Ask anyone involved with Southampton Football Club about Francis Benali and they’ll describe a loyal club legend. The former professional footballer and coach spent the majority of his 20 year playing career with the club.
After 389 games with Southampton Francis, or Franny as he’s more affectionately known, is still a fans favourite today thanks to his commitment to the club, hardworking attitude and ferocious, full-blooded tackles. Many fans will remember Franny playing through injuries to help the team, including famously playing on with a broken arm!
Born on 30 th December 1968 Franny has lived in Southampton his whole life. There was only ever going to be one team he wanted to play for. After an illustrious youth career (as a free scoring striker!) that included representing his country at schoolboy level Southampton signed him up – his debut coming against Derby County in October 1988.
As a loyal servant to Saints his time with the club saw Franny working under various managers and many emotional ups and downs for the club. Throughout though he remained a regular on the team sheet thanks to his never give less than 100% approach. An excellent Southampton playing career came to an end as he made his final appearance in 2004 against Bayern Munich in a friendly.
Since retiring Franny has remained a big part of Southampton Football Club – working with the Saints Foundation – as well as being a Head Coach and Director of fellow Saints legend Matt Le Tissier’s youth academy.
Away from football Franny is married to Karen and has two Children Luke and Kenzie. He has also turned his attention to business opportunities away from football – an interest in an award winning Bangladeshi restaurant and property development as well as a regular on the after dinner speaking circuit.
Benali’s knowledge and experience within the game has seen him regularly on TV, the radio or in the papers offering his thoughts and opinions on footballing matters.
More recently Franny has been in the media spotlight for different reasons - completing 2 ultra endurance challenges, both in aid Cancer Research UK that saw Franny run between every Primer League grounds in 2014, covering over 1,000 miles running for 21 consecutive days and more recently running and cycling to every Premier League and Championship football club covering an incredible 1400 miles in just 2 weeks, running a marathon then cycling at least 75 miles every day. Franny has raised over half a million pounds for Cancer Research UK so far. ….Throughout the challenges the likes of BBC, ITV, Sky and various radio stations followed Franny’s progress and interviewed him about the challenges and great cause he was raising money for.
In 2016 Solent University awarded Franny with a Solent University is Honorary Degree of Doctor Of Sport for services to the local community.
In an address to the students, Benali said: To the teaching staff at Solent University, I’ve had the pleasure of going along and giving a number of guest lectures at the University and to the students, that is something I would like to continue to do into the future.
He shared some tips for the new graduates: “Never give less than 100%,” he said. “You may not be the most intelligent, the most gifted, the strongest, the fastest, but there’s no excuse not to be outworked by anybody else. Have a positive impact, not just on your lives, but on those lives of people you come into contact with. Give something back. While striving for your own dreams and goals, do something good for somebody else.
In recognition of Franny's contribution to charity, that includes the Saints Foundation, Cancer Research UK along with services to Southampton Football Club and the city of Southampton, Franny was awarded the Freedom of The City in 2016.
Franny started playing football as a striker - playing for a local team as well as a very successful school team. Franny was an Associate Schoolboy with Southampton Football Club and at under-15 level captained Southampton Schools and represented Hampshire and the south west of England on many occasions.
He then achieved his ambition, at that time, by being selected to play for England Schoolboys, his debut coming on 3 rd March 1984 against Northern Ireland. Franny had an excellent game scoring the only goal in his country’s win. He scored a total of three goals in a further eight games for England, the highlight being playing in front of a 60,000 crowd in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
Franny’s debut came from the bench – a substitute appearance against Derby County at The Dell. From that day he evolved to become a regular starter, his versatility providing the manager with cover for full back, centre back and even in midfield.
Known as a tough tackling defender who rarely ventured forward he played in many memorable games – shutting out some of the world’s top players. Managers brought in competition for his left back position numerous times yet Franny’s determination, consistency and tenacity saw him remain a first team favourite.
The one thing Southampton fans craved from their hero was a goal and it finally came in 1997 against Leicester – a looping header that sent The Dell crowd wild. You’d have thought that goal had just won Southampton the Champions League!
