Football legend Franny Lee visits the University of Bolton

Posted on Monday 16th February 2015

Students and alumni crowded the lecture theatre at Bolton Business School’s latest ‘An Evening With’ event, as they welcomed legendary footballer and successful business owner Francis ‘Franny’ Lee.

In conversation with renowned broadcaster Gordon Burns, Lee recounted his career from leaving school to becoming a footballer, before entering the world of business.

Earning millions from his paper recycling company, Lee would also become a race horse owner and chairman of Manchester City prior to its 2004 takeover.


The football years

Growing up in the Bolton borough of Westhoughton, Lee was a talented footballer in his youth and quickly set his sights on becoming a professional.

Hours of practice in his garden saw the talented striker rise through the ranks of the local youth teams, before joining Bolton Wanderers at 16.

On his debut for the club, against Manchester City, he scored after only fifteen minutes past the great German goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann.

After signing professional terms he would spend seven years at Bolton Wanderers before the legendary Joe Mercer persuaded him to join Manchester City.

‘I wanted to see how far I could get in the game,’ said Lee.

And his optimism was rewarded as Manchester City won their first league title that same year.

Behind Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt his international appearances proved limited but he nonetheless managed 27 appearances for England and started in the 1970 World Cup.

In 1974 Lee moved to Derby County FC and proceeded to win his second league championship medal as he fired the Rams to the title.


Franny Lee the businessman

Despite all his success on the field, Lee soon decided to leave the sport behind to focus on running F.H. Lee Ltd, a paper recycling business he started whilst still living in Bolton.

Returning to the town, he focussed his attention on the company which purchased high-quality paper from Scandinavia and produced toilet rolls.

Working with supermarkets to create own label products, the low overheads and high quality produce meant he was able to make a large profit.

‘Like football, to get the best out of a team, you have to be pulling together,’ said Lee.

Producing 25,000 tonnes and with an annual turnover of £34 million by the 90s, Lee decided to sell the business opting to return to football as chairman of Manchester City.

He served as chairman for four years and remained a shareholder in the club until it was sold in 2004.

With such a long-standing career under his belt, Lee advised the audience to always apply common sense wherever possible.

‘You have to have confidence in yourself and give 100%,’ he said. ‘You don’t know what might wait at the end.’

The event was the third lecture in Bolton Business School’s annual series of networking events and follows recent lectures from Angela Spindler, CEO of N Brown Group Plc, and Debbie Pierce, CEO of the Bury Black Pudding Company.