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Former Manchester City and England striker Francis Lee has died, aged 79.
Lee scored 148 goals in 330 appearances during an eight-year spell at City, helping the club win multiple honours, including the old First Division title in 1968.
Lee, who started his career at Bolton Wanderers, joined Derby County from City, helping the Rams win their second league title in 1975.
He also earned 27 caps for England, scoring 10 goals.
“It is with the deepest sadness and heaviest of hearts we announce the passing of former Manchester City player and chairman Francis Lee, aged 79,” a City statement read, calling Lee “a club legend in every sense” and one of City’s “all-time greats”.
The club said Lee died on Monday morning after a long fight against cancer.
In his time at City, Lee also won an FA Cup, a League Cup, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the Charity Shield twice.
He returned to the club in 1994 as chairman, following a number of successful business ventures, spending four years in that role.
The statement continued: “Francis’ wife Gill and children Charlotte, Jonny and Nik say he will be sorely missed and would like to thank everyone for their kind words.”
“Everyone at Manchester City would like to send their condolences to the friends and family of Francis at this very difficult time.
“As a mark of respect, flags around the Etihad Stadium and City Football Academy are flying at half-mast.
“More tributes from the club will follow in the coming days.”
Lee, who was born in Westhoughton, Lancashire, started his career at Bolton where he broke into the side as a 16-year-old in 1959.
He went on to score 106 goals in 210 games over eight seasons before signing for City for a then club-record £60,000 fee.
“All at Bolton Wanderers are saddened to learn of the passing of former forward, Francis Lee. The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Francis’ family, friends and loved ones at this difficult time,” a Bolton statement read.
Following his glittering spell at City, Lee joined Derby in 1974 where he scored 30 goals over two seasons, before announcing his retirement.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of 1974/75 title-winner Francis Lee. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and all who knew him,” a Derby statement read.
During his spell at the Rams, Lee was also involved in a moment of infamy as he clashed on the pitch with Leeds defender Norman Hunter, with the pair being sent off and escorted from the field for trading punches.
The footage aired on Match of the Day and is shared regularly across social media, with the video receiving hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, TikTok and more.
“It’s a good job I didn’t get in the dressing room afterwards,” said Lee.
“I might have just been coming out on parole now. It wasn’t play-acting you know. He had tapped me on the shoulder, hit me and split my lip with a gold ring.”
Following retirement, Lee started a number of business ventures, operating in the wastepaper and haulage business before going on to make toilet rolls, kitchen rolls, handkerchiefs, cooking foil and cling film, eventually supplying most of the major retailers in the UK.
In 1985, his company. F.H Lee, merged with Hazelwood Foods and the multi-million pound business was sold in 2000.
Lee’s success in business led to his return to City as chairman in 1994, but the spell was largely unsuccessful and he resigned in 1998 with the club facing relegation to the third tier.
In 2016, Lee received a CBE from the Duke of Cambridge for his services to sport and charity.
‘A gentleman with a great sense of humour’
Fond tributes have been paid to Lee by friends, former footballers and pundits on social media.
Former City striker Paul Dickov said: “Such sad news to hear of the passing of Francis Lee. A gentleman, proper football man with a great sense of humour.
“The main reason I signed for Man City with his sheer love for the club & will be forever grateful. Love & condolences to all his family & friends. RIP Mr Chairman.”
City fan and ex-boxing world champion Ricky Hatton said: “So saddened to hear of the passing of Francis (Franny) Lee. What a legend of a footballer & a man in general.
“Never did a man love our club more than this man. On the pitch as a player, off it as a chairman. He was blue through & through.
“Had the pleasure of being in his company so many times. Something I will never forget. A genuine Manchester treasure. Love & condolences to the family RIP Franny the king.”
Former Nottingham Forest striker Stan Collymore wrote: “Sending sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Franny Lee.”
“Had some lovely chats over the years on here and at City where he rightly had his status acknowledged by the club over the years.
“Another legend gone too soon. Rest in peace, Franny.”