Gerry Francis: Young Rugby Ace becomes England Soccer Star

The following article was written by Gerry Francis and appeared sometime in the mid-1970’s:

I suppose I’m unusual in the way I started off on the wrong foot because I nearly became a rugby star. It happened like this:

‘I played soccer at junior school in Chiswick in West London. Then I went to a secondary school, which had only rugby as an organised sport. I had to play it – and I can’t have been all that bad because I was picked for an England Schools’ trial as a fly-half! I wasn’t concerned when I didn’t make the England team, rugby just didn’t fit into my plans.

From a very early age I had set my heart on becoming a professional soccer player. Even had I become a rugby schoolboy internationalist, I would still have given up the game in favour of soccer as soon as I left school.

In fact, I used to play rugby for the school on Saturdays and soccer for a local club on Sundays. And it was the Sunday match that really got me worked up. I played for a side my father turned out for after finishing his professional career. It was a team of grown-ups. So, at 14, I was playing against men twice my age. It was an experience that was to help me a lot.

All the time I used to dream about playing football for a living – like my dad. He had been an inside-forward with Brentford. When I wasn’t playing myself on Saturday, he’d take me along to Griffin Park to watch the “Bees”.

I grew up a Brentford fan and my ambition was to join the club. But I missed by about three days! I wrote to Brentford for a trial. They replied, telling me to go along the following Saturday. But, in the meantime, somebody had recommended me to Queen’s Park Rangers.

Rangers asked me to go along for a trial three days before my Brentford date. I did so – and was so impressed by everything I didn’t turn up at Griffin Park on the Saturday. Later, I signed as an apprentice for Rangers just around the time they were winning promotion to the First Division for the first time.

Some players have found it a handicap to have a father who was a professional. They have had too much to live up to. For me, having a father who knew the ropes was the best possible background. Up to the time of my becoming a first teamer with Rangers, he alone influenced me.

He taught me everything I know. Our house was next door to a park – in which I pretty well lived. Every spare moment Dad would take me out to brush-up on my kicking, trapping, passing and all the rest of it. If I had any natural ability he showed me how to make the most of it. By the time I went to Rangers I certainly knew what was needed in the professional game.

Even as a teenager I was dreaming of playing for England. Indeed, by that stage, I believed I was fit to play for England. You see, I have always had confidence in my ability, which is an essential for a youngster aiming for the top.

I’ll never forget my debut for Rangers’ first team. I came on as a substitute against Liverpool during QPR’s 1968-69 season in the First Division. The team was having a rough time, but, for about thirty minutes, I was a First Division player while still 16.

Playing against stars I had only seen on television. Trying to beat a defence that included Tommy Smith, Ron Yeats, Chris Lawler plus forwards like Ian St John, Roger Hunt and Peter Thompson.

We were beaten 2-1. It was all over in what seemed a flash, but it gave me a tremendous taste for the atmosphere in the top grade. All the time I was playing for Rangers in the Second Division, the memory of my 30-minute baptism there was driving me on to promotion.

My debut for England is also unforgettable – because I was fighting for breath the whole way through! It was against Czechoslovakia last season. I was in the squad, and overjoyed to be chosen by Don Revie. But, the day before the game, signs of a cold came on and I took some medicine.

The following morning I woke up with a streaming cold. Scared it was to keep me out of the side, I went straight to the team doctor. He gave me some drugs. Mr Revie knew about my cold, but left me with the decision whether or not to play. I didn’t need to think twice. Drop me for a cold? Not a chance!

It was tremendously important for England to win. For this was Don Revie’s first game as manager – and it was a European Championship tie.

Once over early nervousness, I got into the game well. But the cold was affecting my breathing. I couldn’t cover the ground as I usually do for my club. A quick sprint and I was gasping for breath.

After an hour’s play there were no goals, and I could see the substitutes ready to come on. I felt I had played quite well in a restricted sort of way, but reckoned I could be one of the men to be replaced because of my fitness. But Martin Dobson of Everton was the player replaced in midfield by Trevor Brooking – while my Rangers colleague, Dave Thomas, also came on.

In the last half an hour we scored three to finish convincing winners. I was exhausted by the final whistle – and I knew the next time I would play even better for England. I have learned a lot from England get-togethers and matches. I also got a lot out of Under-23 matches under Sir Alf Ramsey – and from all the good players who have joined Queen’s Park Rangers, like Terry Venables, Frank McLintock and Stan Bowles.

“Venners” has been a tower of strength for me. He may appear like a joker on TV, he is certainly one of the deepest of football thinkers. Playing alongside him was a great experience. His departure from Rangers last season caused me a lot of heart-searching, because I was then asked to take over as skipper of the side, at age 22, and ahead of people like Frank McLintock and Dave Webb.

It was a tough decision to make – but I decided to give captaincy a try, and I’m glad I did. The older players gave me support and encouragement right from the start. I think I responded to the extra responsibility.

Now I really enjoy being captain. Although, as far as I’m concerned, we have eleven captains once out on the field. Frank McLintock is geeing-up the lads at the back. Don Masson never stops organising and directing operations deep in midfield. I have a go up front and all the other lads chip in. I like it that way.

I also want to be a success outside football as well as in the game. I have formed a company concerned with property development. I also do some modelling in my spare time but I don’t let anything interfere with football.

At one time my ambition was to play for England, now I have to raise my sights. I have a double aim. I want to play in a World Cup game with England and I want to win a trophy with Queen’s Park Rangers.

It has been very exciting to be part of the England squad under Don Revie. He is so professional and so much a man commanding tremendous respect.

Queen’s Park Rangers have been great to me, too. I think we can go places’

In 1975, Gerry was made the England captain.

Steve Russell

One thought on “Gerry Francis: Young Rugby Ace becomes England Soccer Star

  1. An interesting article, Steve. Where is it from? As a young man, Gerry was equipped with the self-belief and drive to succeed in whatever he turned his hand to. I can recall that at my secondary school (Christopher Wren in the White City) we weren’t allowed to play football at games for the whole of the first year; only bloody rugby! How I detested it! I must have sulked for the whole year, whilst hoping that the odd shaped ball never came in my direction. As regards Gerry, I recollect that he initially played centre forward for our Reserve side and made a good impression there, too. But then Gerry had such a good all-round game that he would have succeeded in any position.

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