful career.

And, to the 60-year-old’s eternal regret, an altercation in a Southsea nightclub with Southampton striker Steve Moran prevented him from ever playing for his beloved Blues again.

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‘I can tell you the date of my Pompey appearance – October 24, 1981 – and I can tell you the crowd was 8,787. I will forever remember that,’ Leworthy told The News.

David Leworthy in action in his only Pompey appearance during an October 1981 clash with Newport County at Fratton Park.David Leworthy in action in his only Pompey appearance during an October 1981 clash with Newport County at Fratton Park.
David Leworthy in action in his only Pompey appearance during an October 1981 clash with Newport County at Fratton Park.

‘I have a photograph of that Newport County game. When I lived in Cowplain, there was a big spare toilet and I’d put all my football memorabilia in there, trophies, photos, everything. When people sat down, they could have a look to pass the time.

‘We’ve since moved to Southsea, now it’s on the main wall, so, as you walk in the door, you see it. Funnily enough, that’s my only football photo on display at the moment.

‘As a Pompey boy, my aim as a kid was to play for my club, that’s all I wanted. Well, I achieved that, I have the picture. It’s an achievement I’m very, very proud of. The rest was a great bonus for me.

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‘Don’t get me wrong, to play for Spurs was brilliant, unbelievable, and other clubs such as Oxford United and Reading, but pulling on that Pompey shirt was something special. Very special.

Southampton striker Steve Moran challenges Newcastle's John Anderson. It was his nightclub altercation with Dave Leworthy which caused controversy. Picture: Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive.Southampton striker Steve Moran challenges Newcastle's John Anderson. It was his nightclub altercation with Dave Leworthy which caused controversy. Picture: Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive.
Southampton striker Steve Moran challenges Newcastle's John Anderson. It was his nightclub altercation with Dave Leworthy which caused controversy. Picture: Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive.

‘It doesn’t even matter that it lasted just 12 minutes as a substitute, I played for Pompey – and that tops everything. Then I ruined it, I was young and stupid.

‘What happened in the nightclub with Steve Moran was the biggest regret of my football career. If I’m totally honest, it probably cost me my job at Pompey.’

Born in Froddington Road, Somerstown, Leworthy was aged six months when his family emigrated to Australia in 1963, settling firstly in Adelaide and then Melbourne.

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Returning to the south coast eight years later, he attended his first Fratton Park match in December 1971, when Ron Tindall’s men lost 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday.

David Leworthy was a team-mate of Ossie Ardiles' at Spurs - just two years after being released by Pompey.David Leworthy was a team-mate of Ossie Ardiles' at Spurs - just two years after being released by Pompey.
David Leworthy was a team-mate of Ossie Ardiles' at Spurs - just two years after being released by Pompey.

Identified as a nine-year-old of rich promise while at Charles Dickens School, the following year he was invited into the Blues’ youth set-up by Ray Crawford, later earning apprenticeship terms alongside the likes of Alan Knight, Kevin Bartlett and Steve Berry.

Leworthy’s breakthrough arrived under Frank Burrows in October 1981 when called from the bench to replace Billy Rafferty late into a goalless Fratton Park draw with Newport County.

Not long after, his Pompey career was all but over.

He added: ‘I was in Nero’s on a lads’ night out and noticed Steve Moran in there with a friend. He was injured at the time, so not playing, and there were a lot of people unhappy with him being there.

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‘This was a massive Southampton star, so obviously the question about why he was there had to be asked and words were exchanged.

‘We had an altercation, one punch in a split-second moment, and he ended up on the floor, with a couple of lads trying to help him up.

Dave Leworthy nowadays lives in Southsea and is still a regular at Fratton Park as a supporter. Picture: Sam StephensonDave Leworthy nowadays lives in Southsea and is still a regular at Fratton Park as a supporter. Picture: Sam Stephenson
Dave Leworthy nowadays lives in Southsea and is still a regular at Fratton Park as a supporter. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘One of my mates, Simon Elley, who I was with at Pompey, grabbed hold of me and marched me out of the door saying: “Dave, just go. We’ll sort it out”.

‘We thought it was all done and dusted, that nothing would be coming out, after all, it had been a while. Then, five weeks later, the incident was on the back page of The Sun, then followed up by The News.

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‘My immediate thought was “That’s it, this could be the writing on the wall for me” – and it was.

‘Frank Burrows called me in and was okay, but I was suspended from football for five weeks and fined. I also had to write a letter of apology to Southampton’s manager, Lawrie McMenemy.

‘By all accounts, McMenemy wasn’t happy, yet I was getting pats on the back in the street, to some locals I was an absolute hero, as you can imagine, this was a Southampton player.

‘We’d train at the bottom of Furze Lane and somebody had sprayed something about what happened on a wall which backed onto St James’ Hospital.

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‘I never saw it as I was suspended at the time, instead training on my own at Fratton Park, but one of the lads came back and said: “Dave, you won’t believe it, they’ve put something about the incident right across the wall”.

‘Obviously Frank and the coaches had seen it, which wasn’t going to help my situation, but I knuckled down and got my act together – then he was sacked in March.

