Ex-defender set for fundraising stop-off at Stadium of Light

Francis Benali at a Cancer Research Lab
Francis Benali at a Cancer Research Lab
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Saddle sore football star Francis Benali is hitting the road to the Stadium of Light this Saturday in a bid to raise £1million for Cancer Research UK.

Former Southampton defender Benali, 47, will be running and cycling across the country to all 44 Premier League and Championship grounds in aid of the charity.

Francis Benali in training.

Francis Benali in training.

As part of ‘Benali’s Big Race’ the ex-footballer will kick start the North East leg of his journey at St James’s Park this Saturday before making his way Sunderland’s ground at 1.45pm then heading onto Middlesbrough FC.

After setting off from Bournemouth Vitality Stadium last Sunday, Francis will be covering at least 100 miles every day for two weeks - running one marathon before cycling the remaining distance.

The huge journey will be Francis’ second fundraising feat in aid of Cancer Research UK. His first challenge was in 2014, where he set off his journey at St James’s Park with former team mate Alan Shearer waving him off.

From there he ran to the Stadium of Light before finishing at his home ground in Southampton three weeks later, having raised a phenomenal £265,000 for the charity.

The first challenge was far tougher than I ever imagined, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. But my pain and suffering was nothing compared to what cancer patients and their families go through every day.

Francis said: “The first challenge was far tougher than I ever imagined, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. But my pain and suffering was nothing compared to what cancer patients and their families go through every day.

“The support I received in 2014 was incredible and hopefully people in Sunderland and across the UK will be just as generous this time around.”

Francis’ father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, which has made him more determined to raise as much money as possible.

Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for the North East, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Francis is taking on yet another awe-inspiring fundraising challenge to raise much-needed funds for Cancer Research UK.

“Thanks to the dedication and commitment of our supporters, just like Francis, we can continue to fund vital research to get new and better treatments to cancer patients faster.”

Lisa added: “We’ll be with Francis every step of the way as he tackles ‘Benali’s Big Race’ and we urge local people in Sunderland to show their support.”

The former Southampton FC player will finish up his journey on Sunday, October 16, at his home ground St Mary’s Stadium.

To track Francis’ progress, visit www.benalisbigrace.com. To donate £5, text ‘FRAN’ to 70200.

For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, visit cruk.org.