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Trevor Francis - Superboy RIP. (A few random thoughts)

Ray Hitchcock Sports Shop in Solihull was THE place to go for youngsters like me to buy replica Blues shirts like the iconic early 70's 'penguin' strip or the equally lauded 'satin' design that followed it later in the decade. They were always in stock - what they struggled to keep in stock were the number "8" transfers that you would have ironed onto the back of the shirt you purchased. And that's because everyone around my age wanted to be No.8

We all wanted to be Trevor Francis

I'm typing this nearly 24 hours on from getting the first word from the talkSPORT office that all was not well with Trevor and that I might need to anticipate some bad news as the day progressed. Rumours - as I discovered - had already surfaced on social media as to his wellbeing, but I merely hoped that this was a hoax or a misunderstanding. After all, he was only 69. But sadly sometime around 2pm, the official statement was released by his family to confirm the tragic news. Trevor Francis had died.

He was much beloved by all Bluenoses, and I'll come onto that presently, but he was immortalised in that song during the closing credits of Only Fools And Horses ("Trevor Francis tracksuits...) and I always imagined TF would have been rather embarrassed by that reference to him heard every week by millions of viewers. That's because he was, in essence, a very shy man. He kept a very close circle of friends that he trusted implicitly and outside of the football environment he inhabited for 50 years, he never once courted headlines or sought the limelight. The story of his holiday romance with a young Welsh girl called Helen is so sweet. Having met abroad, she told him she worked in a hairdressers in a Welsh town, but Trevor didn't catch the name of the specific salon she worked at - and so, upon his return to England, he promptly rang every hairdresser in that town to track Helen down...I think there were 15 salons listed in the Yellow Pages! He and Helen were soon to be married and were a wonderful couple. Helen was a friendly approachable and kind lady who brought out the best in Trevor and vice versa. Losing her so cruelly to cancer a few years ago was utterly devastating for him and his sons, Matthew & James. As a consequence of her passing, he deliberately withdrew from regular media work and sought the peace and quiet of his Marbella home and cherished the family he had around him.

He also had a 'family' that numbered tens of thousands who attended St Andrew's every other week to worship at his brilliance as a Birmingham City player. Having made a sensational debut in 1970 as a 16-year old, he scored at a goal a game for the first 15 or so matches he played in. So prolific was he that Grandstand took to saying "And Trevor Francis did NOT score for Birmingham today..." if he'd somehow drawn a blank in those early days. Comic Jasper Carrott, a former Blues director and very close friend to Trevor, worked his pal brilliantly into his stand up act, describing a mock match report from a Blues game: "And Trevor Francis scored all 10 goals in a 5-5 draw with Doncaster today...he had to leave the field every 10 minutes to wipe the dead flies from his glasses..."

But he was rapid - which was startling given the ploughed fields that 1970's football was played on in this country. A Blues fan called into talkSPORT yesterday and superbly described Trevor as moving "like a hovercraft" over those treacherous peat-bog surfaces. By the time I first came to watch him play as a 6-year old myself, he'd already had 4 years of adulation and unconditional love from Bluenoses. Unbelievably, I got to see him in a Blues shirt for just as long. It's incredible to think that we got 9 years of service from TF before the Nottingham Forest move. These days (as shown by Jude Bellingham's meteoric rise) a young player typically gets only a year or so as a first team player where he's been 'discovered' before big money and bigger clubs further up the food chain spirit them away. But not Trevor - he was a 1970's constant as the team changed and adapted around his incredible gift for scoring and assisting. He was initially part of the 'holy trinity' - a 3-pronged strikeforce of him, Bob Hatton and Bob Latchford that terrified defences throughout the old First Division. After Latchford was sold to Everton, Kenny Burns was a strike partner to Francis and was equally as prolific...a 6-2 win on a frozen pitch at Leicester was captured by Match Of The Day cameras on a day when a car dealership promised a TR7 to any Blues player who scored a hat-trick. Burns promptly netted 3 times, but Francis' goal from a brilliantly worked set piece was the pick of the bunch.

I also remember Trev having an innate understanding with Howard Kendall, who'd arrived in the Blues midfield from Everton as part of the Latchford deal. It was almost telekinetic, their mutual understanding, and Trevor was indebted to Howard for many a defence splitting pass that got him in behind with his whippet-like pace to score. If only Don Revie had believed in him more when he was England boss - Trev would definitely have scored past Tomaszewski in 73 at Wembley I reckon!!! More fool Don!

