By David Clayton

We look back over the magnificent career of Franny Lee… 

Francis Lee. .. a name that evokes memories of one of Manchester City’s greatest eras and, pre-2011, undoubtedly the halcyon period by which all others were measured. 

Bell, Lee and Summerbee were the blue half of Manchester’s answer to Law, Charlton and Best across the city – United’s own hallowed triumvirate who were also in their pomp at that time. 

And spearheaded by City’s ‘Holy Trinity’, it was Bell, Lee and Summerbee who wrestled away domestic dominance from their counterparts at Old Trafford during a glorious four-year period – and it was the forceful determination to succeed in everything he did of Francis Henry Lee that led the charge, in every way imaginable.  

Born on 29 April 1944 in Westhoughton, four miles south west of Bolton, the young Franny soon shone as a schoolboy sportsman, with cricket and football among his early passions. 

He attended Westhoughton Boys Secondary Modern and then Horwich Technical College, and it soon become apparent the youngster had an interest in business, impressing teachers with some of his entrepreneurial ideas and course work. 

Even then, he was astute, sharp and spoke his mind, and as he moved into his teens he was spotted by Bolton Wanderers who offered him the chance to train with their youngsters and his father encouraged him to follow his dreams. 

By the age of 16, Franny was handed his first team debut, playing alongside the legendary Nat Lofthouse… ironically against Manchester City in November 1960. 

Franny scored in a 3-1 win – and was off and running. 

In May 1961, he signed his first professional contract with Wanderers and having only just turned 17, was soon a first team regular at Burnden Park. 

The 1962/63 season saw him end top scorer and continued to find the net regularly the following campaign which ultimately saw Bolton relegated from the top flight. 

His 23-goal haul in 1963-64 had numerous clubs poised to make a bid for a player who was still only 20 years-old, but he remained with the club for another season. 

Fiercely ambitious, Lee asked to be placed on the transfer list and after several refusals, threatened to go on strike. 

He once met Malcolm Allison in a Bolton social club with the City coach telling the forward he was going to make him a great player. ‘Well, thank you very much but I think I’m pretty good right now,’ Lee replied in typical self-assured fashion. 

After scoring in his first seven games of the 1966-67 campaign, Bolton finally conceded they could no longer hold on to their prize asset. He’d had enough and refused to play for his hometown team again, extracting himself from his contract and was out of football for three weeks until a deal was struck between City and Bolton with a record £60,000 fee paid for his services - £1.4million in today’s money – and the Blues had captured a 23 year-old forward who had already bagged 106 goals in 210 appearances.

Memorably, Joe Mercer claimed Lee was the “missing piece of the puzzle” with his carefully crafted squad perhaps missing a natural goal-scorer. 

Franny made his debut at home to Wolves and scored his first goal for the Club a week later against Fulham. 

“From the moment he arrived he changed us as a team,” recalled Mike Summerbee. 

“His drive and edge turned a good side into a great side.” 

Lee’s work-rate was infectious and with better players around him, he began to flourish, often being the catalyst for forceful challenges from the front in what was an early version of the high press… 

Franny’s mantra was simple – kick them before they kick you! 

Defenders knew they were in for a difficult afternoon with the fiery Lee, Summerbee and Tony Coleman getting stuck in at a time wingers when few forwards played that way. 

It gave City and an extra edge and carried Mercer and Malcolm Allison’s side all the way to the First Division title, with Franny on target in a title-clinching final day 4-3 win at Newcastle United. 

With 16 goals in 31 league appearances, the capture of Francis Lee had proved a masterstroke by Mercer; Lee had found his spiritual home with like-minded team-mates, a fantastic manager and a coach who was light years ahead of his time. 

And in Summerbee, he had found a kindred spirit who would remain his close friend for almost six decades. 

City’s defence of the league title would be disappointing – but there was still the FA Cup to aim for and, having collectively focused their efforts on winning that trophy, and it would be Franny’s goals that helped City reach the semi-final and eventually the final where Neil Young’s goal secured a 1-0 win over Leicester. 

Lee finished top scorer with 18 goals in the 1968/69 season and had already become a huge favourite with the City fans. 

His character shone through on the pitch where he was a force of nature, with his stocky physique masking a supremely fit athlete who had the heart of a lion. 

Lee was again at the heart of more silverware success in 1969/70 scoring 22 goals from 55 appearances. 

His tigerish displays ensured that the League Cup was then secured followed by the European Cup Winners’ Cup, where his penalty just before the break proved to be the decisive goal in a 2-1 win over Gornik Zabrze. 

The Guardian described his performance that evening in Vienna as “indefatigable and nigh irresistible”. 

His displays at club level ensured he was a shoo-in for the 1970 World Cup squad, and he played his part to the full as England reached the quarter-finals, only to throw a 2-0 lead away and lose 3-2 to West Germany. 

Never usually one to dwell on a loss, Franny admitted that the disappointment he felt that day was hard to swallow. 

“Normally for me, after a game, by the time I got back in the dressing room it was all forgotten,” he recalled. “There would be lads around me moping and I’d say to them: shut up, you had your chance, it’s gone, move on. Nothing hung around me long. But by Christ that did.” 

Away from football, Franny’s toilet paper manufacturing company continued to thrive, with his astute business acumen making him a wealthy man. 

For all the trophies he’d won at club level, City’s league performances had been average since winning the title in ’68 and though he bagged 20 goals in 1970/71, the Blues again finished in mid-table and this time without a trophy to rescue an unremarkable First Division campaign. 

But the best of Francis Henry Lee was yet come. 

In his fifth season at Maine Road, Franny’s record of 35 goals in 47 matches  proved he was at the very top of his game – and but for a blip towards the end of the 1971/72 campaign, it would have resulted in a second league title in four years for Mercer’s side, with Brian Clough’s Derby County pipping City by a point. 

