I was sorry to learn yesterday of the death of Francis Lee, the former Manchester City and England footballer. He was a schoolboy hero of mine, and I simply can't let his passing go unmentioned, even though he has no connection to crime fiction that I know of. He was, however, responsible for one immortal quote that gave rise to a book title, saying (in the dark days when City were a team of perennial under-achievers), 'If there were cups for cock-ups, City's trophy cabinet would be overflowing'. Many a true word...
Francis Lee - or Franny as he was usually known - was an extremely combative striker with a ferocious shot. I had his photo on a school exercise book and on the wall of my student room. Although I didn't watch live top level football regularly, I was lucky enough to witness some of his greatest performances. He scored a hat-trick at Old Trafford on a memorable Saturday when City thrashed Manchester United, George Best and all. And he was in the team that I watched win the 1969 FA Cup Final at Wembley. He also scored about the most ferocious goal I've ever seen, in a Cup game one winter's evening at City's old Maine Road ground. He lashed the ball from about thirty yards out and it went so fast that I don't think anyone saw it before it hit the back of the net.
He was famous as one of the finest penalty takers football has known. His record of scoring 15 penalties in an English top-tier league season still stands. He often earned the penalties himself with dramatic tumbles, earning the nickname Lee Won Pen. A great competitor, whom City and England let go far too soon.
In later years he became a rich businessman and had a spell as City chairman, but by then the dark days were entrenched and he enjoyed no success at the helm. But he lived long enough to see Manchester City become - most unbiased people would surely agree - the world's finest club team in 2023. He gave me plenty of happy memories and for that I'm very grateful.