Saints legend, pundit and fundraiser Franny Benali took up boating a year ago. Here's how he's getting on


Ex-premiership footballer Francis ‘Franny’ Benali is a local hero, so it was fitting he opened this year’s Southampton International Boat Show at the helm of a powerboat, which he berthed in front of show visitors and press.

Born and bred in Southampton, Benali was 14 when he signed for Southampton FC, and went on to make 389 appearances before retiring in 2004. He went on to raise £1m for Cancer Research, and ran and cycled between every Premier League and Championship football club in Britain, before switching to Ironman contests, coaching and TV.

Franny won an MBE in 2020, and released his autobiography last year, which was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Sports Book Awards.

Former Southampton FC Footballer Franny Benali at the Southampton Boat Show 2022

Franny’s latest challenge – boating – began last year at the 2021 Southampton Boat Show, where PBO first met him. Franny admitted that he’d always thought boating was beyond his means, explaining that Premiership footballer salaries were a lot less in his day.

Despite having visited the Boat Show many times, Franny never considered taking up boating, but when Premier Marinas approached him and asked him to be an ambassador for the Premier Agapi Boat Club – a boat-share scheme with training and support – he agreed.

Franny set about learning to sail, taking his RYA Powerboat Level 2, and getting out and about in the Solent with wife Karen, and sometimes solo.

“The journey’s been brilliant,” he told PBO. “I’ve been down to Chichester to explore further along the South Coast and see the vantage point from the water. It’s just so different. We had the perfect day, great conditions, anchored off and had a picnic by the beach then a blast around.”

Francis Benali with a copy of Practical Boat Owner in 2021 – about to start his boating journey

The biggest challenge, Franny says, has been the ‘confidence side of things’, but being part of a boat club means he’s had the training and support 24 hours a day. “It’s simple, straightforward and hassle-free,” he said. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Last year, Andy Mills, Business Development Director at Premier Marinas, told PBO that Franny would be the ideal candidate for the scheme as he’d never been boating before. Now, a year on, Franny has shown that the collaboration paid off.

Former footballer and MBE Franny Benali is now a keen motorboater

“Franny’s been the perfect example to show how someone relatively inexperienced can easily enjoy the boating lifestyle without the cost and hassle of owning a boat,” says Andy, “and it’s not just for newcomers; given the growing popularity of marine tourism and the lack of available boats to purchase, the boat club model gives access to boats for a wide range of users from novices to experienced skippers.”

Alongside the Swanwick base, the Premier Agapi Boat Club expanded to Chichester Marina earlier this year. Members also have the option to roam to over 30 partner locations across Sweden, Spain, Finland and Greece.

More from Southampton International Boat Show 2022


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