Francis Lee 1944-2023
By Jason Shela
Francis Henry ‘Franny’ Lee CBE who sadly passed away last month was one of the finest attacking footballers of the golden era of English football in the 1960s & 1970s.
Born in Westhoughton, Lancashire in 1944, the young Francis showed prowess in most sports and initially cricket seemed to be his preferred game. However, by the time he was 16, his goal scoring ability prompted Bolton Wanderers to sign him as an apprentice. Young Franny was a precocious fellow and was soon given his opportunity in the first team, making his debut when leading the attack against Manchester City alongside the great Nat Lofthouse and scoring in a 3-1 victory. The following year he was offered a professional contract and was top scorer for the club.
Franny again top-scored when finding the net 23 times after Bolton were relegated in 1965.
After starting the 1967-68 season with goals in seven consecutive games Manchester City manager Joe Mercer swooped in to sign him for £60,000 and he departed Burnden Park having scored 106 goals for Wanderers in 210 games.
At Maine Road, Lee quickly settled into a superb team playing alongside Mike Summerbee, Neil Young and Colin Bell up front and they secured the First Division title in 1968 with 4-3 win over Newcastle United at St James’s Park on the final day with Franny grabbing the fourth.
The following year, City beat Leicester in the FA Cup Final and in 1970 City won the league cup against WBA and the European Cup Winners Cup against Gornik. Lee was voted City Player of the Year 1970 and was named in Sir Alf Ramsey’s England squad for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico where the holders were beaten in the quarter-final by West Germany.
He would go on to win 27 caps for his country, finding the net ten times.
Back at Maine Road it was business as usual and he was top scorer in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 & 1974. In total Lee scored 148 goals in 330 games for City.
In 1974 Derby County boss Dave Mackay made a bid for his services and to the player’s surprise (and disappointment) City accepted. Lee scored 12 goals that season and helped the Baseball Ground team win the league title, his second career crown. In two seasons he scored 30 goals in 80 games for the club before retiring in 1976.
It was whilst with County that Lee made perhaps his best-known (for the wrong reasons) appearance. In November 1975 Derby hosted Leeds United at the Baseball Ground and Lee came up against former England colleague Norman Hunter.
The pair engaged in a running battle which exploded when Hunter caught Lee flush in the face with a stunning right hook. The County man tried his best to retaliate and after a flurry of blows between the two, both were sent off.
It didn’t end there; Lee tried again to get to Hunter when both were back in the tunnel and had to be held back by teammate Roy McFarland who had missed the match through injury and was sent by manager Mackay to act as peacemaker, as the Derby skipper would later recall in his autobiography ‘Roy Mac: Cloughie’s Champion’
McFarland, aided by Derby physio Gordon Guthrie, eventually managed to manouvere Lee into the physio room where he was treated for a cut lip.
The player, still keen to get at his rival, shoved Guthrie aside only to find McFarland guarding the door and, fortunately for all involved, refusing to budge.
After retirement Lee established a very successful toilet roll manufacturing business and also was an owner and trainer of race horses.
In 1994 he became Chairman of his beloved Manchester City but success failed him and the team and he left the club in 1998.
In 2010 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. Lee was awarded the CBE for services to football and charity in 2016. He passed away peacefully in October 2023 after a long battle with cancer.
Francis Lee was a true hero of the Kippax, a Manchester City legend and scorer of some magnificent goals throughout his career. His legacy will live on at Maine Road, and also at the Baseball Ground, at Burnden Park and among 1970’s football fans everywhere.