Written by Mark Elliott
Saturday, 01 December 2001

Those boots should have been the giveaway. In a modest crowd of dinner suits and evening dresses, they were very out of place. Black suede boots with metal-tipped toes - the sort of thing that goes down well in Arizona but somehow seems a bit silly on a dank, November night in Brighton. I'm not sure those with an eye for style would have approved of the rest of the outfit either. Velvet knee-length jacket, white shirt and one of those leather tassel-tie things that doesn't go down well anywhere, really.

The hair sort of made sense when you realised that he was the guest speaker at the Old Brightonians' Annual Dinner. Frank Worthington. You know - the 1970s soccer star with, I'm told, one spectacular goal to his name. Big drinker once too - a bit of a hellraiser. That might explain the shakes...

You couldn't really miss him anyway - the dining room wasn't what you'd call packed. It was a modest event. More modest, perhaps, than even the organisers had expected - one of the tables was unceremoniously cleared and removed as we milled about with our drinks.

Still, there were a good 40 of us sharing the tales of dormitory escapes and mad members of staff that you'd expect. A sort of 'FriendsReunited' brought to life - except, of course, that some of us were stuck with Old Brightonians of a very different generation. It made me wonder whether these dinners have seen their day. Why reminisce in an environment like this when you can cyber-chat from home with the boy who used to sleep in the bed next to yours?

Dinner got in the way of too much mismatched memory-sharing anyway. You're usually on safe grounds with these dinners where seating plans are the order of the day. My partner, David Gold, is on the OBA Committee and that, unsurprisingly, means the top table. Sadly that too this time meant Frank Worthington.

While the food was fine - traditional black-tie dining maybe - but faultless in its execution, the entertainment wasn't. Frank may have been a good footballer once but, on the evidence of what I heard that evening, he has never been much of a speaker.

His speech was, frankly, terrible. We endured 20-odd minutes of anecdotal nonsense about his career delivered in an unending monologue devoid of tone or character. Whatever he was paid for the evening couldn't have been enough - he was clearly suffering.

I would have felt sorry for him, had my polite but measured appreciation of his efforts not caught his eye. Now I clapped at the appropriate moments and fixed my eyes firmly on my wine glass (it was easier than rolling them), but it wasn't enough. Clearly he's used to beer-sodden appreciation and belly laughs. Wrong engagement, Frank.

"Am I facing the right way?" he asked repeatedly, concerned that I wasn't swivelled round, face upturned with pleasure. Frankly, Frank, no, you weren't. You were facing a crowd that expected more from its after-dinner speaker. I think it's fair to say I also expected more from the evening in general. It was an event that seemed to be going through the motions - characterised by a poor turnout and an ill-chosen speaker. He ended by saying "it's been a challenge and you won". We took no pleasure in our victory.

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