John Francis Interview
John Francis started his career in non-league football with Yorkshire side Emley Football Club before a short spell at Halifax Town were he made his Football League debut. Francis then returned to Emley where he made his first appearance at Wembley Stadium in the FA Vase Final in April 1988, but he was on the losing side against Colne Dynamoes.
Francis then transferred to Sheffield United for £10,000 to team up with new manager Dave Bassett; it was a successful time for the Blades as they rose from the old Third Division to the First Division in successive seasons. However just before the Blades second promotion he was signed by Frank Casper and moved to Burnley for £90,000.
After arriving at Turf Moor he linked up with striking partner Ron Futcher and in their first full season together they led the Clarets to the end of season play offs, which ended in defeat at the semi-final stage against Torquay United. Francis scored fifteen league goals during that season, and nineteen including cup competitions.
As Jimmy Mullen guided the club to the Fourth Division Championship, Francis converted to a right-winger providing excellent service to the new front pairing of Mike Conroy and Roger Eli. It was an evening in April 1992 when Francis scored a stoppage time winner at York City to confirm the title and promotion to the new first division.
Despite scoring the winning goal to clinch promotion his contract expired at the end of that season and in somewhat of a surprise he turned down a new deal and opted for a move to Cambridge United. Neither Burnley nor Francis could have imagined that their paths would cross again but in under a year he was back in the claret and blue as Jimmy Mullen re-signed him on transfer deadline day in March.
Having played out that season he was very much back as a regular in 1993/94, still on the right-wing, although now our strikers were Adrian Heath and Kevin Russell and later in the season Tony Philliskirk. He lost his place during the second half of the season when he was used mainly as a substitute but he was back in the starting line up as we qualified for the play offs and a semi-final with Plymouth Argyle.
Francis scored twice in two minutes at Home Park to turn the game on its head and get the Clarets to a play-off final at Wembley. Sadly his big day at Wembley was spoiled by an injury. He didn’t start a game in the following season and in the 1995/96 season was more often the not a substitute.
He didn’t figure at all once Mullen was replaced by Adrian Heath as manager and at the end of that season was released. He had a brief spell with Scunthorpe before hanging his boots up but since then has kept himself involved in the game coaching with the county FA in his native Yorkshire and also at the Leeds University.
In January 2008, some eleven and a half years after leaving Burnley he returned to coach within the youth development set up working alongside former team-mate Andy Farrell with the club’s Under 16 team.
Who was the biggest influence in football?
The biggest influence on my career was Mick Polli (RIP) my first open age non-league coach at Ardsley Celtic Football Club, he supported me and believed in my abilities to go further in the game.
What is your best football highlight?
I’ve been lucky enough to of had some great highlights, obviously the two whilst playing for Burnley, the 1991 goal at York City to seal the league title and the play-off semi final in 1994 at Home Park, Plymouth, scoring two goals in two minutes during the first half.
What is your football lowlight?
My football lowlight was the 1994 Play-Off Final at Wembley where I tore my anterior ligament and then had to retire through injury.
Tell us about your League Debut?
My league debut was for Halifax Town against Northampton on 26th February 1985 as a substitute, we won the game 1-0 at The Shay which moved us to 18th in the league.
Tell us about your Burnley Debut?
My Burnley debut was not that memorable it was in February 1990 at Turf Moor to Gillingham, I think we lost 2-1, then we played Grimsby Town away where I scored two goals, my first league goals for the Clarets though we still ended up losing 4-2.
Toughest Opponents You Faced and Why?
The toughest opponent I faced was a young Sol Campbell (Tottenham) he was big strong in the tackle and very quick to close me down. Very similar to Des Walker who played for Nottingham Forest.
Best Goal You Scored and why?
I scored a diving header for Sheffield United against Brighton in the last minute for us to win 5-4 which I remember very well. Though the two goals which I thought were the best were for Burnley away at Carlisle 1991, cutting in off the left-hand side and placing the ball in the top right corner, then a very similar one at home to Northampton 1990.
Best manager you have played for and why?
Loved Frank Casper we had some excellent finishing sessions with him, he was a gentleman and pleasure to work for.
Best player you played with and why?
Adrian heath was the most intelligent forward/ striker I’ve played with, always thinking a step ahead and played to my strengths..
Best player you played against and why?
Glenn Hoddle (Swindon) I’ve never played a game where I was so tired trying to get near him and hardly ever got a kick of the ball, a great player and a true legend of the game.
Tell us about your Championship Winning goal at York City?
Wow, probably the worst goal ever scored, Mick Conroy did so well with his run and crossed the ball which just bobbled in with my shin lol, though it meant so much for the season we had that year was capped of with winning the league title.
Now working in coaching could you tell us what your day-to-day role?
I’m coaching at Leeds University on a day-to-day basis with American student graduates, the programme is called RIASA also working at non league Ossett Town which my role is football development coach for all age groups and personally taking the U17 U19 and U21’s teams.
There have been a number of great players to play in Claret & Blue over the years, how does it feel to be described as a Clarets Legend?
Honoured and humble.