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50th Anniversary of TF's Blues bow

Trevor  Francis pictured during his early First Team days at St. Andrew’s
Trevor Francis pictured during his early First Team days at St. Andrew’s

You looked at Trevor and saw everything you want in a footballer. If a manager is lucky, he comes across a youngster like that once in his career.

Freddie Goodwin

This Saturday is the 50th anniversary Trevor Francis creating history by making his Blues debut at the tender age of 16.

It was a relationship between Club, player and fans that would go on to endure until 1979, when the striker became England's first £1m player when he joined reigning First division champions Nottingham Forest in 1979.

Widely regarded as Blues' best ever player, TF as he is affectionately known, still holds a special place in the hearts of those Blues fans who witnessed him in action during his time at St. Andrew's.

Although the youngest player record was broken a year ago last August by Jude Bellingham, Francis' landmark moment nonetheless endures. The way he burst onto the scene was, like Jude's emergence, something pretty special.

Here we take a look back at the lead up to that momentous occasion....

On his arrival at the St. Andrew’s helm in 1970, new boss Freddie Goodwin instantly recognised the supreme talent that he had inherited after getting his first glimpse of 16-year-old Trevor Francis. Goodwin admitted: “You looked at Trevor and saw everything you want in a footballer. If a manager is lucky, he comes across a youngster like that once in his career. Looking for comparisons, I’d say Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law and that’s it. There was an excitement amongst the coaching staff because we all knew that Trevor was going to the very, very top.”

It was just a question of when the prodigious youngster would be unveiled to the wider footballing public. Three goals in two reserve team outings at the start of the 1970/71 season convinced Goodwin that that time had arrived, and he was named as the substitute for the Second Division clash at Cardiff City on 5 September. A painful knee injury sustained by Johnny Vincent necessitated a change at the interval and Francis was handed his record-breaking bow. At the age of 16 years and 139 days, he became the Club’s youngest ever player – a record that he held for 49 years until it was beaten by Jude Bellingham in August 2019.

Blues were already trailing to two John Toshack goals, but Francis did his best to drag his side back into the contest and came closest to scoring as his shot crashed back off the post. But it was the altruistic approach of the player that had the tough job of harnessing him on that afternoon in Ninian Park which left the biggest impression on Francis. He later revealed: “My marker talked me through the game, saying things like ‘are you alright, son?’ and ‘Not too tired? I know what an ordeal it is’.”

The man in question was Gary Bell and Blues News caught up with the former Cardiff defender to get his memories of the occasion. Bell recalled: “I’d heard that Trevor Francis was getting rave reviews in the Birmingham Reserves, so I knew who he was. I had a little word with him when he came on to tell him not to be nervous and to play his natural game, so to speak, and I know Trevor appreciated that. As a player you go out to win every game and normally the first tackle you get in on the right winger, you really let them know you’re there! But Trevor was a great prospect and you could see he was destined for great things from a young age.”

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