That campaign, he earned the nicknames ‘Lee (1) pen’, ‘Lee One Pen’ or even ‘Lee Won Pen’ after scoring 15 penalties – many, his opponents claimed, were won by diving – something Franny always denied. 

“The ‘diving’ accusations is something that tarnished my career in many respects. You have to remember I didn’t win all the penalties I scored, I just took them for the team,” he later said. 

“My argument on the diving front would be its an easy excuse for defenders to say I or any attacker dived to win a penalty, how many defenders do you hear saying ‘it was my fault’ or ‘it was a fair decision’ – very rarely do you hear that.” 

When he did have the chance from the spot, Lee was lethal. 

“He used to put the ball down and hit it as hard as he could,” recalled Joe Corrigan. 

"He would practice them endlessly in training with the thinking that, even if the keeper got in the way the power would take him over the line with the ball! "
Joe Corrigan

“He took hundreds against me in training, and I don’t recall getting near any of them.” 

Since his debut aged 16, Lee had finished top scorer for Bolton and City for 10 of his 12 seasons as a professional. 

1972 would also see the last of his 27 caps for England, during which he scored 10 times – it felt way too soon for an international exile. 

1972/73 would see the Blues return to their frustrating and infuriating inconsistent best, and for the only time in his seven years as a City player, Franny Lee didn’t finish top scorer – that particular accolade would go to Rodney Marsh. 

Malcolm Allison had become manager with Mercer initially moved ‘upstairs’ before leaving the Club entirely, but with an ageing side, Big Mal accepted he could no longer motivate the team and also quit Maine Road before the end of the campaign. 

His final full season with City, would prove an unsettling one, with Johnny Hart stepping aside due to ill-health and Ron Saunders sacked after his disciplinarian attitude fell on deaf ears with a dressing room of big, forceful personalities.  

Tony Book was given the chance to manage the side and two days before Franny’s 30th birthday, he was part of the City side who confirmed Manchester United’s relegation with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. 

He was still at the peak of his powers, had finished top scorer yet again with 18 goals, yet when he sat down to talk about a new contract with Book and the City board, he wasn’t happy with what he heard. 

He later explained what had happened: 

“City wouldn’t pay me what I deserved after such loyal service and after being one of their top performers for many seasons. Key decision makers at the club wanted to get rid of me.  

“I would’ve loved to have stayed at City, but it was best for me and my career to move on and my decision was justified after playing a key role in Derby’s title win. I had a great time at Derby.! 

He believed he had more than earned an improved deal but at the start of the 1974/75 campaign, Derby County came in with a bid of £110,000 and City accepted the deal – Lee was furious as he had no intention of leaving the Blues, but he left under a cloud and with a point to prove.  

City’s loss was Derby’s gain and a fired up Lee – who had scored a magnificent 148 goals in 330 appearances during his time at Maine Road – would with return with Derby and score a superb goal that BBC Match of the Day commentator famously described as, “Interesting… very interesting…oh look at his face! Just look at his face!” as a delighted Lee proved his point and wheeled away in celebration. 

Davies recalled: “He was like a schoolboy who had done something remarkable and knew it. That was Franny all over. He rather played it down. I got the impression he just didn’t want to brag about it.” 

But far from irk the anger of a packed Maine Road, the goal instead received an ovation from a set of supporters only too aware of what Franny had done as a City player. 

“It was amazing how all the fans had stood up and applauded,” Lee remembered, many years on. “You would have thought I’d scored for City!” 

Nobody doubted his love for the Club – the celebration was aimed at the individuals he felt had ended his time at Maine Road earlier than he had wanted – not the fans who still adored him. 

Derby went on to win the First Division that season and would finish fourth the season after, during which Franny and Norman Hunter engaged in a fist fight that Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier would have been proud of during a game against Leeds United at the Baseball Ground. 

“It wasn’t play-acting, you know,” Lee recalled in later years. “He had tapped me on the shoulder, hit me and split my lip with a gold ring. It was something that I regret and it’s a shame people remember that moment after both me and Norman had very successful careers.  

“Dave Mackay the manager knew I wouldn’t have done it for no reason, but still that doesn’t excuse my actions. Me and Norman made up in later years and had no problems with each other, it was just one of those things.” 

In his final game for the Rams later that season, Lee scored in a 6-2 win at Ipswich Town. He had finished as he started, with a win and a goal (two on this occasion) and then retired from football aged only 32 and concentrated instead on his business interests.

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He would later sell his business, focus on horse training – which of course he was hugely successful at - and later property investment before returning to City as chairman from 1994 to 1998. 

Though his time as owner of the Club didn’t pan out the way the fans had hoped, he remained a welcome and popular figure at Maine Road and then the City of Manchester Stadium – the Club’s new home thanks to a deal he negotiated with Manchester City Council. 

“It wasn’t just me, many people were involved. In particular Howard Bernstein and other members of the Manchester City Council deserve plenty of credit,” said Franny.  

“The stadium was without doubt a major factor in Sheikh Mansour buying City, taking a club on and having to build a new stadium makes the task even harder, it made the club a lot more attractive to buy.” 

On his chairmanship, he later said: “The toughest challenge was when I was chairman, it was very hard for me to sort out off the pitch and on the pitch problems. I fought one battle off the pitch and did well, on the pitch things didn’t go to plan. But at least I had the guts to take the challenge on, no regrets.” 

He held on to his shares until 2007, finally selling them to Thaksin Shinawatra who in turn sold the Club to the Abu Dhabi United Group and, as they say, the rest is history. 

A true Manchester City legend who will never be forgotten.