The show will feature a VIP meet and greet, live and unscripted interview with the former Saints star, followed by an audience question and answer session. The event will be hosted by Francis’ daughter, presenter Kenzie Benali.
Francis (Franny) has also signed Southampton Football Club memorabilia to auction off on the evening to help raise funds for the Wessex Cancer Trust.
Island Echo asked Franny if he had ever been over to the Island before. The ex-Saints star said:
“I’ve been over a number of times. I went to Blackgang Chine as a child, and I’ve brought the kids over camping on the north of the Island. I’ve been doing a powerboat training course, and I’ve made some runs over to Cowes. I’ve also played a few pre-season friendlies for Saints against Newport.
“During my playing days, we used to come over to the Island on the evening of the last game of the season to say ‘thank you’ to the Saints fans for all their support. We always used to have a fabulous evening. I’ve got great respect for the Saints fans on the Island. It’s a big commitment to have to travel to home games on the ferry. But I’ve never given a talk on the Island before. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
We questioned Franny what his funniest experience in football had been. The former footballer told us:
“I once forgot to put a Saints shirt under my tracksuit top when I was on the subs bench. I took my top off and was bare-chested underneath. The staff had to go back into the changing room to fetch me a shirt. The manager (Chris Nicholl) was none too amused.”
Franny had once been a teammate of Ali Dia, dubbed the worst Premiership player ever, who had conned his way into the Southampton side by claiming to be a cousin of former FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah. We asked him whether he had got to know the infamously poor footballer.
“Ali didn’t have a car, so I used to have to go to his hotel, pick him up, and run him about. The manager (Graham Souness) was going to watch him play a reserve game, but this got cancelled. The team was down to the bare bones with injuries and suspensions, so Ali was put on the subs bench, not expecting to be used.
“When he came on the pitch, he really was as bad as people claim he was. He was atrocious! He left Southampton pretty sharpish after the game.”
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Franny is a Southampton lad, born and brought up in the city and playing for his hometown club for almost the entirety of his football career. Island Echo asked him how he felt about the club’s (and city’s) fierce rivalry with Portsmouth.
The Saints legend said:
“It’s something that I’ve grown up with. It’s heightened by the fact that the 2 teams rarely get to play each other, so when we do meet it’s a special occasion. I see it as a healthy rivalry provided it does not get out of hand.”
Francis Benali appeared in 389 league and cup games in the famous red-and-white Saints striped shirt. His Wikipedia article claims 311 games, but Francis warned Island Echo not to trust Wikipedia as a source.
Francis is known for his endurance feats. In 2019, he undertook 7 Iron Man distance triathlons in 7 days: a 2.4-mile swim, followed by 112 miles on a bike, and then running a marathon (26.2 miles). Starting in Manchester and finishing in Southampton, Franny completed the challenge.
Franny has raised over £1million for Cancer Research UK. He has been given a Cancer Research UK award for Fundraising Volunteer of the Year, and an award from JustGiving for Celebrity Fundraiser of the Year.
The former Saints professional has been recognised by Southampton City Council, who made him a Freeman 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.
Francis Benali will appear at Medina Theatre, Newport on Saturday 25th June. VIP Meet and Greet at 18:15 with the showing starting at 19:30. Tickets for the event can be bought at http://www.medinatheatre.co.uk/article/evening-francis-benali-mbe-southampton-fc-legend-bt-sky-sports-pundit.
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