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L is for Lee
England’s sole World Cup triumph may have come in 1966 but, for many people, the 1970 squad that jetted out to defend the Jules Rimet trophy in Mexico was arguably an even-more talented collection of players.
And one of the key pillars of Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad which travelled to Latin America was City hero Francis Lee.
Between 1968 and 1972 the powerhouse striker represented the Three Lions on 27 occasions, scoring a creditable 10 goals for his country.
And he was arguably at his peak in 1970 when England found themselves in a group alongside favourites Brazil and Eastern European nations Romania and the-then Czechoslovakia.
A City icon, who won every domestic honour available during his illustrious seven-year career with the Blues, Franny was in the starting eleven for England’s opening clash with Romania in Guadalajara, where Geoff Hurst’s second-half goal proved decisive.
That was followed by the meeting with Brazil which has since gone down in English folklore, thanks to Gordon Banks’ extraordinary save to deny Pele’s bullet header along with skipper Bobby Moore’s masterful performance
Lee also came close with a powerhouse header of his own which was fortuitously saved by the Brazilian keeper before, in strength-sapping temperatures which rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, Jairzinho’s strike saw the South Americans prevail.
Rested for England’s final group game where an Allan Clarke penalty ensured a 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia and a place in the quarter-finals, Francis was back for that decisive last-eight showdown with West Germany.
All seemed set fair when England roared into a deserved 2-0 lead. But, missing the commanding presence of goalkeeper Gordon Banks who was ruled out on the eve of the game through illness and replaced by Peter Bonetti, Germany dramatically hit back to level the scores by the end of normal time.
With Franny’s City colleague Colin Bell on as a substitute, England still had chances to win the game in extra time before Gerd Muller’s 108th minute winner broke English hearts.
“After the game everyone was destroyed,” Francis recalled recently. “It must be like when you’re a boxer and you’ve given a guy a right hiding and he knocks you out in the 12th.”
Sadly Francis never got to play in another World Cup and, after the Germans had beaten England once again, this time in the 1972 European Championship quarter-finals, he retired from international football shortly afterwards.
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