‘Bobby Campbell came in and told me the club were making a lot of cut-backs, including half the reserves. Apparently it wasn’t just me going – and he was right – but I thought there was more to it than that.

‘Although never confirmed, I put it down to that Steve Moran incident. It cost me massively and was my fault. That remains a massive, massive regret.’

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Released by Pompey at 19 in April 1982, Leworthy journeyed to Aldershot, Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth and Plymouth in search of new beginnings.

In the end, Richie Reynolds recruited him for Southern League Fareham, where the striker plundered 44 goals inside two seasons before completing a shock transfer to Spurs in July 1984.

Fareham coach John Robson alerted the First Division club’s physio Mike Varney, an old Army friend, to the exciting potential of the free-scoring 21-year-old - and he was snapped up for around £25,000.

He said: ‘Fareham had a match at Maidenhead with a Spurs scout in attendance, while Richie had also organised a Plymouth one to attend.

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‘I scored in a 2-1 win and afterwards came out the dressing room to find both of them. Plymouth wanted to sign me straight away, but Tottenham wanted a trial.

‘I turned to the Plymouth scout and said “I’m really sorry, I’m going to Tottenham for the trial. It’s a no-brainer”. He replied “Well, there might not be the opportunity at Plymouth when you come back”. I was willing to take the risk!

‘I was thrown straight into Spurs first-team training on the Monday, trained again on Tuesday, then played for the reserves at Harrow Borough that evening.

‘I scored within the first minute and, after the game, Spurs manager Peter Shreeves came up to me: “Dave, can I have a word? I want you to meet someone”.

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‘I walked around the corner and Bill Nicholson was standing there – “All right son, well played. How much do Fareham want for you?”. Before the end of the week, I had signed on the dotted line for two years with Spurs, talk about surreal.

‘I’m told they were looking for a young, raw striker to come out of non-league, viewing me as a rough diamond, which was a fair summary.

‘It wasn’t until towards the end of the 1984-85 season before I made my debut, when I started in place of Garth Crooks at Arsenal in April 1985 in front of 40,399 people. Graham Roberts missed a penalty, we lost 2-0, but I must have done okay as I kept my place.

‘A few weeks later I was playing at Stamford Bridge on a Saturday afternoon and got back in time to drink with my mates in the Trafalgar Arms in Fratton that evening.

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‘When Match Of The Day came on the TV, there I was! I got so much stick from the pub, you wouldn’t believe.’

Despite bursting onto the First Division scene with three goals in six matches at the end of his first campaign, the strength of Spurs’ recruitment drive in the summer of 1985 would signal the end of Leworthy’s time at White Hart Lane.

Chris Waddle and Paul Allen arrived, with Clive Allen joining them months into the season, and, after four goals in 12 appearances, he was sold to fellow First Division side Oxford in December 1985.

While Fareham, who had already held a friendly against Spurs as part of the original deal, banked a percentage sell-on of the £175,000 fee.

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Leworthy said: ‘In the 1985 pre-season, a couple of strikers were injured and I ended up scoring in every friendly.

‘Then the reality of football hit home when, disappointingly, I was told I was on the bench against Watford for the opening day. Mark Falco, Waddle (two) and Paul Allen scored in a 4-0 win.

‘I couldn’t argue, we are talking top-class strikers here. I don’t mind admitting that these were better players than me, no doubt about that. Then they signed Clive Allen!

‘I didn’t want to leave, but they told me Oxford would be a good move for me. My defiant response to the manager was “All these players have come in and I’ve still got into the team, so I’ll just do the same”.

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‘When I rang my dad, he said: “If someone doesn't want you, Dave, don’t stay”. I have always gone by that, but it was heartbreaking.

‘Things started well at Oxford, though, I scored two goals on my debut in a Boxing Day win against Southampton, with Steve Moran playing!

‘Oxford also won the Milk Cup that season, beating QPR 3-0 at Wembley, but I was cup-tied having played for Spurs.’

Leworthy later represented Shrewsbury (loan), Reading and Colchester (loan) before returning to the non-league game at the age of 28, where he enjoyed prolific spells at Farnborough, Dover, Rushden & Diamonds, Kingstonian and Havant & Waterlooville, where he also managed.

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In recent years he has beaten bladder cancer and then bowel cancer, while earlier this summer began a new job at Kingscourt Prep School in Catherington as a maintenance man and groundsman.

Yet on match days, the 60-year-old can often be found at Fratton Park or attending away games in his camper van, and was present for Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over Wycombe.

He added: ‘I joined Reading eight years after leaving Pompey and who should be in the same dressing room – Steve Moran.

‘As I walked through the door on my first day, he ran into the shower rooms as if I was going to hit him, all as a joke. That broke the ice straight away and after that we got on really well.

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‘I was always hoping that, one day, I would return, like Marlon Pack. When things were going well and I was playing in the First Division, there were a few mentions in the Sports Mail about how well I was doing and Pompey were showing interest.

‘I don't know whether that was just paper talk or actual fact, but I would have loved to come back a better player, a more mature player, but it wasn’t to be.

‘I had my chance – one moment of madness cost me.’