SAINTS stars past and present turned out in force last night for a glittering reception to celebrate the world premiere of The Saints.

Among the big names attending the pre-show gathering and gala performance were ex-Saints players Francis (Franny) Benali, Jim Steele and Hughie Fisher.

Legendary former Saints defender Franny Benali, 45, spent 20 years of his career at the Saints, making 350 appearances.

Daily Echo:

The audience gathers in the specially-made theatre

His status among supporters was such that his testimonial match in 1997 was a sell-out.

He was taking a break from training for his current challenge – to run 1,000 miles in three weeks to raise £1 million for cancer Research UK.

The aim is to run to every Premiere League stadium in the country from Newcastle down to Southampton, starting on August 24 and ending at St Mary’s on September 13.

Jim Steele, 64, is a former Scottish centre-back, who spent five years with Southampton and, at the pinnacle of his career, helped the Saints win the FA Cup against Manchester United in 1976.

His no-holds-barred attitude made him a favourite with Saints fans but he was often in trouble with the referees!

Hughie Fisher, 70, is another former Scottish professional, who played for Southampton between 1966 and 1976. He played in all the rounds up to the FA Cup semi-final in 1976 only to find himself on the subs bench with a pelvic injury at the final.

Brian O’Neill, meanwhile, also 70, played for Southampton between 1961 and 1970.

The Saints is a newly-commissioned play that charts the highs and lows of Southampton City Football Club so it proved very fitting that some of the top players from its colourful history should attend.

The play also marks the stage debuts of Saints legends Matt Le Tissier and Franny Benali, who feature as themselves in cameo roles in pre-recorded film segments.

Franny, who was attending with his wife and two children, told the Daily Echo: “I am really excited about seeing it. It has been a long time in the planning, from our initial sharing of ideas, the model making of the set and the theatre building.

“I think it is a fantastic idea for a play because the football club has for many years been central to the local community.

“The club is very close to my heart. I used to walk past the Dell as a schoolkid so I always had a special connection with the club.

“I have not had any creative input into it but I was involved in the think tank and brain storming sessions where we sat down with the cast members and producers and talked about our experiences of being a player, to get a grasp of what a football player means in a community. Now I can take a supporters’ perspective and appreciate the club from both sides of the fence.”

He added: “I am not looking forward to seeing myself in my acting debut on screen – I will be wincing when that part comes on.”

Jim Steele said he thought the play was “absolutely brilliant”.

He added: “It is flying the flag for the Saints and our 1976 win.”