He had a bustling style and dogged tenacity loved by supporters. He was a swashbuckling centre-forward, a Manchester City legend, and a fine England international. Francis Lee, who has died aged 79 was, said Joe Mercer, the final piece of the jigsaw of the team which would taste success at home and abroad with a mix of flair and steel.
The iconic picture of Lee with hands aloft in front of 20,000 travelling City fans at Newcastle United, after scoring the goal which clinched the first division championship in 1968, captures him perfectly – drive, skill, nous, and exuberance.
His grit was as big a part of his game as was his undoubted ability to find the back of the net. Another unforgettable image of Lee was, when playing for Derby County, he and Leeds United’s Norman Hunter slugged it out in the middle of the pitch trading punches.
He scored 143 goals for City in all competitions in 320 appearances during which time they won the league in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969, and in 1970 the European Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup. He spent eight years as a player with the club before moving to Derby where he was in the team that won the league.
Another iconic Lee moment was when he returned to Maine Road as a Derby player and scored. His beaming smile after scoring prompted commentator, Barry Davies to spontaneosuly screech: “Just look at his face, just look at his face”.
Lee was the kind of centre forward hewn from the rough and hard English football of the 1960s and 70s. He knew how to look after himself and was brave in an era when you had to commit a section 18 assault to get a red card.
He was in the England squad that lost in the quarter finals of the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. He later said that if Alf Ramsay had picked him for England’s ill-fated game against Poland in 1973 he felt they would have qualified for the 1974 World Cup, instead of facing the acute embarrassment of failing to do so.
Lee was signed from Bolton Wanderers by the managment team of Mercer and Malcolm Allison and as football historian and City expert, Dr Gary James, notes had “a bustling style and dogged tenacity” loved by supporters. Joe Mercer said of Lee: “Once he is going towards the box he is probably the most dynamic and exciting player in the world. He is squat and strong, and so very, very brave.”
Lee’s last match was for Derby on April 24th 1976. He scored twice against Ipswich in the final few minutes.