His final appearance for the Southampton first-team came as a substitute in the inaugural Ted Bates trophy match at St Mary’s in January 2004 against Bayern Munich. His career saw honours as a Zenith Data Systems Cup finalist in 1992 and F.A. Cup runner up in 2003.
Francis signed for local non-league club Eastleigh in the summer of 2006 and played 22 games over the course of the season before finally hanging up his boots in 2007.
In July 2003, Benali joined the coaching staff at St Mary's and took charge of the under-12 side at the Academy.
He also enjoyed a two year spell as a youth and reserves team coach at Romsey Town.
Today Franny is Head Coach and Director at the Matthew Le Tissier Natural Coaching Academy where he continues to inspire young players.
Source: Sky Sports
Francis is a regular on Sky Sports, providing well-informed opinions based on years of experience within football. He offers a player’s perspective on key topics, providing punditry and commentary on some of the biggest teams and matches as well of course when his own team Southampton are being featured.
He is a regular on Talk Sport radio and has enjoyed the lighter-hearted look at football when on the sofa with Sky’s Soccer AM.
Franny is frequently covered by the local press in the south and is often asked for his view on the Premier League teams, players and managers.
Now actively pursuing work within the media Franny is available for comment and punditry – please contact him through the website for more information.
In February of this year Franny provided match commentary in the EFL League Cup Final between Manchester United and Southampton for Channel 5.
Franny’s media career has seen him make appearances on:
- Sky Sports
- Sky Sports News
- BT Sport
- BBC South
- ITV Meridian
- Talk Sport Radio
- Late kick off
- Channel 5
Source: Soccer AM
Source: BBC Sport
Source: Sky Sports
Source: Sky Sports
Source: Hari Ghotra
As a player and Club Captain, Benali was regularly involved in community affairs in Southampton and continued to be involved following retiring by becoming a patron of a Saints community programme. Franny is currently a key figure with the Saints Foundation that works within the community and is committed to ensuring the power of football can have a lasting impact in the local and regional districts.
He was also patron of the Children's Fire and Burn Trust and is currently an active Patron of The Dave Wellman Cancer Trust.
On 11 August 2013, he dusted off his boots and appeared in a charity match in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital at Bromley F.C. The match was between the casts of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera with other celebrities including Gareth Gates and Danny Jones taking part.
In 2014, Franny carried out his first Ultra endurance challenge for Cancer Research UK – completing a 1,000 mile run during August and September 2014. Over the three weeks Franny had to run to all 20 Premier League grounds – his efforts raising over £265,000. As a result he became the first recipient to be presented the Barclays Spirit of the Game award in December 2014.
Cancer Research UK Flame of Hope Award Winner 2015 - Fundraising Volunteer of the Year. And JustGiving Celebrity Fundraiser of the Year 2015.
The former Southampton defender won the Just Giving Celebrity Fundraiser of the Year award in 2014 for his incredible feat of running to every Premier League ground in just three weeks.
Not content with the first challenge, Franny took it upon himself to push the limits of his physical and mental strength even further by attempting and completing an even more gruelling challenge, again for Cancer Research UK. Francis successfully completed his challenge to visit all 44 Premier League and Championship grounds in just two weeks, making his man-powered journey by a combination of running and cycling. Every day he ran a minimum of one marathon (26.2 miles) and cycled a minimum of 75 miles.
Franny's work continues for Cancer Research today as he aims to raise £1M for Cancer Research.
Franny is an experienced public speaker, drawing upon his 16 year career as a professional footballer playing against some of the best players in the world, as well as how he planned and completed His two epic, ultra endurance challenges and: running 35 marathons in 3 weeks to: Running over 1,000 miles in his first challenge or running a marathon followed by a 75 mile cycle ride on the second.
Whether it’s discussing his path from local youth football to the English top flight, the banter found within a Premier League dressing room, or the torturous pain of running 35 marathons in 3 weeks, Franny’s stories will amuse and captivate audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Schools, colleges, universities, sports teams and corporate businesses can all benefit from his talks.
If you are looking for educational, athletic or business development, then please contact Franny to discuss your requirements.