Francis Lee is the reason I became a Manchester City supporter way back in 1970.
The news of his death reached me whilst waiting for my flight from Prague International Airport back to the UK last night. It hit me hard.
A late take off meant an extra 90 minutes in the capital of Czechia – normally an irritation – but on this occasion, affording me time to reflect on how my first football hero had set me on a journey as a lifelong City fan.
Unlike so many City fans of my generation and those who had gone before, I couldn’t lay claim to Mancunian origins. I wasn’t blessed with sky blue blood coursing through my veins. I was denied such a privileged birthright.
Born in Cleethorpes on the East Coast of England, I had no family links or connections whatsoever with Manchester. So why, aged just six, did I become a City fan?
My allegiance to the team from Maine Road stemmed from a lady called Margaret Scott – the mother of my childhood friend, Stephen, and her ‘crush’ on the blonde City centre forward.
I lived in Braemar Road, and when all the kids were playing street football there’d be no shortage of those wanting to be George Best, Bobby Charlton or in Stephen’s case, as a QPR fan, Rodney Marsh – all popular icons of my childhood.
Due to the influence of Mrs Scott (later on in life she told me to call her Margaret, but it didn’t sit well – she was always Mrs Scott) I was Francis Lee.
Initially I didn’t know anything about Franny, not even what he looked like! I assumed – much to Mrs Scott’s amusement – that he had short dark hair, a square jaw and chiselled features.
What possessed me to have such an image of him in my head is anybody’s guess.
But that was it – no going back – it mattered not a jot that Francis Henry Lee was the polar opposite. He played for Manchester City and that was going to be my team.
Thankfully the A&BC Footballers Card collection soon put me right. There was Franny – stocky, blonde haired and resplendent in either sky blue and white, or the dashing black and red striped away kit.
Decades later I finally had the pleasure and privilege of meeting him on what proved to be a disappointing night for City.
It was nonetheless a personal highlight for me. Spurs edged City out of a Champions League spot via a late winner from Peter Crouch at the Etihad on a Wednesday night in May 2010.
Prior to the game I’d chatted with the City legend who scored 148 goals in 330 appearances, winning the First Division title, the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners Cup.
He was amused as to why I was a City fan and the part he’d played, albeit bemused by the dark hair, square jaw and chiselled features – and who could blame him?
Franny was great company – warm and welcoming – and it helped soften the blow of Roberto Mancini’s men being consigned to the Europa League.
As Twitter became a ‘thing’ we followed each other and, when Mrs Scott passed away at the age of 90, I was able to let him know via a personal message.
Ever the gentleman Francis asked me for the details of her family so he could send his condolences. It was a caring gesture from a man who was passionate about Manchester City, and appreciated those who shared that love.
So much has been said and written in tributes to Francis in the last 24 hours – so many highlights and memorable moments – principally with City and more latterly in his career, with Derby County.
For my part this is simply a way of saying a sincere and heartfelt ‘thank you’, to a wonderful footballer and lovely man who enriched my life, and those of every other Manchester City fan.
By David Walker