Ex-Southampton defender to visit AESSEAL New York...
When Francis Benali was racking up his 11 red cards during his 15-year career, you would have got long odds on him winning the first Barclays Spirit of the Game award.
As a tough-tackling and ferocious competitor with Southampton, he was suspended so many times that he had to set up a monthly direct debit to pay his fines!
His uncompromising tackles and ready retaliation earned him a reputation as a one of the game’s real hard men; yet off the field Benali is one of the most gentle, unassuming men you could meet.
And that heart of gold earned him one of the game’s top honours as he took on an almost unbelievable challenge two years ago when he ran from Newcastle to Southampton via every Premier League ground to raise £265,000 for Cancer Research UK.
He ran almost two marathons a day to complete the 1,000-mile trek in just three weeks – and now he is hitting the road again.
This time he aims to run and cycle to every Premier League AND Championship club in just two weeks!
It will mean running at least a marathon a day and then cycling around 75 miles a day on an epic adventure, again in aid of Cancer Research UK.
His gruelling route brings him to Rotherham United on Monday 10th October when he will be greeted at AESSEAL New York Stadium by Millers staff and cancer survivors and other well-wishers.
Benali said: “People said I was mad to do the first challenge – and after just a few hours I realised they were right!
“It was far tougher than I ever imagined, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. There were many times when I broke down and thought I could not complete it.
“But what kept me going was the reason for doing it. My pain and suffering were nothing compared to what cancer victims and their families go through.
“So now I am going to attempt something even more demanding and gruelling. I honestly don’t know if it will be possible but that’s what makes it such a unique challenge.”
Rotherham United manager Alan Stubbs said: “It is an incredible challenge and for a very worthy cause so I hope our fans will turn out to greet him and donate generously.
“Cancer is a disease which touches everyone and I wish Franny well on what will be an unbelievably difficult and painful feat. As a club we are proud to support him and I hope everyone will dig deep.”
Benali will set off from Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium on Sunday October 2 and will head towards South Wales and then the North-West and North-East before trekking back to the south coast via the Midlands, East Anglia and London.
The 47-year-old aims to finish the two-week endurance feat at St Mary’s Stadium Southampton on October 16 in time for Saints’ home game against Burnley at 4pm.