Of course, it wasn't to last at Blues for Trevor and Cloughie swooped in come 1979 for that £1m record transfer. But I'll wager there wasn't a single Bluenose who wasn't jumping for joy watching telly a few months later as our hero stooped to head the winner against Malmo to win Forest the European Cup. We'd never really come close to adding a trophy for him to savour as a Blues player...a couple of FA Cup semi final defeats hurt us all - and him I'm sure - greatly in the early part of that decade. So, we lived our lives vicariously through him and celebrated almost as much as Forest fans would have for that goal!

We voraciously followed Trev's progress from then on: Manchester City (where in a rare and utterly out-of-character moment, he was sent off for head butting an opponent) Sampdoria (where he won a Coppa Italia) QPR (where he scored a magic hat trick at Villa Park, whose fans applauded him off through gritted teeth) and Sheffield Wednesday, where he was still playing and still bamboozling defenders at the tender age of 37.

Imagine my excitement when news filtered through some years later that Trevor was to be installed at Blues' new manager in 1996. The prodigal son had returned, and Blues fans wanted success for TF so badly. We were back in the 2nd tier by that time after Barry Fry's mad and enjoyable spell in charge, and promotion was the ultimate aim to have a crack at this new fangled Premier League lark. And this is where I kind of come in. I can't pretend to have been a close confidant of Trevor's, but we crossed paths many a time once I'd begun my career in broadcasting.

Not long after I'd started as Blues' PA announcer in 1998 or so, I was in charge of the music played at the ground, including the build up to the emergence of the teams at 2.55pm. The entrance song at the time was the Rockin' Berries version of the club song "Keep Right On" and had been a fixture for some years at that specific time. One Saturday lunchtime pre-game during that 98/99 season I was busy organising CD's in the PA announcers box just above the tunnel at the centre of the main stand when there was a light knock at the sliding door behind me. I turned to see Trevor in the doorway brandishing a CD. "Hello, are you the PA guy" he asked. Im pretty sure I said "mdrmmblllmmmmmlllrmmm" in response or something like that. After all, I've got Trevor Bloody Francis talking to me! "Can you play this CD in place of the usual Keep Right On today please? My son James gave this to me and I think it's a great idea. Track 1 please. Thanks." He handed me the CD and was swiftly gone. I looked at the CD single of 'Feel It' by The Tamperer that he'd just handed me and took a listen to the intro on my headphones. It seemed a good shout as an idea, and as directed I played it out as the referee led the teams onto the pitch before kick off. The fan response was somewhat muted, but within a few matches (once I'd edited the intro a little to lengthen it in order to encourage more hand clapping from the fans) it was a terrace hit and was taken to the fans' hearts. It's still used today, which is testament to Trevor's good ear for a tune, never mind his 2 good feet!!

A few months later, in my new role as a football commentator / reporter for BRMB & Capital Gold, my boss Tom Ross dispatched me to the Memorial Stadium to watch the 2nd leg of a League Cup tie between Bristol Rovers and Blues. Tom had me in his office before I left to give me instructions. "Now, when you get there, go to the tunnel and ask for Trevor as Capital Gold - someone will bring him out to you. I want a full pre-match interview with him and he'll also give you the exclusive on the team news well ahead of anyone else - keep that to yourself, right?" he barked.

Once at the ground I did as instructed and presently there he was emerging from the tunnel to chat to this long haired idiot drowning in a pool of his own sweat awaiting his hero! He shook my hand (pretty sure he hadn't remembered me from the PA box from before) told me the team news and then I switched my recording kit on to get his pre-match thoughts. As we finished the interview, I switched the tape recorder off and said "Thanks Trevor, speak to you after the match". He replied "No problem...oh, and by the way, 8 out of 10 - that was a decent interview..." before turning back to head down the tunnel and back to his dressing room. I was flabbergasted. I think I rang my Dad immediately babbling something like "I've just interviewed Trevor Flipping Francis and he rated my technique at 8/10!!!!!!"

