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 30th 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 playing career came to an end as he made his final appearance in 2004 friendly against Bayern Munich.
Since retiring, Franny has remained a big part of Southampton Football Club, working regularly with Saints Foundation and becoming a Club Ambassador.
Franny is married to Karen, and has two grown up children - Luke and Kenzie.
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.
In recent years, Franny has been in the media spotlight for different reasons, completing 3 ultra endurance challenges, all in aid Cancer Research UK. The first of which saw Franny run between every Primer League ground in 2014, covering over 1,000 miles, running for 21 consecutive days. In 2016 he ran and cycled to every Premier League and Championship football club, covering an incredible 1,400 miles in just 2 weeks. Running a marathon and then cycling at least 75 miles every day, and in 2019 he attempted 7 Ironman distance triathlons in 7 days! Franny has raised over £1 million for Cancer Research UK.
In 2016, Solent University awarded Franny with an Honorary Degree and is now a Doctor of Sport for services to the local community.
In an address to the students, 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 or 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 the 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, including the Saints Foundation and 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. He was named in the New Years Honours list 2020, where he was awarded an MBE.
Franny started playing football as a striker 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 3rd 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 at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
Franny’s debut came as a substitute 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 best 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 powerful 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.
Source: Sky Sports
Francis appears regular on Sky Sports and BT Sport, 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 TalkSport 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’s 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.
Franny’s media career has seen him make appearances on:
- Sky Sports
- Sky Sports News
- BT Sport
- BBC South
- ITV Meridian
- TalkSport 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 retirement by becoming a patron of a Saints community programme. Franny is currently a key figure with Saints Foundation, who work within the community and are committed to ensuring the power of football can have a lasting impact in the local and regional areas.
In August and September 2014, Franny carried out his first Ultra endurance challenge for Cancer Research UK, completing a 1,000 mile run over three weeks visiting all 20 Premier League grounds, his efforts raising over £265,000. As a result he became the first recipient of the Barclays Spirit of the Game award in December 2014.
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 through 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.
Then in 2019, he announced he would undertake 7 IronMan distance triathlons in 7 days.This consisted of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by 112 miles on a bike, and then running a marathon (26.2 miles) each day.Starting in Manchester and finishing in Southampton, Franny, with his team, completed the challenge.Franny, along with his family and support team, have raised over £1million for Cancer Research UK, and continue to support them.
As a result of these efforts Franny has also been awarded both the Cancer Research UK Flame of Hope Award Winner 2015 for Fundraising Volunteer of the Year, as well as the JustGiving Celebrity Fundraiser of the Year 2015. He was also recognised by Southampton City Council, who made him a Freemen of the City. In 2019 he became an official Club Ambassador for Southampton FC and was awarded an MBE in the New Year 2020 Honours List.
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, trained for and completed his three epic, ultra endurance challenges.
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 captivate, amuse and inspire audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Schools, colleges, universities, sports teams and corporate businesses can all benefit from his talks.His story, experiences and guidance will show you how to be a better individual or team.
Franny will work with you and tailor his talk and presentation to your requirements.If you are looking for educational, athletic or business development, then please contact Franny to discuss your requirements.
Franny’s talks can cover:
Leadership and Teamwork
Performing at Your Peak
Drive and Determination
Motivation and Inspiration
Perseverance and Resilience
Handling High Pressure Situations
Setting and Achieving Goals
Leading by example