16 October 2016
After a busy week searching for boundary stones, today brought a chance for a little sit down. Commando, CJ and I were off to the football. For once, the match wasn’t really the main attraction.
On 2 October Francis Benali, one of my favourite ex Saints players and a familiar face at running events, began the monumental task of visiting every Premier League and Championship ground in just two weeks. It might have been a simple task, except he was running and cycling the whole thousand mile route! This amounted to running a marathon and cycling around seventy five miles every single day. His aim was to raise money for Cancer Research UK.
This isn’t the first long run Franics Benali has undertaken. He can often be spotted at events like the Wivern 10k and the Southampton Half Marathon, or just running on the Common. In 2014 he ran to all twenty Premier League Grounds to raise money for the same charity. This though, was his toughest challenge yet. Franny, set off from Bournemouth feeling, in his own words, “nervous and apprehensive”. He was due to arrive at St Mary’s the final ground on his massive tour, shortly before kick off. Of course, we wanted to be there to cheer him on. As it happened the crowds were so big and I am so stupidly short that I barely saw the top of his head and completely failed to capture him in a photo but I’m pretty sure he must have heard me shouting his name.
Inside the ground we found Franny masks under our seats. Of course Commando couldn’t resist trying his on. For a brief moment I felt like a very badly dressed WAG. Then it was down to the business of football. While Burnley and Southampton thrashed it out on the pitch Mr Benali must have been having a little rest somewhere in the bowels of the stadium. Hopefully someone was rubbing his tired muscles and making him a nice cup of coffee.
At half time a slightly tired looking Franny ran onto the pitch to a rapturous and very loud reception. After a short interview with his daughter, who is the announcer at the stadium, he finished his amazing feat with a run around the pitch. Of course, we were high up at the very back so only saw him as a tiny red dot circumnavigating the grass but we stood and cheered anyway.
Despite an unfortunately timed rain shower he ran the whole distance and was met at the far side by the unmistakable figure of Lawrie Macmenemy. When Franny went off for a well earned rest Lawrie Macmeneny, with his now white hair and trademark long black coat, walked around the outside of the pitch right below our seats. The ex Saints manager, who led the team to their one and only FA Cup victory in 1976, got almost as loud a cheer as Mr Benali.
The football may not have been the main attraction at this match but it was the icing on the cake when we won 3-1. Winning always makes the walk home more pleasant and, this time, we even got the beginnings of a pretty sunset over the river as we crossed the bridge. Hopefully Franny was having a sleep by then. He certainly deserved it. What a hero!
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