FRANNY LEE OBITUARY: Oh, look at his face… just look at his face! Pugnacious, trailblazing Man City striker dies aged 79, having been immortalised by Barry Davies’s famous commentary

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The look on Franny Lee’s face after the ball flew in is the part that Barry Davies still remembers of a goal which encapsulated the man in so many ways, and which was so special the commentator has shared in its legend.

‘Interesting,’ Davies related, from behind a microphone, on a December night in 1974, as Lee gathered a ball back from Derby team-mate David Nish in front of a Radio Rentals advertising hoarding at Maine Road, span around Manchester City’s defence and drove to the edge of the box.

‘Very interesting!’ Davies continued, as Lee sent a sweet right-foot shot soaring beyond Joe Corrigan. And then, as Lee wheeled away in glee, came Davies’s equally legendary observation. ‘Oh, look at his face! Just look at his face!’

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As the news of Lee’s death, aged 79, arrived on Monday, Davies recalled those golden moments. ‘He was like a schoolboy who had done something remarkable and knew it. That was Franny all over,’ Davies told Mail Sport, reflecting on how repeating a few short words, rather than saying a lot, had created a useful soundtrack.

It was ‘Franny all over’ because the goal summed up the supreme self-confidence of a wonderful striker who made his name in the peak years of Joe Mercer’s title-winning City side, before leaving under a cloud that had never cleared, and was intent on extracting some vindication.

Francis Lee passed away on Monday at the age of 79 and will be remembered as one of English football's greatest characters

Francis Lee passed away on Monday at the age of 79 and will be remembered as one of English football’s greatest characters

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Lee was one of Manchester City's most famous players, scoring 148 goals in 300 appearances for the club

Lee was one of Manchester City’s most famous players, scoring 148 goals in 300 appearances for the club

Barry Davies' commentary in 1974, branding a Lee goal 'interesting' before telling those listening to 'look at his face' ensipsulted the man

Barry Davies’ commentary in 1974, branding a Lee goal ‘interesting’ before telling those listening to ‘look at his face’ ensipsulted the man

Bolton were reluctant to sell him to City for £60,000, but he walked away from the club anyway, having already extracted himself from a contract. He was out of the game for three weeks before playing a part in four years of sumptuous, iridescent City glory.

The secretive manoeuvres which entailed Lee being asked to drive from a Bolton car park, in his second-hand Austin Cambridge, for a meeting with City, whose identity remained undisclosed to him, almost resulted in him running out of petrol on the edge of Manchester.

MANCHESTER CITY STATEMENT 

It is with the deepest sadness and heaviest of hearts we announce the passing of Francis Lee.

A glittering eight-year spell as a player … ensures his position among Manchester City’s all-time greats is secure.

Everyone at City would like to send their consolences. 

City had just been beaten by Manchester United and were on the fringes of the First Division’s relegation zone. But Lee followed Mike Summerbee, Colin Todd, Tony Book and Neil Young into a squad which climbed into legend with wins at Old Trafford, White Hart Lane and St James’ Park in the spring of 1968, winning the title in his first season.

Lee scored the decisive goal in the 4-3 last-day win over Newcastle which secured that title, as well as the winning penalty in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final victory over Gornik Zabrze and a ‘perfect’ hat-trick against city rivals United in 1970.

He and Allison shared an unshakable belief. When they first met in a social club at Bolton, Allison told 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.

Allison loved the way Lee approached the game. ‘He expected to win and when it didn’t happen, he wasn’t so much disappointed as astounded. It was an offence against nature,’ he reflected.

He had a reputation for diving, which some felt was harsh, with the nickname ‘Lee Won Pen’ taking over from ‘Lee One Pen.’ But it was not all clinical pre- calculation. This was the player who, after a ‘disagreement’ with Leeds United’s Norman Hunter in 1975, threw multiple punches in the enforcer’s direction.

It’s now a YouTube classic. ‘It wasn’t play-acting, you know,’ Lee related in later years. ‘He had tapped me on the shoulder, hit me and split my lip with a gold ring.’

Lee began his career at Bolton Wanderers before signing for City for a then record fee of of £60,000 in 1967. Here he is pictured watching Man City against Blackpool in the 1997/98 season

Lee began his career at Bolton Wanderers before signing for City for a then record fee of of £60,000 in 1967. Here he is pictured watching Man City against Blackpool in the 1997/98 season

He passes away after a long battle with cancer having played for City, Bolton Wanderers and Derby County

He passes away after a long battle with cancer having played for City, Bolton Wanderers and Derby County 

There was hubris in Allison’s soaring belief, when taking over from Mercer, that ‘we will win the European Cup. We will terrify Europe’. Lee’s position was threatened in 1972 by Allison signing Rodney Marsh — ‘big Mal’s big mistake’ as he later put it. And when Peter Swales arrived as chairman, it was the beginning of the end of those best years of his life.

Lee threatened to walk away if City didn’t accept Derby’s £100,000 offer. He made it clear to Swales what the club were missing. That goal for Dave MacKay’s Derby against City helped his new team-mates to the 1974-75 title.

Lee was by then an established England international. He won 27 caps in all, scoring 10 times, having made his debut in 1968 and featured in the side that reached the 1970 World Cup quarter-finals.

He also won 27 caps for England during his career, scoring 10 goals in the process - here, he is pictured against Scotland in May 1971

He also won 27 caps for England during his career, scoring 10 goals in the process – here, he is pictured against Scotland in May 1971

There was another chapter with City which for some will always cloud the memory of his role in their first great side. He bought the club from Swales in 1994, buying £3million of shares to do so, and vowed to bring back days of ‘champagne and happiness’ as chairman. He categorically did not.

Four deeply unhappy and unsuccessful years were populated with poor managerial appointments which set the club on a downward spiral. On this occasion, it was Lee providing the commentary which would be remembered down the decades.

‘If cups were awarded for cock-ups, you would not be able to move in City’s boardroom,’ he admitted. City were relegated to the second tier and were on their way down to the third when he resigned in 1998.

The most painful aspect was the split with two of the great 1970s team. He removed both Book and Colin Bell from the youth coaching set-up, delegating the job to club secretary Bernard Halford, who dismissed them in a rented business office. Bell, who died in 2021, said he could never forgive Lee.

Lee is pictured after scoring the goal which won City the league championship back in 1968

Lee is pictured after scoring the goal which won City the league championship back in 1968

Lee carried his self-belief into the world of racehorse training, averaging 25 wins per season for six years before retiring in 2001. He retained shares in City until selling to Thaksin Shinawatra in 2007 and had continued to attend City games regularly.

There were no days like his City playing days. When the BBC made a film about Davies’s career to mark his departure in 2018, Lee was interviewed about that goal.

‘He rather played it down,’ Davies said on Monday, reflecting his sadness at the player’s passing after a long battle with cancer. ‘I got the impression he just didn’t want to brag about it.’

But Lee never forgot the response that night from the City fans, who collectively acknowledged the beauty of the last goal he scored in their stadium. ‘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!’

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.

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