Before long I was interviewing him regularly after Blues games I covered for the station. He would always graciously come up to our broadcast point in the main stand once he'd done his press conference with the written press downstairs. One journalist who regularly attended was Hugh Southon from News Of The World. He spoke with a laconic Cockney drawl, and I always dreaded the days where I would have to interview Trevor AFTER he'd encountered Hugh, as Hugh's line of questioning seemed to annoy him greatly. It usually went: "Another disappointing performance today Trevor...?" which prompted TF to swiftly fold his arms across his sports jacket and begin "Well actually, I think you'll find..." in a highly irritated fashion and I used to stand there thinking 'Jesus, he's going to be horrible to talk to after this...' But he was never horrible, at least not to me. He was always polite and civil - not to mention desperate to get Blues promoted.

And my word he came close. 3 playoff semi-final defeats in the late 90's/early 00's - each one more painful and demoralising than the last. And by late 2001 his time was up as far as the board were concerned and he was dismissed. Within 6 months Steve Bruce had taken Trev's squad (plus one or two additions) into the promised land via the playoff final in Cardiff. I always hoped TF would realise that that was as much his success as anyone else's ...even if he wasn't in charge anymore.

3 years or so on from that, I was asked to play in Martin Grainger's testimonial game at St Andrew's after a fabulous run of service as left back and free kick wizard. It was billed at "Blues All Stars vs Blues Academy XI" and laughably, I was in the all stars squad…along with Trevor, who was making his first appearance back at the stadium since leaving as boss. By the time, I'd been allowed on the pitch to play (with about 15 minutes left!) TF was also out there. At one point I lightly jogged over half way from my right back position as Trevor received possession on the far left hand side of midfield. Sensing that I was in space, I raised my hand and shouted "TREV!!!!!!!" to alert him as to my position. He flashed the quickest of glances to see me and promptly fired the ball straight at me from 50 yards away. It came at me like a tracer bullet. I had about a millisecond to think to myself "Don't f*** this up" before the ball arrived at my right instep. The pace of the ball was such that my touch saw the ball go into the ground and bounce over the opposing midfielder closing me down. I then ran around the wrong footed opponent and played a short pass up to Paul Furlong.

"Life? Completed it mate - Trevor Francis just passed the ball to me and I didn't screw it up!!"

Trev was aware of my silly impression of him which I deployed many times on my BRMB Barmy Brummies Drivetime show. Once, when Steve Bruce's Blues were struggling to adjust to life immediately after Trevor had stepped down as boss in 2001, I did a parody song to the tune of ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" with 'Trevor' singing a new version entitled "You're Going Down" poking a bit of fun at his successor and the Blues board. Unbeknownst to me, Trevor was listening that day in a car on his way to work as a pundit on Sky that evening. He rang his close friend and my boss, Tom Ross (who was sat just outside my studio that day) saying: "Tom, I've just heard Dants doing a funny song with my voice slagging off Blues and, er, I'm a bit concerned...people will think that it IS me!!!" Tom gently told him that no one would think that at all, hung up and came straight into the on-air BRMB studio laughing his head off at me for worrying my hero!!!!

And he was and always will be my hero. That's no overstatement. I won't be alone in that assessment either.

My sincere condolences to his sons Matthew and James as well as Trevor's extended family.

RIP Trevor Francis.

We shall all miss him terribly - now to put my replica Blues 'penguin' top on...the one with No.8 on the back...


Trevor Francis R.I.P.

Hi Ian. I'm not even a Blues fan (Villa) but this was incredibly moving and I can tell he is up there with your favourite musicians. He was an incredibly talented, natural footballer. I was at the Tony Iommi evening a few years ago (Birmingham Town Hall) and Trevor was in the audience. R.I.P. Trevor.

Trevor Francis the Legend.

A really enjoyable read, I can tell Ian’s heart and soul went into this moving tribute to the best player I ever saw at St Andrews. Trevor Francis is a bluenose legend of this there is no doubt. The Superboy will forever remain in the hearts and minds of Birmingham City fans. He gave us joys watching him play and sadly we have the sorrows of his passing. RIP TF

RIP Trevor

Such a wonderful piece Dants, so full of wonderful memories. Never knew that about 'Can you feel it'. Hope it's never changed.

Fantastic Tribute

That was marvellous, thanks.
It's just a pity it was written as a consequence of such sad circumstances. KRO.

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