Former Premiership footballer Francis Benali talks to PBO about his career at Saints, and why joining Premier Agapi Boat Club is another part of the jigsaw


After 389 games with Southampton Football Club, Francis Benali retired from football and raised £1m for Cancer Research.

In 2014  he ran between every Premier League ground, covering over 1,000 miles in 3 weeks.

In 2016 he ran and cycled to every Premier League and Championship football club, covering 1,400 miles in 2 weeks.

In 2019 he attempted 7 Ironman distance triathlons in 7 days

In 2020 he was awarded an MBE.

Now he’s decided to take up boating… (so we gave him a copy of PBO magazine)

Francis Benali in the Premier Marinas lounge at the Southampton Boat Show 2021

“I was born and raised in Southampton. For years I’ve been aware that the Southampton Boat Show is a major event in the boating world. We’ve come down and wandered around, but we never considered owning a boat.

We’ve enjoyed corporate days, and seen the fun and pleasure that can be had, but you think it’s going to be a financial commitment beyond what you can achieve – even as a footballer. We had a different salary package in my era.

Some of my Southampton teammates owned a boat between them. There were two or three of them that shared it, and I remember them talking about what fun it was.

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So when Premier Marinas approached us and asked if we’d like to give a boat club a go, I agreed. It’s an opportunity to try something different, to learn something new with my wife Karen.

With the Premier Agapi Boat Club at Swanwick Marina you can take boats out without the cost of owning them. I like the idea of getting the training (RYA Level 2 Powerboat Handling) and understanding the safety side of boating; of being able to take a boat out by myself and as a family.

Our kids are grown-up now, but they sailed Laser Picos on school trips. We never pushed them any further. We encouraged them to try everything.

Clubs take players much younger now

Football was always my top thing, but I loved all sports. The thing I thrived at and relished most about school life was being part of a team, but there came a point when you had to make a conscious decision to pursue football and drop all other sports, which was a shame.

I was 14 when I was officially signed for Southampton and 16 when I became professional. Clubs take players at a much younger age these days.

Franny Benali on the pitch at Southampton FC

As a footballer you’re always learning, there’s a lot of discipline. I never saw it as a chore, because football is what I always wanted to do. When my friends started partying I never felt I missed out. I never drank, I’ve never been drunk to this day. I’m very serious about how I approach my sport and knew I had to look after my body.

The struggle of retiring from professional sport

I can see how many players struggle coming out of professional sport at a young age. I had that dilemma too; thinking what’s next? From qualifications and an education point of view, football was all I’d known since being a child, but you’ve got to learn new learn skills. You’ve got to do something you have a love and a passion for, which is why I went into coaching, and why I love working as a pundit and co-commentator.

I enjoy inspiring audiences, speaking about my experience in football and the other challenges I’ve been through, and now I see boating as an added piece of the jigsaw. Life is about learning new things. It’s going to be an exciting journey. I’m intrigued, and confident that I want to do this myself when I’ve had the training.

I’ll do anything to be as good as I can be, and it takes a lot of time, and I know it’s not as easy and straightforward as it seems.

I suspect I might fall into the fair weather boating category. The thought of going out in a boat in the middle of winter doesn’t appeal, but I might get the bug. Watch this space!”



The hard sell…

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