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|Full name||Francis Vincent Benali|
|Date of birth||30 December 1968|
|Place of birth||Southampton, England|
|Height||5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)|
|Playing position||Full back|
|2001||→ Nottingham Forest (loan)||15||(0)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).
Benali was born in Southampton and attended Bellemoor School. He played for Winsor United in the Southampton Tyro League. At this level he was playing as a forward and was a prolific goal-scorer, being an early developer and quicker and stronger than most footballers of his age. He was selected to represent Southampton and Hampshire Schools, and progressed to the England schoolboy team, scoring on his debut against Northern Ireland and making nine appearances at this level.
As a schoolboy, Benali regularly attended matches at The Dell and signed for his local club as an apprentice in July 1985, along with Matthew Le Tissier. He was initially played as a forward but as other players caught up with him, it became clear to coach David Merrington and first-team manager Chris Nicholl that his future in professional football lay as a defender.
He signed as a professional on 5 January 1987, and made his first-team debut as a substitute at home to Derby County on 1 October 1988. In the 1988–89 season, he made three starts and four substitute appearances. He gradually made the left-back position his own over the next few seasons. He was recognised as a tough-tackling defender who rarely ventured forward.
His distribution was somewhat wayward and his crosses when going forward rarely reached their intended target. Nonetheless, he rapidly gained a cult status amongst Saints’ supporters for his whole-hearted commitment to the club and his dedication to the cause.
Benali gained a poor reputation amongst officials, and regularly received yellow cards for challenges which were deemed to be outside the laws. He was sent-off 11 times, including on 7 February 1993 at White Hart Lane in a 2–4 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur for a high challenge on Nick Barmby.
His status amongst the supporters was such that his testimonial match in 1997 was a sell-out and the supporters witnessed his first goal as a first team player, when he drove the ball in from well outside the goal area.[clarification needed]
Like many defenders, he scored several own-goals, the most spectacular being on 30 March 1994 in a 1–3 defeat at home to Oldham Athletic when he made a diving header at the near post and put the ball past his own goal-keeper Dave Beasant; a goal any forward would have been proud of.
During his long career at Southampton, several players were signed to replace him at left-back, including John Beresford, Patrick Colleter and Simon Charlton, but Benali saw them all off. In January 2001, under manager Glenn Hoddle, Benali went out on loan to Nottingham Forest in order to help their manager David Platt cope with an injury crisis. He made an impressive 15 starts in this time, adding some experience to the youthful Forest backline. Forest wanted to sign Benali but were unable to meet the terms, so he returned to Southampton at the end of the three-month loan period.
Benali had lost his regular slot to Wayne Bridge who had come through the Saints Academy at the end of the 1990s and Bridge did not miss a league game between March 2000 and January 2003. In the 2001–02 season, Benali made no first team starts with only three substitute appearances and manager Gordon Strachan offered him a free transfer in order to obtain first-team football. Benali decided to stay at Southampton and when Bridge was injured in January 2003, Benali returned to the starting line-up making two league appearances against Sunderland and Manchester United as well as two in the F.A. Cup against Millwall. Although Benali did not appear in the F.A. Cup Final on 17 May 2003, he was awarded a runners-up medal for his two appearances in Round 4. The replay against Millwall turned out to be his final competitive appearance for Southampton.
In the summer of 2005, after Southampton had been relegated from the Premiership, Benali (now aged 36) was invited by manager Harry Redknapp to join Southampton's pre-season training and played in a friendly against Eastleigh, but nothing further materialised. He then retired from playing after 20 years at the club.
During his time at Southampton, he made 389 first-team appearances, but only scored once in his professional career, a header at the far post.
He signed for non-league club Eastleigh, just outside Southampton, in the summer of 2006, and played 22 games in two seasons before he finally retired from playing in 2008.
On the departure of manager Harry Redknapp in December 2005, Benali and Matthew Le Tissier put themselves forward as joint candidates for the vacant position, but were not interviewed by chairman Rupert Lowe.
He had a two-year spell as a youth coach at Romsey Town.
With Matthew Le Tissier, Benali was the founder in October 2003 of the True Greats website. He was a partner in Kuti's Brasserie, an Indian Restaurant in Southampton, before selling his shares to focus on his other business interests.
As a player, he was regularly involved in community affairs in Southampton, and since retiring from full-time football has become patron of a Saints community programme
He is also patron of the following charities:
Francis Benali has won a national award – for curries. Benali picked up a Golden Curry prize for the Bangladeshi cuisine at his Southampton restaurant.
In April 2004, Francis appeared for Testwood Baptist Church in the Roger Frapwell Testimonial Match at BAT ground, Totton, near Southampton. Also in that team were former Saints managers Alan Ball and Dave Merrington. The game was played with the proceeds going to local charity SCRATCH.
On 11 August 2013, he 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. Other celebrities such as Gareth Gates and Danny Jones took part.
In August/September 2014, Benali completed a three week 1,000-mile (1,600km) challenge running to all 20 Premier League grounds, raising in excess of £100,000 for the charity Cancer Research UK. As a result, he became the first recipient to be awarded with the Spirit of the Game award in December 2014.
- 2003 F.A. Cup runners up medal (Awarded by club for contributions en route to final)
- Spirit of the Game: 2014
- Duncan Holley & Gary Chalk (2003). In That Number – A post-war chronicle of Southampton FC. Hagiology. ISBN 0-9534474-3-X.
- Jeremy Wilson (2006). Southampton’s Cult Heroes. Know The Score Books. ISBN 1-905449-01-1.
- Houston, Bob (13 December 1997). "Benali's goal surprise". London: The Independent. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- Stewart, Rob (28 January 2003). "Beattie stays cool as Sunderland feel heat". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- "Man Utd see off Saints". BBC. 1 February 2003. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- "Saints tame Lions". BBC. 5 February 2003. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- "SAINTS 1 - BAYERN MUNICH 1 (From Daily Echo)". Dailyecho.co.uk. 2006-05-30. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- [dead link]
- Sky Sports http://home1.skysports.com/column.aspx?lid=Sky_Sports_Columnist_Chris_Kamara&hlid=332242&cpid
|url=missing title (help).
- "truegreats.com". truegreats.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "Luke Homes website: People". Luken Homes. Retrieved 15 May 2009.
- "Home Advantage". Professional Housebuilder & Property Developer 3 (4): 32–34. May 2009.
- [dead link]
- "Dave Wellman Cancer Trust". Dwct.net. 2000-04-01. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "Francis Benali's completes 1,000-mile stadium challenge". BBC News. 13 September 2014. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- Gallagher, Sean (19 December 2014). "Southampton legend Francis Benali goes the extra mile for Spirit of the Game Award". Daily Mail. Retrieved 19 December 2014.